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Kim Carter - Mayor gives update on Covington's progress

Editor's Note: The following is a guest editorial supplied by Covington Mayor Kim Carter

Six months into 2008, I am pleased to report your City Council and mayor have accomplished much. We continually strive to improve the efficiency of service delivery to you, the shareholders of Covington, and to better position our government for the challenges of the future. This is the first of many planned guest editorials to keep the citizens of Covington informed. I, and your council, are proud to be your public servants and welcome every opportunity to involve you in moving our city forward.

We began this year with a strategic planning retreat in February, which gave us three strategic imperatives to drive our current year budget and investments. These are: economic development activities, human resources improvements for the city operations, and an emphasis on using information technology to work more efficiently. Speaking of our budget, the city has changed its fiscal year to align with Newton County and the school board, meaning our new fiscal year runs July 1 through June 30. This change to align with our partners will enable better collaboration of spending for joint projects.

In January, I met with the Georgia Department of Transportation and successfully negotiated a plan to get tractor trailer truck traffic off the Historic Square. This has been a point of contention for many years. This plan involved a road swap agreement allowing the city to take control of the present Ga. Hwy. 36 between the Bypass and the Square, including Church and Monticello streets. The state will assume responsibility for the Bypass Road from Ga. 36 to U.S. Hwy. 278. As part of the deal, the roads Covington is taking over will be completely milled and resurfaced prior to being turned over to us. This is conservatively estimated at more than $1 million in value.

Easily the most significant decision made this year - and perhaps in the last decade - involves our investment in the two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. This decision impacts our citizens through the year 2038 and is worth an estimated $163 million dollars in environmentally clean, reliable, nuclear energy. Looking decades into the future and forecasting how population growth and development will drive electricity demand is an extremely complex undertaking. Lock in too little capacity - a situation we are in today - and we must purchase power on the open market at higher prices. But, securing too much capacity also leaves us exposed to having more power than we can sell to our residential and industrial customers. Making the right choice now impacts our children and their children for years to come. This action will go far toward stabilizing our utility rates for the next generation and will leave our customers less at risk for skyrocketing power bills.

For such an important decision, we worked closely with multiple consultants experienced in electrical capacity planning. We asked for 35 megawatts of capacity from the Vogtle offering, and we ended up receiving 26.3 megawatts. As a result, we feel Covington will be well positioned from 2016 toward the middle of this century.

However, despite success securing long-term power, we struggle today with a lack of base power to serve our residents and businesses. As a result, we purchase 25 percent to 30 percent of our electricity on the open market in the summer months. This is an extremely costly situation that impacts all of our electrical customers. The reasons for the current situation are complex, many and they go far back. Rest assured, however, your mayor, the council, and all city officials are focused on solving this problem in a fiscally responsible manner as quickly as possible.

We have worked hard to completely re-work our alcohol ordinance for the first time since the late 1970s. The changes that have been voted into the city code will ensure our community is positioned competitively for future economic development and modern with today's laws. As part of this work, patrons can now legally dine on the sidewalks in the city.

We've purchased equipment for our PEG (public, educational, and government) cable channels. Future programming can be seen on Charter Cable channels 8, 20, and 22. I'm very pleased to say that soon we will begin broadcasting all City Council meetings, Planning Commission meetings, and new educational programming. These actions will give you an up-close-and-personal view of your city government at work. Stay tuned for more info on opportunities to take advantage of these channels.

Lastly, our budget represents no millage increase and is $870,000 less in general fund spending over the 2007 budget year. Our city department heads made difficult decisions to cut non-essential spending. These efforts mean more service for fewer dollars. I am extremely grateful to City Manager Steve Horton, City Council members, and our management team at City Hall for their commitment to increasing our government's efficiency while not impacting service to you.

Watch for more guest editorials, cable television broadcasts, and town hall meetings to keep you, the shareholders of the city of Covington, more informed. Until then, I remain your humble public servant.

Kimberly C. Carter

Mayor, City of Covington