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Search continues for development leader
City considers changing utiltiy hangtag, cut off policies
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After more than a year, the chamber of commerce has yet to hire an economic development leader, but chamber President Hunter Hall said Monday night he won't rush the decision.

Hall gave the Covington City Council its quarterly update Monday and said the chamber is still searching after conducting more than 20 interviews and meeting with five finalists in 2010. He said the chamber made one job offer a couple of months ago, but that candidate declined. Hall said the candidate liked Newton County, but wanted to finish what he had started in his community.

Hall said the search has been prolonged because the chamber is pursuing talented, young candidates who are already  employed.

"The person we're looking to hire is not looking for a job," he said. "He didn't get let go and is looking to reposition. Every candidate we've brought in is a candidate we've searched out."

Economic forecasts call for a resumption of significant economic growth in 2012 and 2013, the first since the recession began in December 2007, Hall said. The chamber wants to position itself in 2011 for growth by making a strong hire and having land available for industries.

Hall said the chamber is close to making a hire. The chamber is focused on job growth, which Hall said will have to come before the residential development market rebounds.

Potential Utility Changes
Covington residents who don't pay their utility bills may no longer see a tag hanging on their doors in 2011, as the city is considering notifying customers of past due bills through a phone message.

Personnel Director Ronnie Cowan said the city's new phone system has a feature that will allow it to autodial customers who are past due and leave a message notifying that customer of his payment status.

For customers without a phone, the city would either send a letter notice or place a hangtag.

The city would notify its customers before changing the policy.

The city is also considering disallowing residents to have only some utilities turned on or off at any given time. Cowan said the city discovers customer accounts every week where a resident is using a utility that he had previously requested be cut off, costing the city money.

He said the most common scenario is when a landlord has hired a crew of workers to renovate a house. The landlord will request only the electricity be turned on, but while renovating the house, the workers will discover they need water and illegally cut on the water. The city is then providing water at cost to itself, but the resident is not being billed. The owner can then claim he did not authorize the water to be cut on and refuse to pay.

One solution would be to require that all utilities either be cut off or cut on.

Councilman Chris Smith said he didn't think that was fair to customers who were following the law, while other members felt that was the best way to protect the city.

Cowan said he would set up a meeting with landlords to get their perspectives.