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Mayor proposes doubling chamber spending in 2010
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To stimulate economic development, Mayor Kim Carter introduced a proposal on Monday to more than double the amount of money spent on the Chamber of Commerce to $120,000 for the next fiscal year.

For the past couple of years, the city and county have each spent $54,000 on the chamber for economic development services. But with a new chamber president search in progress, several interested parties are considering whether the next president should have a heavier focus on economic development.

Previously, Carter said the president spent around 30 percent of his time on economic development, but the proposal calls for that commitment to increase to 80 percent. With that increased commitment, the city and county would sign a bigger contract, increasing total public funding from $108,000 to around $240,000.

Compared to other similarly sized counties, Newton County falls woefully short on its economic development spending, Carter said.

A study of six counties around 100,000 shows a spending range of $155,000 for Rockdale County to $308,000 for Fayette County. The number of staff members committed to economic development ranges from 2.3 to four. Newton County currently has around 1.3 people committed to economic development, including Economic Development Director Shannon Davis, the president position and staff support.

Carter said the money would be used for salaries and budgets and to wine and dine business prospects, including travel, dinner and entertainment budgets.

"We just have no budget for that and that's just not common practice on how that gets done," Carter said.

County Chairman Kathy Morgan is expected to bring a similar proposal before the Board of Commissioners soon. Carter said that the Chamber Board of Directors would like to have the city vote on this increased proposal by the first meeting in December.

Morgan said previously that how that increased economic development is created, whether more positions are hired or just a president, is up the to Chamber.

"I've talked to communities that do this well and have done it well consistently for 10 or more years, and looked at the program they've modeled and conveyed that to the Chamber," Morgan said. "As far as the president or a separate economic development person, that is a chamber decision. I will not be the deciding factor of whether the BOC funds Chamber work."

On Monday, Councilwoman Janet Goodman asked if the city's increased spending was contingent on the county's decision and Carter said that the city would not contribute more than the county does. She said previously that the county is usually the one who takes the lead on economic development, but in Newton County's case, most of the industrial land is located in Covington.

"The city has always partnered 50-50 because when the tide rises all boats will rise," she said.

In addition to these discussions, at Tuesday's Industrial Development Authority meeting Morgan brought up the possibility of the IDA and even private businesses investing in economic development as well. She said if possible, it would be good if economic development was not 100 percent government funded.

She said a prominent local businessman told her that the community has to increase economic development - there is no other option.

The city, county and Chamber are having a work session to further discuss these issues Thursday at 7 p.m. at The Center.