Schools, county owe back fees

COVINGTON -- Newton County and the Newton County Board of Education owe the city of Covington a combined $120,000 in stormwater utility fees for properties they own inside the city limits.

The county owes a total of $56,047.72 in past and present charges on stormwater fees, while the school system owes $63,956.88, according to City Manager Steve Horton.

Some of the past due bills date back to 2005, according to Horton.

"We have known about the past-due issues for some time, and our staff has had some communications with the two entities regarding past-due bills. A deadline for payments to be made has not been stated," he said. "We are, however, talking with both entities, and I believe that a resolution will be reached."

Mayor Kim Carter brought up the issue at Monday night's City Council meeting.

"We're making efforts to collect those monies," she told the council.

In the past, school officials have claimed that the stormwater charges are a tax and the school system is exempt from paying them, Horton said. However it is a utility, not a tax and, "That argument won't stand up in court," Carter added.

"We have received and are reviewing the bill to determine if, as a government entity, the school district should be subject to these charges," said Sherri Viniard, director of public relations for the Newton County School System. "At this time, no payments have been made as this is not an expense that has been included in our budget."

Though a 10 percent late penalty is allowed on past-due amounts, Horton said to his knowledge, no late fees have been assessed on past due stormwater bills owed by the Board of Commissioners or Board of Education.

Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Kathy Morgan and Newton County Administrative Officer John Middleton did not return calls or e-mails seeking comment.