In a struggling economy, county, city and business leaders looked for ways to create jobs and bring in new businesses. However, those efforts hit a roadblock when the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce President John Boothby resigned in mid-September.
Boothby said at the time that he was resigning to spend more time with his fiancé, who lives in a different county, and to pursue new career opportunities, like consulting. However, rumors have continued to swirl around town that Boothby was forced out.
A new president has not yet been hired. For the past few months, the chamber, city and county have been meeting to
determine the future of their relationship and economic development in Newton County. In December, the city and county both agreed to increase the money they spend annually on services provided by the chamber. The chamber will now be paid a total of $241,000 from the city and county to pursue economic development, up from the previous annual total of $108,000.
As of earlier this month, the search committee that was formed to find a new president had not yet begun interviewing candidates, and no timetable was given for hiring a replacement.
Outside of joint ventures like chamber spending and the proposed railroad purchase, the Covington had fewer heated issues on its plate in 2009 than its county counterpart.
While the city’s budget was smaller for FY 2010, the current fiscal year which began on July 1, city did not have to make any drastic or heartbreaking cuts. However, some city residents wished they had cut more.
The city’s controversial issues seemed to be over smaller amounts, but they raised a raucous nonetheless.
Perceived Public Excess
A carry-over issue from 2008, the council’s desire to buy new office furniture for the Elected Officials’ Office caused a public outcry whenever it was discussed. The council finally approved spending up to $12,000 for new furniture in mid-January, with Mayor Kim Carter casting a tie-breaking vote.
Later in the year the council decided not to give themselves pay raises. The council actually considered the matter twice in 2009, once in February and once in July. In neither case did the council formally vote on a pay raise, but in February they tabled the vote and in July they informally decided not to discuss it again in 2009.
Currently, the mayor currently makes $12,000 and the council members $6,000. Because the elected officials pay had not changed since 1977, Personnel Director Ronnie Cowan suggested increasing the mayor’s salary to $18,000, and the council member’s salaries to $9,000. The pay raises would have added $24,000 to the budget. However, by and large the public did not favor the raises, because raises for elected officials are never popular, and because the current economic climate was worse than usual.
Carter has been a supporter of the raises, and in July she said the issue will be revisited at a later time, maybe in 2010. She added that the overall consensus of the council was that the raises were deserved, but the time was not right because of the economy.
High utilities costs have long been a complaint of city residents, and city officials tried to at least stabilize costs and prevent them from rising, if not actually cut them. In recent years power demand has increased and Covington has had to buy power on the open market, where the prices are generally high and volatile. In 2009, the city signed a contract with the Municipal Electric Cities of Georgia to increase the amount of power it buys from them, and Covington also signed a contract with the City of Marietta to buy some of their excess power.
One of the city’s largest projects was the rehabilitation of the Covington Municipal Airport, which is still underway. The runway was chewed up and re-paved because of holes on the runway and to remove the dip between the old and new portion of runway; the taxiway was aslo rehabbed; the apron, where the plane tie downs and hangars are located, was repaved; and the fuel farms were moved.
The project’s cost is around $5.4 million, with about $4.5 million to be paid by state and federal transportation departments.
The two-and-a-half year long construction project at the Interstate 20 and Alcovy Road interchange was completed in early August. The $55.7 million project was started in Jan. 2007 because of the county’s rapid growth and increased traffic.
A long-planned roundabout at the intersection of Turner Lake Road and Clark Street was also approved by the city, and will be paid for entirely by stimulus money. The semi-controversial project is expected to begin in the spring of 2010.
New Starts and Fond Farewells
The CW Network signed on to air a new show, "The Vampire Diaries", which has been filming Covington since July. The show is based on author L.J. Smith’s 1991 trilogy of books, and early ratings have been promising. In October the CW Network announced that it would pick up the show for a full 21-episode season. Originally, only 12 episodes had been contracted, with an additional nine to be filmed if ratings were good. Reuter's reported at the time that the show was averaging 4.5 million viewers, making it the network's most-watched show.
Incumbent Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams was reelected after defeating challenger, and former 14-year councilman, Charles Wilborn in the Nov. 3 election. Councilman John Howard retired this year after 16 years on the council.