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Main Street budget hike off the table

COVINGTON -- The Covington City Council agreed to remove a salary increase for the Main Street Covington director and funding for part-time help from the city's fiscal year 2011 budget at a called meeting Thursday evening.

City Manager Steve Horton made the recommendation after being informed that the county will not pay half of the expenses. The county is facing a $5.2 million budget shortfall.

"It would not be fair for the city to pay that increase entirely without support from the county. That doesn't mean the door's not open for that in the future," Horton said.

At a budget work session earlier this month, the consensus was to increase Director Josephine Kelly's pay by 5 percent with an opportunity for an additional 2.5 percent raise after six months. Kelly currently makes $60,548.80 annually. The 5 percent raise would have put her salary at $64,480. The 2.5 percent raise, effective after six months, would have increased her annual salary further to $65,280.

The overall Main Street budget would have increased from $82,910.84 to $102,012. That did not include the approximately $65,000 in hotel/motel tax revenues estimated to come in for fiscal year 2010-2011, which is used by Main Street for program expenses. It was also agreed to fund a part-time position, with a salary of $15,000.

The budget increase was requested by Main Street Board of Directors Chair Billie Jean Whatley, who proposed 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. The proposal changed Kelly's title to director of community and downtown services and her expanded her position to a hybrid between economic development manager and Main Street manager.

When an informal consensus was taken at the budget work session Councilwomen Ocie Franklin, Hawnethia Williams and Janet Goodman were in favor of the changes, while Councilmen Keith Dalton and Chris Smith were opposed. Councilman Mike Whatley recused himself because his wife is chair of the Main Street Board of Directors. Whatley also recused himself at Thursday's called meeting. The vote to remove the additional funding from the budget was approved unanimously, with Goodman absent.

The council also approved Horton's recommendation for the city to meet with the county and the Main Street Board of Directors to work out an intergovernmental agreement defining the various responsibilities of each party.

Horton said he was under the impression, after receiving Billie Jean Whatley's letter, that the Main Street Board had voted in favor of the proposal, but that had not occurred. The board did however discuss the proposal, without discussing a dollar value, and directed Kelly to broach the subject with the city, he said.

Horton said he believes the Main Street director should report to the Main Street Board of Directors but an intergovernmental agreement is needed to clarify the obligations and responsibilities of each party "to avoid confusion in the future."