Roundabout project near completion

COVINGTON -- The long-discussed roundabout at the intersection of Turner Lake Road and Clark Street is very close to becoming a reality.

City of Covington Transportation Manager Billy Skinner recently told the City Council that the project will be put to bid by the Georgia Department of Transportation in February, with construction set to begin about 60 days later.

"That will be a nice Easter present," Mayor Kim Carter said.

City officials hope the roundabout will keep traffic flowing better than the current traffic light system in place.

The project includes an underground pedestrian tunnel running from the Clark Street sidewalk across to Turner Lake Complex, where it will tie into a multi-use trail system.

Skinner said there will be an "elaborate lighting system" at the roundabout and in the tunnel.

Once the project gets under way, Old Clark Street, which many motorists use as a cut through to downtown, will be closed to the public, Skinner said.

Initially, plans were to put a cul-de-sac at the end of Old Clark Street, but that plan has been scrapped, he said.

"We didn't want to invite people down in there. If we put a cul-de-sac, people would go there and park and do a lot of stuff that doesn't need to be done. We're going to make it a driveway and close it off," Skinner said, adding that there is one home on the road.

The roundabout is being funded through federal stimulus money.

In other news, the city is addressing losses in its natural gas and water operations.

"We are buying a lot more product than we appear to be selling," Meecham told the City Council at its Dec. 7 meeting.

Meecham estimated the city's loss in revenue to be $500,000 in the last year in natural gas alone.

He said there have not been leaks that would account for such a loss. Two large users were being underbilled due to a faulty multiplier, he said. Once that problem was corrected, the losses went down, but they are still significant, accounting for about 7 percent of natural gas the city purchases, he said.

"We lose very little to leaks on the system, and they're fixed promptly, which means somewhere there are other problems," Meecham said.

The city is already working with a representative of Electric Cities to review utility billing and the council agreed to pay its natural gas consultant, Southeastern Gas Engineering, to track down other problems, at an estimated cost of $2,800.

"I think it's money well spent if we can get back several hundred thousand in improved revenues," Meecham said.

Finally, the City Council has agreed to pay the Centre for Strategic Management in Conyers $5,000 to lead its annual retreat in February. The money is included under training expenses in the budget, so no budget amendment is needed, according to Personnel Director Ronnie Cowan.

The council has yet to reach a consensus on a location for the retreat, and is looking at the cost of local and out-of-town options, said City Manager Steve Horton.

"To me a retreat should be a retreat, where you go out of town," said Councilman Mike Whatley at the Dec. 7 meeting.

However, Councilman Keith Dalton said he prefers to keep the retreat at the local FFA- FCCLA Center.

"I'm coming from the same place I was last year -- what's cheapest? I just don't think in these times the citizens ought to be paying to keep us up in a hotel," Dalton said.

Cowan said local options include the FFA-FCCLA Center, Georgia Wildlife Conservation Center, Burge Plantation, Gaither Plantation and Turner Lake Complex.

Carter said she would like to hear some out-of-town options as well, adding that it could be helpful to eat and socialize together and stay overnight in one location rather than driving back and forth.

"There's some value in that from a training perspective," she said.

At last year's retreat, council members worked on creating a strategic plan for the city and its departments.