City mulls taking over Main Street

COVINGTON -- The City Council informally agreed Monday night to approach Newton County about bringing the Main Street Covington program totally under the city's control.

City Manager Steve Horton broached the subject, saying it would simplify operations of the program. Currently, the county and city split the salary and office costs for Main Street, while programming expenses are paid through hotel/motel tax revenues. If the city does assume all responsibilities related to Main Street it will also assume the full cost of the

program. This year's budget is $82,362, not including the hotel/motel tax revenues.

"We love to collaborate and do things together. This would not be anything that would cut the county out of resources," Horton said. "But in some instances, especially now with the economy like it is, we may be in agreement with something and they're not and there ends up being kind of a stalemate. If you decide to move forward, you have to absorb the full cost or else either back off. It just might be easier to have one entity overseeing it."

Main Street Director Josephine Kelly told the council Monday night she is in agreement with the proposal. Council members expressed interest in having a work session with the Board of Commissioners to hash out details.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan said she is not aware of the city's specific plans regarding Main Street.

"I understand the city of Covington is looking at all opportunities to strengthen economic development including opportunity zones, Downtown Development Authorities, reviewing the Main Street Program as all well as others," she said in an e-mail response. "Newton County is one of the largest employers in downtown Covington and has the largest 'footprint' with our three buildings creating a campus, if you will, as well as owning the Square. For this reason, we have always supported the Main Street Program, which fosters cooperation with the city of Covington for downtown events and economic development at the county seat. Newton County has been a partner with the city of Covington honoring the intergovernmental agreement for the Main Street Program since the late '80s or early '90s and we intend to continue to honor the program and the agreement."

The county has one appointment on the Main Street board -- Special Projects Coordinator Cheryl Delk.

Earlier this year, the City Council removed a proposed salary increase for the Main Street director and funding for part-time help from the fiscal year 2011 budget because county officials, facing a $5 million shortfall, would not agree to pay half the expenses.

There is also discussion about changing the bylaws of the Main Street program. As currently worded, the director reports to the Main Street Board, and the city can hire and fire the director only with consent from the board.

"That's a nonprofit board that should have no say in the city's personnel matters," Horton said. Under the proposed changes, the director would report directly to Horton, but the board would remain in place and still set Main Street's program of work.

"Every organization needs checks and balances, and I don't think there have been clear checks and balances up to this point," Horton said.