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Covington City Council to review increased fees
Planning and Zoning Director Scott Gaither provides information during a Covington City Council meeting. (Jackie Gutknecht | The Covington News)

COVINGTON, Ga. - The Covington City Council agreed to hold a separate work session to discuss the city’s fee schedule after proposed increases were deemed to be too high by councilmembers.

The fee schedule, which is approved annually by the council, saw proposed increases in several categories this year compared to last year.

Council work session provides explanation

Research was done to compare Covington’s fees to other cities of a comparable size and the proposed increases would bring Covington in line with those cities, Covington City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said in the work session immediately before the council’s regular meeting.

“Out of the roughly 17 jurisdictions that we looked at, we were grossly far below them,” Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Director Scott Gaither said in the work session. “We looked at them in the Metro Atlanta area, towards Athens and down south towards Fayetteville.”

Gaither said the building permit fees were close in comparison, but still lower, than the other jurisdictions. He said the biggest change the council would see in the proposed fees is in the public hearing fees.

“Our public hearing fees are anything from rezoning to annexation to a special use permit and are $100 application fees,” he said in the work session. “That $100 is barely covering the public notice that we’re having to put in the newspaper.”

Gaither said he has proposed an increase that would continue to keep Covington below its counterparts. He said the increase will hopefully help cut back on a lot of speculative applications and bring in more quality permits for the city.

“Advertising in the paper is extremely expensive,” Knight said in the work session.

Knight said the purpose of P&Z fees is to cover costs, not make money.

“You’re never going to cover all the costs of planning and zoning, they’re not a self-sufficient entity,” she said in the work session. “However, there are things that are specifically done for the public that really they should pay for.

“As a taxpayer, someone else shouldn’t have to pay for the fact that I want to get a plan reviewed.”

Other additional fees were also proposed to cover the costs of after-hours inspections and re-inspection fees.

Legal advertising prices mandated by state

The Covington News serves as the legal organ for Newton County. As the legal organ, The News serves as the platform local jurisdictions are required to publicize legal notices. According to OCGA 9-13-142, the official organ of a county is selected by “a majority of the judge of probate court, the sheriff and the clerk of the superior court.”

The price for legal advertisements is set by the state in OCGA 9-13-143, which was last updated in 2010. The law reads:

9-13-143. Rates for legal advertisements 

(a) The rates to be allowed to publishers for publishing legal advertisements shall be as follows:

(1) For each 100 words, not more than the sum of $10.00 for each insertion for the first four insertions; and

(2) For each subsequent insertion, not more than the sum of $9.00 per 100 words.

In all cases fractional parts shall be charged for at the same rates.

(b) For the purpose of the computation in subsection (a) of this Code section, a block of numbers or a block of letters and numbers shall be counted as one word. If the block of numbers or letters or any combination thereof contains a hyphen, a semicolon, a colon, or other similar character or punctuation mark, the block shall still be counted as one word, provided there are no intervening spaces. When an intervening space does occur, this space shall mark the start of a new word.

(c) No judge of the probate court, sheriff, coroner, clerk, marshal, or other officer shall receive or collect from the parties, plaintiff or defendant, other or greater rates than set forth in this Code section.

Fees need more review

Councilman Josh McKelvey said he did not see the fee increases as a reasonable requests.

“I’m all for supporting the staff, Scott, anytime you have a request I try to make it within reason, but I don’t see these as reasonable requests. We’re looking at going from a $0 fee to, you know, $100 or $50 and in some cases we’re doubling these fees and, you know, as far as I know financially we’re supposedly doing pretty well so to me this looks like we’re just looking for new revenues.”

McKelvey said he did not think increasing fees would be a good place to find new revenues and encouraged the council to look at the fees individually.

“For history’s sake, Covington has long had a very low fee schedule compared to our competitor cities and counties and that’s something we took into consideration,” Gaither said.

“This is definitely not a revenue generation idea, we’re just trying to make sure we stay competitive with our surrounding jurisdictions and also to promote a better quality of development,” he said.

McKelvey said he is worried that with the increased fees people would attempt to get by without paying for it.

“I have a hard time stomaching a 40 to 50 percent increase,” Mayor Ronnie Johnston said. “I’d like the council to consider if we’re going to increase it, increase it over a period of time.”

Councilman Chris Smith said he agreed with McKelvey and Johnston. He suggested the council hold a work session for a more in depth look.

The council voted to approve the fee schedule from last year, which did not include the proposed increases, until a work session could be held to discuss each fee individually. Councilmember Michael Whatley was the only opposing vote. Whatley previously made the motion to approve the proposed fee schedule, but the motion failed after the lack of a second. 

06192017 Packet 2