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City stays out of drag strip controversy

COVINGTON — The Covington City Council won't get involved in the ongoing dispute regarding a proposed drag strip in Social Circle.

Mayor Kim Carter said at the Wednesday council meeting that following discussion with city attorney Ed Crudup, she concluded that it would not be in the city's best interest to sign a letter opposing the drag strip drafted by the Leadership Collaborative.

"I do support the collaborative and the planning process, but in this particular case, I don't think it's the right thing for the city," Carter said.

No vote was taken, but council members informally agreed.

"I don't see why we should get involved," said Councilman Keith Dalton. "It's not inside city limits."

The Leadership Collaborative is facilitated by The Center for Community Preservation and Planning and its members include representatives from the county, local municipalities, the Newton County School System, Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority and Social Circle City Schools.

According to Hosanna Fletcher with the center, the drag strip was discussed at a meeting of the collaborative earlier this month, with the suggestion made that a response be drafted.

"This is new territory for the Collaborative, which is intended to be an education, communication and collaboration group, not an advocacy group," Fletcher said. "There is obviously more power in speaking with one voice as collaborative members discovered responding to the state water plan. However, at this point, there was no precedence for using the same approach for an occasion/issue such as this one. So it falls on each entity to respond as they see fit. That response, though discussed earlier this month, has been tabled. As each body of government decides how to individually respond, it may be revisited in the coming months."

The Newton County Board of Commissioners wrote a letter opposing the drag strip earlier this month.

In other news, the council approved the first reading of an ordinance to increase the hotel/motel tax from 5 to 8 percent. The Georgia General Assembly has already passed a resolution to that effect, but the local ordinance will give the city the authority to enforce it, said City Manager Steve Horton.

The final reading of the ordinance is set to take place at the council's Feb. 1 meeting. After it is approved, letters will be sent to local hotel/motel owners and operators informing them that increased collections will begin in two months, around the first of April, Horton said.

The Chamber of Commerce receives 60 percent of the hotel/motel tax and Main Street Covington receives 40 percent. Half the revenues from the increase will go to tourism and the other half to predetermined projects selected by the council.

The council agreed the proposed downtown civic center/hotel is a top priority, and no funds will be spent on any other project for at least two years.

Finally, the council agreed not to allow a town hall meeting for a congressional candidate to be held at City Hall.

While a Voter's League forum was held there last year, that meeting was for city candidates. Dalton said he was concerned about paying overtime for staff to be in the building.

"Also, we've got some new technology, and I don't want people monkeying around with it," he said, and recommended the community room at the Covington Fire Department be used instead.

Carter agreed.

"There's plenty of alternatives for folks to have a public meeting," she said, adding that other locations, such as the Newton County Library, charge very nominal fees for such purposes.

She cited Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Turner Lake Complex as other alternatives.

Carter said the City Council may want to establish a policy on what type of meetings can be held at City Hall in the future.