The Covington City Council had one of its shortest meetings ever Monday, lasting just under 20 minutes, but upcoming work sessions and the city’s annual retreat will keep members busy for the next two months.
The City Council will have its annual retreat from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 16 at the Newton College and Career Academy. The agenda for the retreat has not yet been discussed publicly, but one item up for discussion is the mayor’s recent request to look at the approximately $300,000 the city spends on tourism with the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Covington.
Mayor Ronnie Johnston wanted to see if the money was being used in the most effective way possible and if it was being used to present a consistent image of Covington to the outside world.
The annual retreat is open to the public.
Compressed natural gas fueling facility
In addition, the city council will continue its discussion about plans to build a compressed natural gas fueling facility at a 5:30 p.m. April 8 work session at Covington City Hall, 2194 Emory St. NW.
The city has been considering the project, which would not only allow the city to convert portions of its vehicle fleet to CNG and save money on fuel but would also provide a public source of CNG for other governments, businesses and residents.
The CNG fueling facility was previously predicted to cost around $1.9 million to build, including $900,000 in site improvements and $1 million in equipment. The city has $800,000 budgeted for the project this year, according to a previous article.
At the March 18 council meeting, City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said a request for quotations has been issued and said the council needs to talk about the project and how to proceed.
Budget work sessions
The city is also entering budget season as officials prepare for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The City Council is looking at five possible dates to hold its work sessions, including April 30, May 7, May 21, May 23 and May 28. Each work session is scheduled to last from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The council will continue to hold budget work sessions until no more are needed. The public can attend the budget work sessions.
Temp sign ordinance discussion continues
In actual council news, the recently proposed amendments to the city’s temporary sign ordinance again came up for discussion.
At the March 18 meeting, the City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance change that would allow each land parcel to have one additional sign (outside of its normal main building sign) on it at all times. No more than one temporary sign will be allowed, under the proposed ordinance. The sign can be up to 16-square feet in size in any variation (4 feet by 4 feet, 2 feet by 8 feet, etc.).
The ordinance would replace an ordinance that more strictly regulated temporary signs, restricting how long they could be up, what kind of temporary signs were allowed and charged a $25 yearly fee to place temporary signs.
Smart Growth Newton is a local nonprofit that opposes sprawl and planning that leads to visual clutter, and President Jonathan Paschal came up before the council for the second meeting in a row to urge them to reconsider changing the ordinance.
The City Council did not vote on the second and final reading of the ordinance, because it was still being worked on by the city’s attorneys.
Paschal used the opportunity to ask the council to go back and seek more public input from affected parties — merchants, planners, nonprofit organizations — on an ordinance change that Paschal said he believed would double the amount of visual pollution in the city.
Paschal said there would be many more unaesthetic signs that would pop up as a result of a more lenient ordinance but businesses wouldn’t benefit, because Paschal said residents would learn to look past all of the signs as they became permanent fixtures as opposed to truly temporary signs.
Paschal said he was concerned commercial corridors like Pace and Washington streets, which the city has been trying to improve visually, would be adversely affected by an ordinance change.
The proposed ordinance came out of a subcommittee comprise of council members Keith Dalton, Chris Smith and Hawnethia Williams. Smith said previously that local businesses are still hurting and need to be able to put up signs to boost their business.
New fuel tanks for the airport
The council unanimously approved purchasing two new fuel tanks for the Covington Municipal Airport for a cost not to exceed $260,000.
Airport manager Vincent Passariello said the city needed to replace its two 20-year-old, 10,000-gallon tanks, because although the tanks are in fine shape, the surrounding infrastructure around the tanks are rusted and could be compromised.
The tanks have a containment area around them to contain a spill, but because of the way they are designed, water frequently gets in the containment areas and has rusted them severely, Passariello said.
Based on preliminary bids, the cost will be between $190,000 to $260,000; Passariello said the price variance is because companies are proposing different types of tanks. He is still working on determining what type of tank the city will want and will put out a request for bids when he decides on the specs for new tanks.
The money will come from airport funds, either the $800,000-plus already available for airport improvements or $264,000 in money coming from the Georgia Department of Transportation later this month.
Passariello also said clearing work at the southeast end of the airport continues to go well. New hangars and a new terminal building will eventually be built out there when airport usage dictates it, but for now the land is being cleared and prepped for future development.
Water line project
The City Council also unanimously approved paying $216,650 to Rindt-McDuff Associates for engineering work on a variety of water line replacements, totaling 67,000 linear feet, including new hydrants, at a total construction cost of $4.7 million.
The funding is expected to be provided by a loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.
Grant writer Randy Conner said the water lines being replaced are transite, which contain asbestos cement, and in some cases are nearly 100 years old.
“The test that we do on a regular basis of our system shows there is no danger and that there is no problem with our waterlines. But we want to be proactive as opposed to reactive and we want to replace these water lines while everything is still good,” Conner said back in November when the water line replacement project was approved.
For a full list of water lines to be replaced, check out the attached PDF and scroll to item 6.