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Council chooses projects

COVINGTON - The City Council has designated alternative projects to benefit from an increase to the hotel/motel tax should the proposed civic center project not come to fruition.

With 50 percent of the increase required to go to the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce for tourism efforts, the council agreed Monday night that the remaining 50 percent should be divided as follows:

· 35 percent for railroad right of way acquisition as part of a larger plan to secure 38 miles of property for trails connecting Covington to Shady Dale,

Monticello, Madison, Bishop, Watkinsville and Athens;

· 7.5 percent for the Hunter/Stallings street corridor, a pedestrian corridor that will be developed between the historic courthouse, judicial center, history and civic centers, administrative building and parking deck;

· 2.5 percent to the Miracle Field, a baseball field that will serve special-needs children;

· 2.5 percent for wayfinding signage to guide motorists to local attractions and amenities;

· 1.5 percent toward the conversion of the historic jail on Stallings Street into a history center;

· and 1 percent toward Chimney Park, a passive play area accessible to special needs children and families.

The council agreed in 2008 to increase the hotel/motel tax from 5 to 8 percent to help fund the civic center, planned for the downtown area. In November, Covington Mayor Kim Carter said that project is on hold due to the economy, in particular the high interest rates that would be owed on $23 million in revenue bonds. However, she added, the city still fully supports the project and the intent at this time is still to use all revenues generated from the tax increase for that purpose.

A new provision in state law allows local governments to designate alternative tourism-related projects that could be funded with such a tax increase, in effect "banking the money for future use," should the planned use fall through, according to Carter.

The Tourism Product Development Committee submitted a list of six projects to the city for consideration. The seventh project, the Miracle Field, was added to the list prior to Monday's meeting. Serving on the committee were Maurice Carter, a member of the Chamber of Commerce Tourism Advisory Council; Cheryl Delk, special projects coordinator for the county; Josephine Kelly, director of Main Street Covington; and Clara Deemer, director of tourism for the chamber.

The hotel/motel tax increase must be approved by the Georgia General Assembly, along with the projects it will fund.

The list of alternative projects can be amended or added to in the future, Carter said.

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