Update, Tuesday, 8:55 p.m.: The Covington City Council reached an informal consensus Tuesday night not to double its funding to the Newton County Library System to $30,000 next year.
The library was requesting the additional funding to help purchase more books and other materials. At its Tuesday work session, the council was split 3 to 3 on whether to fund the increase, with council members Janet Goodman, Chris Smith and Mike Whatley opposed. Mayor Kim Carter was then called to give her opinion to break the tie, and said she was torn but ultimately did not believe it was appropriate for the city to increase funding by $15,000.
Carter, and other council members, expressed concern that additional funding might be used to help the new Porter Memorial Branch Library on Ga. Highway 212, which Covington residents would not use.
No official vote was taken, only a consensus; however, that consensus will be reflected in the fiscal year 2012 budget.
Original Story, May 6: As the county struggles with yet another year of cost cutting, the library and recreation departments are turning to the city of Covington for money, but the city council is balking at footing the bill.
The Newton County Recreation Commission requested $308,000from the city, enough to pay for four employees, but the city council denied the request, based on an informal consensus reached at Wednesday's budget work session,
However, the council was split on whether to double its annual appropriation to the Newton County Library System to $30,000.
Covington weathered the housing market meltdown better than other local governments because it was less dependent on property tax revenue, relying instead on annual profits from gas and electric sales.
City officials have been hesitant to contribute money to county enterprises, because the city has no oversight over how the funds are used and doesn't wish to increase its financial burden.
The county has continued to add parks and other facilities despite cutting recreation funding the past two budget cycles. In order to pay for those new facilities - Denny Dobbs Park, Cousins Gym and new office space - and existing buildings, the recreation commission says it needs an extra $300,000 to bring its budget to $2.1 million.
The city and county used jointly to fund recreation, but the two parties reached an intergovernmental agreement in 1995 that switched control to the county. In exchange for the county taking over the costs and responsibilities of recreation, it was also given control of the Williams Street water plant. This gave the county control over all water production in Newton County and made it the sole wholesale water provider.
The recreation commission receives the majority of its funding from the county but also brings in fees for youth and adult sports and facilities rentals.
In addition to the above agreement, council members pointed out that the city still owns many of the parks in Covington and allows the recreation commission to use them.
Another concern was the house that the recreation commission lease-purchased last year for $300,000 and is now using for its main administrative offices. The 2,900-square-foot house added to the overhead for the recreation commission, and council members want to support programs, not overhead.
"We gave them the water plant; we did our part. It's not our fault they built and built and bought and now they can't fund the programs and they want us to subsidize the program," said Councilman Chris Smith. "I don't think that's right. I don't think that's fair to the taxpayers of Covington."
Mayor Kim Carter said the city maintains recreational facilities outside of the recreation commission and is planning to offer more activities at Legion Field and elsewhere.
The council was split on whether to increase funding for the library system. Council members admitted that the library system is heavily used and needed by job seekers and students, but the city was hesitant to provide additional money unless that money was guaranteed to be used for the Covington branch.
Covington originally gave a $6,000 appropriation to the library system but increased that appropriation to $15,000 a few years ago to keep the Covington branch open on Saturdays.
The Newton County Library Board of Trustees is requesting the city double the annual appropriation to $30,000, because use is expected to increase as always this next fiscal year. The Covington branch has closed on Mondays because of budget concerns.
The library system's proposed budget for the county for fiscal year 2012 is $816,452 for the Covington branch and $300,000 for the Porter Memorial Library Branch.
Mayor Carter said she was in favor of increasing funding because so many people use it to search for jobs, but Councilman Smith said city residents already pay for the library through county taxes. He also expressed concern that the money would be used for the Porter Memorial branch, which is located on Ga. Highway 212 in the county.
Horton suggested that if the council did approve funding, they could stipulate that any new funding be used exclusively for the Covington branch. The council could also ensure through a contract that library hours and days of operation would not be changed if they provided additional funding.
Council members Smith and Janet Goodman were opposed to the funding, while Keith Dalton, Ocie Franklin and Hawnethia Williams were in favor. Councilman Mike Whatley was absent, so the council decided to revisit the topic lately.
Covington's proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 is $123.7million in revenue and $122.3 million in expenditures, but Finance Director Leigh Anne Knight said those figures will change before the budget is approved. The fiscal year 2011 budget was $ 119 million in revenue and $118 million