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New 911 center makes headway
911 center
A screenshot from city of Covington's 911 director Trudy Henry's presentation shows two possible ideas for a new 911 center in Newton County.

NEWTON COUNTY – The process of a new 911 center has made some headway as the Newton County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to allow the city of Covington to pursue a request for quote (RFQ).

The county conducted a work session prior to the regular scheduled Feb. 5 meeting to discuss the shared 911 center.

City of Covington 911 director Trudy Henry spoke before the board to share the urgency that is needed to complete the project.

Henry said that currently the 911 center is in a small space that lacks essential spaces needed for briefings and other business-related matters. While they recently moved into the new 911 building in late 2019, Henry said it is not currently sufficient for the volume of calls that come in.

“It’s just hard… we don’t have a dedicated space to do briefing,” Henry said. “We pretty much just kind of stand in a circle, brief and put them on the radios.”

Henry has been with the city of Covington 911 department for 30 years. She said that she would like to see a building that will “withstand the test of time.”

“My plan is to build and maintain a 911 center that will withstand future growth, future demands and be a permanent location,” Henry said.

In Henry’s presentation, funding for the new 911 center would be collected through a combination of E911 revenue and a bond. The numbers listed were $2,434,490 in 2023 E911 revenue as well as a $4.5 million, 30-year bond with a 3.5 percent rate.

The property would be a joint ownership between the city and the county, with the facility being owned by the county’s facilities authority. Once the bond is retired, the property would be deeded to the city/county. Furthermore, an intergovernmental agreement between the two parties would be needed to fulfill the lease from the county’s facilities authority.

The city or county would not have to contribute any additional funds for the building unless any other capital items are needed. Those would be budgeted for and paid in a split by the two governmental entities, with 75 percent to the county and 25 percent to the city based on calls.

Currently, the projected location is located off of Hwy. 36 South.

Commissioners were widely on the same page with the project, with District 5 representative Ronnie Cowan speaking first on its importance.

“The people here deserve a functioning 911 center that is useful and can be added onto,” Cowan said. “I think it’s a critical thing we gotta have.”

District 4 representative J.C. Henderson said that the county and city of Covington should collaborate together to get the project moving.

“I believe this is a great idea and I think we should work together so that we can build a good building that the county can be proud of.”

District 1 representative Stan Edwards also shared the same sentiment as Cowan and Henderson.

“I do understand the importance of making sure this is a facility that can accommodate a growing and changing community,” Edwards said. “So maybe now is the right time to talk about that, understand that, discuss it and get it done.”

County manager Harold Cooper said that he and finance director Brittany White would come together and conduct a comprehensive financial analysis to determine the next steps.

City of Covington’s mayor Fleeta Baggett then took the podium and stated that the county has pushed this item down the road for years.

She expressed the city’s urgency to complete the project.

“We cannot continue to kick this down the curb,” Baggett said. “If this is not something that you all figure out that you can do then the city is willing to go ahead and take 911 back and do it ourselves… You don’t have any problem spending money on splash pads. Get the 911 center.”

After some brief dialogue between Baggett and District 2 representative Demond Mason, Mason opted to remind the Covington mayor that both entities are in it as a team, and no blame should be placed on either side.

“I don’t want it to be where the city of Covington is pointing fingers at the Board of Commissioners or the Board of Commissioners is pointing fingers at the city of Covington,” Mason said. “The objective is not to blame anyone or to make anyone look as if they’re not doing their part.”

Mason also told Baggett that this was the first time this issue had come before the board.

Henderson also spoke to Baggett, stating that the goal is for everyone to work together to complete this project.

Baggett, however, still had her reservations about the future of the project.

“It’s just been extremely frustrating,” Baggett said. “Of all the projects since coming into office, this continues to be kicked down the curb and I do not think we have another single thing that is in the forefront that the city and county needs to be working on that’s more important than this.”

Before any other commissioners could intervene, charman Marcello Banes told Baggett that this was the first time the commissioners had heard about the project and that the financial analysis conducted by Cooper and White is “more than fair.”

After the agenda was amended, Cowan made a motion to allow the city of Covington to pursue a RFQ. It passed unanimously.

Currently, there is no timetable as to when the city of Covington will pursue the RFQ, as it was not listed on the city’s upcoming agenda as of press time.