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No tax cut for city residents
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The Covington City Council mulled giving citizens a tax break this year, but after going through the budget and hearing the state of each department, the council ultimately chose to spend that $244,000 on public safety.

The council approved a millage rate of 8.208 — the same rate the city’s had for several years — at Monday’s council meeting.

At its first budget work session April 30, the council discussed possibly cutting the millage rate by half a mill, which City Manager Leigh Anne Knight estimated would cost the city $244,000 in tax revenue. For a home valued at $150,000, the reduction would represent a savings of $30 in Covington taxes ($492.48 reduced to $462.48).
At the April meeting, Knight said several items and projects had been cut out of the proposed budget, and she asked the council to hear from department heads before making a decision.

Councilman Chris Smith, who initially raised the idea of a tax break, said Tuesday, the council decided to invest in public safety, and part or all of the money will be used to buy more police vehicles for the department’s Assigned Officer program. The program needs 17 vehicles to complete the program.

“That was the difference in cutting the millage rate half a mill or finishing the (Assigned Officer) program, and we agreed with (finishing the program). We’re committed to public safety and doing what’s best for the community,”  Smith said.

The Covington Police Department has 54 officers and the Assigned Officer program assigns a separate vehicle to each officer, Police Chief Stacey Cotton said Tuesday. While the initial vehicle costs are higher, the goal of the program is to improve vehicle longevity, both by giving cars time to rest, so they’re not running constantly and by holding officers accountable for the condition of their cars, he said previously. Officers get to drive cars to and from work but can’t drive them for personal use.

Cotton said previously, cars would get worn out after 70,000 miles, around two years, but under this program, cars and other vehicles will last six to seven years.

Another future cost saving is that the newly purchased vehicles will be dual-fuel vehicles, able to run on both gasoline and compressed natural gas (CNG). The vehicles will cost more up front, but they’ll save money over their life because the gallon equivalent of CNG is much cheaper than gasoline, officials have said previously.
Cotton said officials are working on specifications for the vehicles now and will plan to bid them out soon.
Mayor Ronnie Johnson said the council also wanted to help the police department by providing money for two additional officers and new and improved cameras for cars. The vehicles, officers and equipment add up to much more than $244,000, but the money will help pay those costs.

Other briefs
• Resident Bob Atkinson said the CSX railroad crossing over Alcovy Road near Fibervisions is getting bad again and needs to be repaired.

Deputy City Manager Billy Bouchillon said the city can’t repair it because it belongs to CSX, but he said city officials would follow-up with CSX.

• The Covington City Council also officially voted to redirect $93,000 to retail and small business recruitment efforts. Mayor Johnston previously raised the idea for the recruitment position, which is most likely going to be contracted out to the chamber.

The $93,000 was previously spent on economic development efforts with Electric Cities of Georgia, a group that provides varied services to cities that sell electricity. Johnston said, and ultimately, the council felt that money could be better used locally.

• Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams earned a Certificate of Distinction from the Georgia Municipal Association for totaling 204 hours of training.