Projects funded if civic center axed:
• purchase of railroad right of ways in Newton County and Covington for the Rails to Trails project
• improvement of the Hunter Street/Stallings Street corridor
• erection of wayfinding signage in Newton County and Covington
• Miracle Field program
•restoration of the historic jail and a historic center in Covington
• development of Chimney Park
No one opposed raising Covington’s hotel/motel tax from 5 percent to 8 percent at Monday’s 6 p.m. public meeting at City Hall. Several city and county officials attended the meeting and everyone who spoke — volunteer tourism board member Maurice Carter, District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing and Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce President John Boothby — all spoke in favor of the tax increase citing the economic benefits it would bring to the city and county.
State Sen. John Douglas and Rep. Doug Holt will place the proposed tax increase resolution before the state legislature for approval soon, Mayor Kim Carter said. Carter said the process should be quick and simple.
The extra 3 percent in hotel/motel taxes will be used to continue to fund tourism and to help fund the long-awaited civic center. The current 5 percent tax brings in around $200,000 in revenue every year. That money is split, with 60 percent going to the chamber of commerce and 40 percent going to Main Street Covington.
The additional $120,000 gathered from the 3 percent increase, would also be split. Half, about $64,000, would be given to the civic center fund. The other half would be split 60/40 between the chamber and Main Street. The previously proposed hotel and conference center are not part of this version of the civic center project.
In addition, Douglas and Holt asked the city to stipulate that if the civic center is determined to be "not viable" within two years of the tax increase, then the hotel/motel funding that has been set aside can be used for other projects. Six other projects have been approved to receive funding if the civic center project falls through.
Boothby said the civic center project does not have to meet any set criteria within the two years, but some progress must be made.
"We want to have something accomplished or substantially accomplished," said Boothby, who is the chairman of civic center task force. "If (the civic center project) is having problems for any reasons, site selection or anything, now we have a fallback position that we did not have in the past."
If progress is made, then the increased tax money can continue to be set aside for the civic center, which by itself has an estimated cost of $11 million. As a note, a final site has not been selected for the civic center. Officials are looking at multiple sites; they want an area that is good for the civic center and would allow a conference center and hotel to be built in the future, Boothby said. The $5 million in SLOST funding that was previously approved for the civic center is not tied into this two-year stipulation.
Despite the numerous delays, the civic center remains a top priority for city and county leaders, because of the potential economic development effect. A civic center would increase tourism and attract businesses, Boothby said. An improved arts presence is key factor in bringing in new businesses, because the city becomes more attractive to employees and the civic center provides a rental space for company functions.