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Local cities discuss common problems
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On Nov. 13 Newton County’s six mayors, including the mayor of Social Circle, met to discuss common issues.

As always money is one of the most important issues facing governments in the upcoming years. Porterdale City Manager Tom Fox said that the local option sales tax distribution has to be renegotiated after the 2010 Census.

"It’s very important to Porterdale. We’re a small city, and the last time it was done, we felt that we had no input," Fox said. "We lost $50,000 per year, and that hurt our small budget."

Fox said Porterdale also wants to be more involved in the next special local option sales tax discussion. Covington Mayor Kim Carter said that the 2011 SPLOST committee is being formed.

Fox said that Porterdale has been criticized for not having a master road plan previously, but the city has been working on that and will have shovel-ready projects for the 2011 SPLOST.

He said that the city did sit on some 1995 SPLOST money, but Mayor Bobby Hamby said part of the reason was due to the fact the city was waiting on the state to fund part of the Crowell Road and Ga. Highway 81 intersection improvement. However, after years of delays, Hamby said the city is no longer going to wait for the state and is going to start saving up money.

Covington City Manager Steve Horton said his city also wants to be involved in the SPLOST discussions. He said the state’s laws naturally give the county the upperhand in allocation, but if the cities plan together, then they will have more leverage.

"If people stand together, then the county will be more aware of our needs. We need to do a better job of being together and speaking with a unified voice," Horton said.

One of the other common concerns the cities shared was trying to deal with substandard housing.

Fox said Porterdale recently passed an ordinance that allows the city to go in and inspect a house if utility service is interrupted for 21 or more days. This ordinance is important because Porterdale has a lot of substandard housing that is not kept up by landlords. However, many of the maintenance problems are on the interior and the city can’t enter a house to inspect without reasonable cause.

With the ordinance change, Porterdale inspectors will now be able to go into many rental properties when they are in between tenants. If the inspectors find violations they can then force the landlord to fix the house. Fox said so far the early returns are positive.

Social Circle Jim Burgess said his city has been trying to get legislation passed at the state level to help them inspect their houses, and he asked for a copy of Porterdale’s ordinance.

Carter said Covington inspectors can go into houses in-between tenants if the city is the utility provider. She said Porterdale’s ordinance sounded promising.

Horton said Covington has talked about doing neighborhood surveys, where inspectors would go and interview residents and would ask them if they would like the city to inspect their house. Inspectors can only go in if the owner or tenant requests an inspection. This proactive approach might help lead to more inspections.

Carter said the key is to catch momentum on this issue.

"It’s hard because tenants fear that landlords will simply increase rent if anything has to be fixed," she said.

Carter told the other mayors about Covington’s recently passed Urban Redevelopment Plan and Covington Redevelopment Authority, and Fox said the county should consider a countywide plan to fix housing.