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Main Street expansion proposed

COVINGTON -- A proposal to expand Main Street Covington's scope of work, increase the director's salary and add a part-time position is under discussion by the City Council.

The proposal, outlined in a letter to City Manager Steve Horton from Main Street Board of Directors Chair Billie Jean Whatley, calls for the creation of an Office of Community Services and Downtown Development and the expansion of the downtown district to include the Pace and Elm street corridors.

Main Street Covington Director Josephine Kelly's new title would be director of community and downtown services and her position would be a hybrid between economic development manager and Main Street manager.

Whatley said the Main Street office "has had to assume an increasing scope of work beyond what is conventionally considered downtown development and falls more within classification of community services."

Main Street has been a partner in Livable Centers Plan for U.S. Highway 278; the Covington Urban Redevelopment Authority; the community housing initiative; and other ventures, as well as collaborating with the Chamber on economic development efforts such as growing the tourism initiative and implementing the Buy Local program, Whatley's letter states.

Under the proposal, Kelly's salary would increase by $13,800, from $60,549 to $74,349. In addition, a part-time position would be added at a cost of $15,000.

A majority of council members were opposed to the salary increases presented in a recent budget work session. Kelly's salary increase has been removed from the budget proposal but the part-time position is still included.

"The part-time help, in my opinion, is necessary regardless of the increase in additional duties for the director. My belief is predicated on the fact that there is no back-up person for when the director is out for annual leave or sickness or just out of the office for other program responsibilities," Horton said. "The additional cost requests, unless political opinion changes, will not remain in the coming year's budget."

With the addition of the part-time help, Main Street's operating budget would increase from $82,910.84 to $98,303. Half of that is paid by the city and half by the county.

That does not include the approximately $65,000 in hotel/motel tax revenues estimated to come in for fiscal year 2010-11, which is used by Main Street for program expenses.

Councilman Keith Dalton said he was not in favor of the salary increase given the current economic climate.

"From a pure economic standpoint, at this point when people are cutting back and trying to get by with less in lean times, how is that fair to any other department head?" Dalton said. "Why pick out one department head and give them close to a 20 percent raise? How can you justify that?"

Councilwoman Ocie Franklin said she was in favor of the Main Street director receiving a 2.5 percent standard raise, but not an additional $13,000. She also questioned the need to fund a duplication of resources on economic development.

Last year, the city agreed to increase its annual allocation of $54,000 to the Chamber of Commerce for economic development to $84,000 for this fiscal year and to $120,500 for fiscal year 2011.

"I thought economic development was tied in with the Chamber. I think Main Street and economic development are two different jobs. We gave a lot of money to the Chamber for that so why would Main Street be involved in economic development?" Franklin said.

The city budgeted $72,000 for a community and economic development director last year but never filled the position.

According to Kelly, while the Chamber is contracted to exclusively focus on economic development, Main Street "uses a four point approach -- organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring -- which strengthens the district's existing economic base while finding ways to expand it to meet new opportunities and challenges from outlying development. This approach means that the program is charged with improving all aspects of the district and becomes an active partner in the implementation of the Pace Street Corridor Study. This is a program of work that while complementary to the work undertaken by the Chamber is distinct in its approach and geographical specificity."

Kelly said the expansion of the downtown district is in response to the U.S. 278 Livable Centers Initiative and a town meeting hosted by Main Street to solicit community input about the future of the downtown. Recommendations were that the district be expanded to include Elm and Pace street corridors that are the gateway into downtown.

"This recommendation complements the Highway 278 Livable Centers Plan and specifically the Pace Street Corridor Study which aims to connect the historic downtown Square to the commercial district of Highway 278. The zoning for those properties on the corridor would remain corridor mix but allow the business and property owners to benefit from programs administered by the Main Street Covington program and the city of Covington Downtown Development Authority," she said.

Kelly said her board will wait to see what the council's decision will be before moving forward with its plan.

"The proposal was presented as an initiative to efficiently resource the growing need to promote and enhance the quality of life for the citizens of Covington/Newton County utilizing existing resources. Depending on the council's response to the different elements of the proposal the board will determine the adjustments that need to be made to the program of work undertaken by the Main Street office," she said.