COVINGTON, Ga. – Newton County Tomorrow, a collaborative group of representatives from Newton County and its cities, wants the city of Covington to have some “skin in the game” through a monetary contribution after the city pulled its funding from the group in its fiscal year 2018-19 budget.
Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston, who formerly served as the chairman for NCT, said the decision to not fund the group came after the city reduced its contribution last year and still failed to see a return on the investment.
Stephanie Lindsey, a citizen representative for NCT, said the group is working to “aggressively address” three main issues: transportation, workforce development and poverty. Lindsey was selected to spearhead the transportation efforts for the group.
“I think what the irony is in that Covington has elected to not fund this program is that the main area that is going to benefit from the transportation is the downtown city of Covington area,” she said. “Right now, the initiative is looking at how to implement that first and the best place to do that would be in the corridor right there where the (Highway 278) CID (Community Improvement District) is located, where the housing authority currently is. We’ve had plans; we’ve had discussions about it.”
Lindsey said she was caught by surprise when she found out Covington had withdrawn its funding for the group.
“I ask you to reconsider your decision to withhold that money and contribute,” she said. “When we talk about ‘One Newton,’ it’s not ‘One Newton minus Covington,’ it’s One Newton, all of us together.”
Oxford Mayor Jerry Roseberry, who also serves as part of the NCT group, said Covington has seen substantial savings on projects as a direct result of its participation with NCT.
“This community is much stronger when we’re all working together,” he said. “I want you all to think about that.”
Porterdale Mayor Arline Chapman said losing Covington’s participation in NCT would be a loss for the community as a whole.
“I feel as though if we were to lose the city of Covington in this collaborative effort, it would be a loss for all of us,” she said. “I hope if the city decides that they don’t want to participate, that your mayor will because he brings a lot to the table.
“He is a viable part of that group and we need him and we need the city of Covington. As you work through your efforts, please take into consideration remaining a part of Newton County Tomorrow.”
Newton County Chairman Marcello Banes considers NCT to be a team with the goal of bettering the entire community.
“We want Covington to be a part of it,” he said. “We consider Covington to be a part of the team. We’re trying to build a team so we want you guys to be a part of the team. We want to have a place that we really can shoot for One Newton. Guys, you play a big part of that if you would please reconsider. I hope the mayor will lead that drive to get the team to stay whole.”
Covington Councilman Josh McKelvey questioned how the funding from previous years had been used.
Lindsey said a majority of the funds are used for administrative costs, but funds are also used to benefit, or start, the initiatives.
“It is almost like, you have to have funds to keep the company going and hopefully the company will come up with ideas – like a think tank – to go ahead and see the benefit of what you get for what you spent,” she said.
She said through the initiatives of NCT, the city has seen substantial savings on certain projects over the year.
“Let me just say this, first of all I am 100 million percent supportive person on collaboration,” Johnston said. “I started in 2012 and it blew me away. I thought that’s how all governments work and I found out very quickly that’s not how most governments work at all. So, I’m 100 percent support of it, but let me just make it very clear what my concern is.
“My concern is strictly financial.”
Johnston said the mayors of each city get together monthly with a rotating location schedule. While he said it is not at the same level of NCT, there are no administrative costs associated with the meetings.
“Just to make it clear, because I started this discussion amongst several people last year and was kind of shunned,” he said. “It was said ‘You know, we need The Center, we need administrative help, we need all these things …’ I’m sitting here going ‘Well, we’re not really producing any products so it’s just a matter of time before the public’s going to find out and bite us in the butt.’ That was my concern.”
Johnston said he believes there is a way to run NCT more efficiently.
“I want to sustain this for a long time,” he said. “I want it to be bulletproof.”
Lindsey said she wants the city’s continued support and she wants the city’s buy-in.
“I want you guys to be involved and I want you to have skin in it,” she said. “I think that you’re going to be involved regardless and you’ll come to the meetings, but there’s a difference between coming to the meetings and actually having skin in it which means pay the $12,000 or $13,000 or whatever it was that was withheld.”
Johnston said the funding discussion with the city council will continue.