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County wants portion in Main Street

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- Newton County officials are not willing to turn over the Main Street Covington program to the city of Covington, based on results so far of meetings of a committee assigned to study the issue.

Chairman Kathy Morgan has said that the county's large footprint in the downtown area means it should still be a part of Main Street Covington. Morgan could not be reached for comment Thursday, but committee members said it looks like the county will retain a 50 percent share in financing of Main Street, though commissioners will discuss the matter at their working retreat in late February.

Covington City Councilman Chris Smith, a member of the committee, first suggested the city be fully responsible for Main Street in exchange for the county taking over Keep Covington-Newton Beautiful. Operating costs for both programs are split between the two governments.

"The county wants to stay involved in (Main Street). We have a tentative intergovernmental agreement and the county asked that it be sent over to the county attorney. The city attorney has reviewed it already," Smith said.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz, also a member of the committee, said the agreement will spell out who the Main Street director will answer to; there has been confusion over that because the director is a city employee but the board of directors has hiring and firing authority. The intergovernmental agreement, which would require approval by both the City Council and the commissioners, specifies that the director report to City Manager Steve Horton.

"My thinking was it's easier to answer to one boss than three bosses," said Smith of why he proposed the program swap. "The Keep-Covington Newton Beautiful budget is a little less than Main Street's and the county would have saved about $10,000 ... but if they want to stay in it, I certainly will support that."

Though there is no signed intergovernmental agreement regarding Main Street, Morgan said the county and city have been operating under an informal agreement since the program was formed in 1987.

Covington Mayor Kim Carter said during a work session late last year that it makes sense for the city to be responsible for Main Street because officials are ready to get to work revitalizing the downtown area.

The Main Street board of directors is also in the process of changing its bylaws, applying for a different nonprofit status and expanding the boundaries of the downtown district. All of that will be smoother if the reporting structure is simplified, she said.

The City Council reached an informal consensus last year to increase funding to Main Street but changed those plans when the county, facing a $5.2 million budget shortfall, did not agree to pay half the additional expenses.