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Redevelopment Authority to buy additional lots
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The Covington Redevelopment Authority is planning to purchase nine more lots in the Walker's Bend subdivision as it continues efforts to revitalize that area.

The lots are owned by the United Community Bank, according to the Newton County Tax Assessor's Web site. The bank has a branch on the Covington ByPass Road.

The nine lots will be purchased on June 18 for a total of $45,000, about $5,000 a lot, plus additional closing costs, according to a letter from city Finance Director Leigh-Anne Knight.

On Monday night, the Covington City Council voted unanimously to approve the purchase. The CRA required permission from the council because it used money loaned by the city to purchase the lots, Carter said Tuesday. The city previously loaned about $570,000 in seed money to the CRA. As affordable houses are built and sold, the mortgage money will be used to repay the city. Once all of the original seed money has been repaid, the CRA will then be autonomous, Carter said.

The nine lots are spread throughout the subdivision. The CRA purchased 38 properties in Walker's Bend in December, most of which were foreclosed.

City Planning Director Randy Vinson previously said the goal was to partner with a private development firm to renovate current housing and build new affordable housing.
However, one roadblock was the fact another private development firm, Rialto Capital Management, had purchased 31 lots primarily near the entrance of the neighborhood. Vinson had been attempting to negotiate for the CRA to purchase Rialto's lots or trade lots within Walker's Bend.

However, Carter said Tuesday that the CRA had recently put Rialto in touch with Affordable Equity Partners, a firm the city has worked with in the past. She said it's possible the two groups may be able to work out a deal, which could lead to AEP building 30 single-family affordable homes.

She said the CRA is also working on a partnership with the Covington Housing Authority to create a homebuyer counseling service program to help train families on how to repair their credit and learn how to handle the responsibilities of owning a home.

The CRA is working in Walker's Bend, located off of Ga. Highway 81 before Porterdale, because it saw the neighborhood as being on the verge of becoming a slum and officials hoped to turn in around through concentrated investment, Vinson said previously.

• In other city news, the city's public works department received a re-accreditation award by the American Public Works Association, and is the only city in Georgia to be accredited. The city has been accredited since 2006.

According to a APWA, its accreditation program recognizes public works agencies that meet or exceed national public works standard in areas such as water, solid waste management, street and sewer repair and maintenance, engineering, building maintenance, storm water drainage, traffic safety, environmental services and vehicle maintenance.

In addition, the City of Covington is one of only three cities in the U.S. that have four nationally accredited programs, along with Plano, Texas, and Bellevue, Wash., according to our local police accreditation manager.

The emergency 911, fire, police and public works departments are all nationally accredited. City Manager Steve Horton said the public works department is the largest in the city.

"It says you're willing to work at a higher level of service for your community to maintain standards about how you behave and the process you do," Horton said. "I'm proud of the hard work of all of them."

Public Works Director Billy Bouchillon thanked all city personnel fro helping his department reached these standards. He said the APWA reviewed more than 200 of the 533 standards the department has to follow, and Covington was compliant on all of the standards.

• As part of its early retirement package, the city is adding the incentive of allowing all 19 employees taking the offer to be able to be paid out their accrued sick time. Normally, only employees with more than 25 years of service would be eligible, but Personnel Director Ronnie Cowan suggested offering the sick leave payout to the additional nine employees, many of whom have just under 25 years of service.

He said the idea is to reward employees who have not used their sick time unnecessarily, as opposed to punishing them. This will also reduce the temptation for employees to slow down in their final months. He said this would cost the city any additional money, because this sick leave is already budgeted as part of the employee's annual salary.

This will also encourage employees to leave earlier than they might have otherwise, which will allow Cowan to being seeking and hiring necessary replacement sooner. Most positions will not be rehired, but four employees are retiring from the planning department and some of them will have to be added back. Employees can earn a maximum of 720 hours of sick leave.