Chamber funds get a boost

COVINGTON -- The City Council approved by a vote of 5-1 Monday night an increase in its appropriation to the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce for economic development services.

The city currently appropriates $54,000 annually to the Chamber for economic development services. The council committed to an increase in funding over the next 18 months.

Funding will be increased by $30,000 for the remainder of this fiscal year, from January to June 30, 2010. Funding will be increased by $66,500 for fiscal year 2011, running from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011, for a total annual appropriation of $120,500.

Mayor Kim Carter said the bulk of that increase in funding would be used to "woo" prospective business and industry representatives with meals and rounds of golf.

Right now, the Chamber spends only about $5,000 for such activities, she said.

"A good bit of this money will go to this effort because that's just the way the world works," she said.

The council made its vote contingent upon the county's approval of the same proposal.

Commissioners tabled the proposal earlier this month, asking for a contract outlining the specifics of any changes to the Chamber's organizational structure, how the additional money will be used and the expectations and role of the county and of the Chamber. At the time, they were told the county does not currently have a contract with the Chamber.

However, Chamber Board of Directors Chairman Joe Stier said both the city and county have a contract with the Chamber, and Chairwoman Kathy Morgan has asked each commissioner to get back with her on changes they want made to the document. The board is expected to discuss the matter again at its 7 p.m. Tuesday night meeting in the Newton County Historic Courthouse.

The proposal under consideration by the city and county also includes the formation of an economic development action council that would consist of the Board of Commissioners chairman, mayor of Covington, a member of the Industrial Development Authority, the Joint Development Authority and the Chamber board of directors.

Several officials with both the city and county have asked for assurance that the new Chamber president will still report to the board of directors and not to that committee or any elected officials.

"I don't want him to try to deal with two bosses, if you will. I don't want it to be a political thing for him. I want to see him report directly to the board of the Chamber," Councilman Keith Dalton said. Dalton was the only council member in opposition to the motion to increase funding.

Stier said the president will still report to the board, and would be the leader of the economic development action council, which he said would serve to keep the lines of communication open with local officials. He said the Chamber needs members on that board who will be able to offer or get approval for incentives for prospects quickly.

Stier also briefly addressed the September resignation of former Chamber President John Boothby. He said there have been rumors and speculation throughout the community about how that played out. Stier said that out of respect for Boothby, he would not go into details, but said there were "many moving parts in his resignation."

"His resignation was not the result of any one event or any one person's opinion about what was going on," he said.