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Variety of updates at town hall meeting
Civic center on hold; traffic roundabout a go

COVINGTON - Officials gave an update on important projects and answered residents' questions at the city of Covington's second town hall meeting of the year, held Thursday night at Turner Lake Complex.

Civic Center

The proposed downtown civic center/hotel project is on hold, Mayor Kim Carter said.

When the county and city agreed to authorize $23 million in revenue bonds, the interest rate was at about 4.8 percent.

Since then, "The bond market has gone crazy," she said, noting that if the bonds could be sold the rate would be "well over 10 percent."

Carter said there has yet to be an agreement reached between the private hotel developer and the city and county.

"It's on hold month by month until we see what's going on with the economy," she said.

PEG Channels

The council is expected to discuss Public Education Government channels at its Monday meeting.

The city will take over channels 8 and 20 from Charter Communications in January and channel 22 in February, Carter said.

For a nominal fee, the public will be allowed to create their own programming on these channels.

City council meetings will soon be broadcast, she said.

Roundabout

The city will let bids for the roundabout at Turner Lake Road and Clark Street at the end of the month, and, "you should see some activity happening there early next year," Carter said.

A pedestrian tunnel will be built under Turner Lake Road so people can walk from downtown to Turner Lake Park and will connect up to multi-use trail system.

Golf cart ordinance

The council received several questions about the newly passed golf cart ordinance.

One citizen wanted to know how much it will cost taxpayers.

Golf carts will be allowed only on streets with posted signs, which cost about $56 each. City Manager Steve Horton said the city has more than 300 streets, but not all will likely have signs, which must be requested and will be approved on a case-by-case basis by the council.

Another citizen asked if the carts will take up downtown parking spaces.

Horton said the carts must use regular parking spaces, as they must be parked legally and cannot be parked on the sidewalk.

However, carts are not allowed on state highways, and three sides of the Square are a state highway, so, at this point, the carts can't travel on the Square.

"We're not trying to make Covington a Peachtree City," said Councilman Mike Whatley, who initially proposed the ordinance several years ago. "What we're trying to do is make this a convenience for our citizens."

Housing

Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams addressed the city's housing problem, saying she ran for her post because she was concerned about blight.

The city has recently formed a Community Housing Team to address substandard housing and has applied for an Initiative for Community Housing grant to meet housing needs.

In addition, the city passed a nuisance ordinance to give code enforcement "more teeth," she said.

"In the past, code enforcement was not as rough and tough as they could be," she said.

The city has also applied for federal funding to redevelop or remarket blighted areas.

"Contrary to some people's thinking a few years back, we are our brother's keeper and we intend to be a big part of that," Horton said.

Mass transit

Horton said he met with county officials Wednesday to discuss pursuing available grants for public transportation.

"I think we're at that crossroads, that now is the time to be planning," he said.

Utilities

Utilities have been a major concern for residents this year, and Carter said just this week she has received six requests for help with utilities, food or to avoid eviction.

A resident in the audience Thursday asked why the city won't lock in a utility rate.

Horton said the city can't lock in the rates because it doesn't own its own utility company, but buys electricity from the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and gas from the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia and rates are dependent on the volatility of the market and in MGAG's case, are set for the city at the end of each month.

Residents who need extra help with utilities can visit Partnership for Community Action representatives in the council meeting room at City Hall to apply for assistance.

The program is paid for through customers who round up their utility bills to the nearest dollar. Representatives are available almost daily to determine eligibility for assistance.

Horton said the city has about 12,000 electricity customers and 19,000 gas customers and only 700 participants in the round-up program.

"The most it can cost you is 99 cents per month," he said. "In these grim times it is a very worthwhile program because we don't know when we're going to be in need ourselves."

What's happening

at City Hall?

Grading is currently taking place near the front driveway for a new parking lot that will be eco-friendly, Carter said.

Water runoff from the lot will be piped underground to the other side of City Hall to create a wetlands area. The city received a grant for the project. Pecan trees have been removed because they won't sustain wet conditions over the long haul, but they will be replaced with oak trees, Carter said. The hope is the wetlands will become a study area for local students, she said.

Stormwater utility

The city is mandated by the state to have a stormwater management program and has opted to pay for the program through a stormwater utility fee.

Nearly five years into its program, the city may be reducing rates and giving credits to save residents money, Horton said.

The topic will be up for discussion in January, he said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.