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City approves water rate increase
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The Covington city council voted 4-2 to increase the water rate by 30 cents for every 1,000 gallons used over the 3,000 minimum, with councilman Chris Smith and councilwoman Hawnethia Williams opposing.

The increase is based on usage and comes as a result of the county raising the wholesale price of water.

"Our ordinance change was necessary to off-set their increase," deputy city manager Billy Bouchillon said in an email.

The county sells water to cities and the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority.

Hathorn sworn in as new municipal judge
Mayor Ronnie Johnston swore in the city's new municipal court judge, Steven Hathorn.

Hathorn will take over the position on June 1; Judge Ben Hendricks has been temporarily filling in after former judge David Strickland was not reappointed.

Hathorn has more than 30 years of experience practicing law and has served as municipal court judge for Oxford for several years.

The council also unanimously approved a motion to hire a backup municipal court judge. The council said that a backup judge would be necessary in case a judge was sick or needed to recuse himself from a case.

Councilwoman Janet Goodman suggested interim municipal court judge Ben Hendricks as a good candidate.

Council discusses possible excise tax on industry
The city council said it will wait until the county makes a decision to impose an excise tax or not on energy for industry before making any decision on such a tax.

A provision in the tax reform passed by the state earlier this year will eliminate taxes that industries pay on the energy they use in production.

To minimize any negative local economic impact, the provision allows for local governments to impose a two percent excise tax on energy.

Without the excise tax, the city stands to lose $57,000 to $60,000 in revenue generated by the energy tax when fully implemented in four years, Horton said.

To the city's understanding, if the county does not give notice to the municipalities that it will enact the excise tax by September 1, the municipalities can then seek to enact an ordinance to recover any losses that might apply to them.

"At this point, I'm just bringing this up to you because we talked a bout it in [the] budget work session," Horton said. "We know that there is that September deadline coming at us. The county may or may not send that letter. I don't know."

The tax will be phased out during the next four years, and is expected to reduce state revenue by $137 million once fully implemented.

Crosswalk on Pace Street to be removed
The crosswalk located between Stallings and Usher Streets on Pace St. will be removed.

The crosswalk was put there to keep pedestrian traffic away from construction when the administration building was being built.

"We put it in for a specific purpose, but that purpose has passed," City Manager Steve Horton said.

Horton said that the crosswalk also poses a safety risk.

"Where it sits there is some sight distance problems...Sometimes people travel going north or south on Pace Street do not see people as they enter the crosswalk," Horton said.

The crosswalk lines are thermoplastic which will have to be removed by a contractor. The sidewalk will also be re-graded to standard sidewalk measurements. The estimated cost for the project is less than $3,000.

City applying for grant to get mobile fire safety classroom
The council unanimously approved a motion to apply for the 2012 Fire Prevention and Safety Grant.

With the $80,000 grant, the city would purchase a mobile fire safety classroom which would be used at the public schools and at businesses for training purposes. The mobile classroom would cost about $70,000.

With the remaining $10,000, the city would purchase smoke detectors for citizens to use in their homes.

Council votes to keep L.O.S.T. distribution the same
The city council voted to keep the distribution for the local option sales tax distribution for the next 10 years as it has been.

As the distribution stands, Newton County receives 75 percent of the funds while Covington receives 18.47 percent, Oxford 3.02 percent, Porterdale 2.05 percent, Newborn 0.83 percent and Mansfield at 0.63 percent.

Inspection fee waived for Eastside Trail
After reaching an agreement with the county about funding the paving of the Eastside trail, the city approved a
request by Newton County Special Projects Coordinator Cheryl Delk to waive the inspection fee.

Last week, the Newton County Board of Commissioners narrowly passed a motion to give the Library to Eastside Trail almost $58,000 to help complete the project with the condition that the city would cover 100 percent of the security and maintenance costs of the trail. The city will also provide funding to help complete the project, especially since approximately 80 percent of the trail is within the city.

In other news
The city decided to say with its present auditing company, Mauldin and Jenkins. The company gave a rough estimate cost of $83,700 to conduct the 2011-2012 audit. The estimate includes two major, single program audits.

One of the clarifiers at the Water Reclamation Facility will be painted, costing the city around $20,000.
Pyrotechnico was voted to conduct Covington's Fourth of July fireworks display.