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Council encourages nonprofit to work with Main Street on 5K race

After serving 13 years on the Newton County Water and Sewage Authority, Council Member Mike Whatley, Post 2 East, resigned from the board of directors at the Feb. 1 Covington City Council meeting.

The council appointed the following people to serve on boards and committees through Dec. 31, 2018:

• Liz Pope, Sid Haggard, Jack Clark and Hillary Edgar to the Board of Adjustments;

• Jonathan Paschal, Rosie Crawford, Don Floyd, Steve Horton and Mike Cox to the Historic Preservation Commission;

• Loy Summers, Betty Bellairs, Carol Veliotis, Walter Camp, Sr., Calvin Maddox, Joseph Lightfoot and Bobbie Shepherd to the Tree Preservation Board; and

• Scott Sirotkin, Roger Smith, Steve Horton and Sam Spears to the Covington Redevelopment Authority.
Council members appointed to boards were:

• Kenneth Morgan, Post 1 West to serve on the Downtown Development Authority until Dec. 31, filling the unexpired term of Janet Goodman,

• Hawnethia Williams, Post 2 West to the Main Street Board,

• Josh McKelvey, Post 3 East, to the Recreation Board,

• Ocie Franklin, Post 3 West, to the Tourism Board; and

• Christ Smith, Post 1 East, to the Pension Committee.

Road closures, building code enforcement and appointments to boards and committees made up the majority of the City of Covington’s council meeting Feb. 1.

A request from the Newton Pregnancy Resource Center to close roads for a 5K race on April 23 from 6-11 a.m. was denied unanimously by the Council.

Dara Lynn Rieger, on staff at the center, asked the council why they denied the request, explaining that the resource center wanted to reach out to women in difficult situations or who have an unplanned pregnancy. “We want to be available for counseling, resources and referrals. We want to be a resource to the community, particularly to women in crisis.”

“This is not a denial of your event, itself,” Mayor Ronnie Johnston said. “It’s a timing issue.”

The council felt there were too many street closures, back-to-back. “It’s not just about the square,” Johnston said. “It’s about [the effect on] the whole town.”

“I would encourage you to go back to [Velinda Wheeles, Director of] Main Street to see about the schedule,” Johnston said.

Wheeles assured Reiger, “We will find the best date for your group.”

The council did approve street closures for two events: Easter on the Square, Sunday, March 27, 9 a.m. to noon, and the 10K Cheerios Challenge beginning at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 16. Parts of Floyd Street, College Avenue, Conyers Street, Elm Street, Legion Drive, Academy Springs Circle, Crestview Drive, Flat Rock Trail, Martin/Hazelbrand Boulevard, Newton Street, Deering Street, Indie Circle, East Street, Williams Street, Thompson Avenue and Elizabeth Street.

Later, the council approved the closing of a section of Church Street between College and Floyd streets to allow for the installation of an HVAC system for the Irish Bread Pub, from 5 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 15, through 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16. A large crane is needed to put the HVAC system in place, and according to City Manager Leigh Anne Knight, it will take four hours just to set up the crane. Traffic will be routed down College Street, she said.

Maintaining vacant lots

Jim Berry and Danny Bartello with the Covington Planning and Zoning Code Enforcement Office presented to the council in response to inquiries about maintaining overgrown properties in the city limits.

Berry said a brochure educating residents on how to dispose of yard waste and why it’s important to do so properly went out with the city’s electric bills. “I think [the campaign been very successful,” he said.

Berry also gave a report on abandoned or dilapidated structures that have been or are scheduled to be demolished, or are being repaired. There have been some problems with illegal dumping throughout the city, he told the council, and the identities of those responsible are being pursued so citations can be issued.

The presentation included reports on dilapidated buildings that have been or are scheduled to be demolished. A few of the buildings are being repaired and brought up to code. According to Berry’s report, throughout the last decade there have been more at least 200 vacant lots left after a structure had been torn down.

“It costs $35,000 to maintain 50 lots city-wide,” he said. “We have defunct subdivisions that have been allowed to grow back up.”

Letters and citations are sent to the owner of record. In some cases, the property was foreclosed upon and the lending agent has failed to maintain the property; in some cases, an owner may have died and contact information on an heir can’t be found. If the owner can’t be located, a citation is filed with the city’s municipal court. Once the judge issues the order to clean up the lot, a purchase order has to be issued and a contractor hired to cut the grass.

At that point, Code Enforcement files a request for a lien for the amount spent to clean up the lot against property title with the county superior court. Those funds are received only if the property is sold, since the title of ownership cannot change hands unless all liens are settled.

“Each time we cut the grass, we have to file a separate order,” Berry told the council. “We have to make the case every time.”

Assistant City Attorney Frank Turner agrees. “There’s not a short cut. Every time they cut the grass, the process has to start again.”

Johnston asked if a retardant could be sprayed on vacant lots to “at least slow down regrowth.”

“It would cost,” Berry said, adding that “you have to be careful with the use of retardants because it could cause problems with erosion.”

“The idea of empty lots group up and looking bad in our community is an unfortunate situation for everyone,” Johnston said.

“It’s a vicious circle,” said Council Member Hawnethia Williams, Post 2 West. “You’re trying to improve the city [and the overgrown lots are] an eyesore smack dab in the middle of the city. Neighbors property values go down.”

Williams there had to be some way to make cleaning up vacant lots to make it cost effective.

The council also approved:

• The purchase of pole-mounted transformers for $93,310, and Three Phase Pad Mounted transformers for $83,119 from Howard Industries Transformers;

• An update to the city’s agreement with the Newton County Water and Sewage Authority for Land Application System (LAS), defining responsibilities for various land use maintenance and costs, to meet the Department of Natural Resources environmental regulations;

• Updating a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) on preliminary engineering expenses to build a pedestrian bridge on State Route 81 across I-20; and

• Approved a resolution to give the $100,000 Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant to the Friends of Newton County Miracle League for reimbursement of verified expenses associated with the project.