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Rail talk off track for city council
Council approves budget, axes communications officer
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The Covington City Council will not talk about the Norfolk Southern railroad corridor during the remainder of this calendar year.

The item was not on the agenda but was brought up by Councilman Chris Smith and approved 4-1 by the council. Councilwoman Janet Goodman was opposed and Councilwoman Ocie Franklin was absent.

Mayor Kim Carter felt the vote was inappropriate, because it was not placed on the agenda ahead of time, and she vetoed the vote. The council then voted 3-2 to override the mayor's veto, with Goodman and Councilman Mike Whatley opposing.

Smith originally wanted to block discussion for all of the fiscal year 2012, until June 30, 2012, but City Attorney Ed Crudup said a council cannot obligate another council in that fashion. Smith said he didn't want the city to use any surplus funding from next year's budget to pursue a purchase.

Carter asked the council to remain open to new information that could come from the railroad, but Smith said he was simply tired of the topic, which the county has voted to not pursue twice previously. Goodman said she felt the vote violated her right to free speech.

City budget approved; communications officer axed

The council also approved the fiscal year 2012 budget, but decided to cut out a public communication officer position with an expected salary of $55,000 and benefits of $22,000.

Smith made the motion, saying he was uncomfortable with the salary, and said the council could revisit the position in the future.

Carter expressed opposition because the position was included in the city's strategic plan, which was recently completed as a three-year roadmap for the city.

The $121 million in expenditures in the budget is $3 million more than last year, but the majority of the increase actually comes from grants, which are recorded as both revenue and expenditures.

Finance Director Leigh Anne Knight said the city is getting $1 million in housing grants, a $500,000 water line grant and $500,000 in state money to build medians on U.S. Highway 278. It has also budgeted $500,000 for a new airport terminal grant, which has not been officially approved by OneGeorgia.

Another $1 million in revenue is expected to come from increased volume of electricity sales. The actual rate will not increase.

The city expects to collect $554,272 less in property taxes in fiscal year 2012, because of declining property values. The city's millage rate remained steady at 8.208.
The city will collect $122 million in revenues, with a surplus of $716,831 which will go into the reserve account.

In other news, the council approved a policy change that requires the city to get an appraisal on all land it plans to buy or sell. This stemmed from Smith's opposition to the city's purchase of vacant lots in the Walker's Bend subdivision on the grounds the city didn't get an appraisal.

Horton said the city had already been doing this, but that it wasn't an official policy.