Mayor proposes increase to city's Chamber funding

COVINGTON -- City and county officials are considering a proposal to increase their funding and control of economic development facilitated by the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce.

At Monday night's City Council meeting, Mayor Kim Carter proposed an increase to the city's annual contribution to the Chamber for economic development from $54,000 to $120,000, or 122 percent.

County officials are expected to consider a similar proposal. If both the county and city increase their contributions, the total annual contribution to the Chamber will increase from $108,000 to $240,000.

The money would be used to increase salaries of Chamber staff who would perform more duties related to economic development and to increase an expense account to travel and entertain prospects.

Carter said the Chamber president has traditionally devoted 30 percent of his time to economic development, and she would like to see that increased to 80 percent.

A committee is in the process of searching for a new president following the resignation of John Boothby in September.

Under the budget changes proposed, the new president would also be accountable to an economic development steering committee comprised of the mayor, the Board of Commissioners chairman, a Chamber representative and a member of the Industrial Development Authority.

"Rather than paying for contracted services and letting an independent board manage it, the folks charged for (economic development services) should be actively involved," Carter said.

The goal is simply to increase economic development in the city and county, she said, noting that the county's tax base is unbalanced, leaning heavily toward residential.

While the city is not in a similar predicament, "The last time I looked, the city was in Newton County. If one goes down, we all go down. If one rises, we all rise. We're all in this together," Carter said.

Carter said other counties with comparable populations to Newton are spending more on economic development. She cited Douglas County, which has a population of 93,000 and spends $287,185 annually on economic development, or about $3.09 per capita.

Newton County, at a population of about 100,000 spends $240,000 annually, or $2.40 per capita.

Chamber of Commerce Chairman Joe Stier said there are plans for the new president to devote more time to economic development. The president will still report to the Chamber Board of Directors, while the steering committee "will help us work together in a cooperative effort" and serve to improve communication with local officials, he said.

Stier said additional funds from the county and city would help bolster efforts to attract more businesses and industries.

"It's an investment in our community. The economic development process is very, very competitive in a very difficult economic time. Increasing the investment enhances our ability to compete with all other counties in this state who are working hard when economic development projects are not landing on a regular basis," he said.

City and county officials have been invited to meet with the Chamber Board of Directors and staff at 7 p.m. Thursday at The Center, located at 2104 Washington St., to discuss the economic development budget.

Carter said the council will likely not take action on the matter until its Dec. 7 meeting.