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YEAR IN REVIEW: Covington battled budget woes

COVINGTON -- The city of Covington didn't face the same financial woes as the county in 2009, though it passed what Mayor Kim Carter called a "very lean" budget of $120.5 million, about $12 million less than the prior year's budget.

Though the tax digest increased, Carter said the council opted to take a conservative approach with revenue projections to be safe. The city left several staff positions unfilled, cut employee raises in half and slashed capital improvement projects across the board.

Council members ultimately decided not to raise their own salaries, a proposal the council considered twice. Had the raises been approved, the mayor's salary would have increased from $12,000 to $18,000 per year and the council's from $6,000 to $9,000. The current salaries have been in place since 1977.

Chamber of Commerce

Both the city and county more than doubled their annual appropriations to the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce for economic development services. Each entity contributes $54,000 annually.

In December, the Covington City Council and Board of Commissioners agreed to increase that amount by $30,000 for fiscal year 2010, and by $120,500 for fiscal year 2011. The result is that the total annual appropriation to the Chamber will increase from $108,000 to $241,000 for fiscal year 2011.

The Chamber is also forming a new economic development action committee composed of the chairman of the Board of Commissioners, mayor of Covington, a member of the Industrial Development Authority, the Newton County appointee to the Joint Development Authority and a member of the Chamber Board of Directors.

The Chamber is seeking a new president, following former President John Boothby's September resignation. Chamber Board of Directors Chairman Joe Stier said despite rumor and speculation throughout the community that Boothby was forced out, there were "many moving parts" to his resignation, but would not give details.

Airport

The city is nearing the finish line on formation of an airport authority to oversee the Covington Municipal Airport. A vote is expected to come in January.

The airport has been closed since mid-September for improvements, including rehabilitation of 4,200 feet of runway and an apron, along with relocation of the fuel farm and some grading and paving on the southeast end of the runway. Officials are hoping it will reopen by Jan. 5.

Late in the year, the council considered terminating its contract with fixed base operator Dixie Jet Services Inc. due to a lapse in insurance, late stormwater fees and a desire by city officials to have more control over the airport. However, those issues appear to have been resolved and the FBO remains in place.

Housing

The city passed its Urban Redevelopment Plan to rehabilitate and replace substandard housing, encourage private investment in redevelopment and qualify the city for state and federal funding programs to support such programs. It also formed the Urban Redevelopment Authority to carry out the plan.

In addition, the city became the first community in Georgia to complete its Neighborhood Stabilization Program, purchasing eight townhomes in Walker's Bend subdivision off Ga. Highway 81 with the $428,070 it received in federal stimulus money. The city's NSP partner, Habitat for Humanity, identified eight families to purchase the homes. City officials plan to pursue additional NSP funds in 2010.

Welcome, goodbye

A new council member, Chris Smith, was elected to fill Post 1, East Ward. Councilman John Howard is retiring from that post after 16 years.

Councilwomen Hawnethia Williams and Ocie Franklin were re-elected to posts 2 and 3, west wards.