No change in city millage, surplus increases

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

The Covington City Council has adopted a millage rate of 8.2 for fiscal year 2012. The rate has remained unchanged since 2007.

A few adjustments to the budget have also resulted in an increase in the city's projected surplus. The budget approved by the council in June showed revenues of $122,688,522 and expenditures of $121,654,389. Subtracting the employee retirement and cemetery trust reserves left a net reserve of $716,831. An update from the Tax Commissioners Office indicates the city will collect more in property taxes than initially estimated. That, coupled with a reduction of expenses at the airport and E911 funds, brings the new projected surplus to $793,268.

The city is expected to collect more than $4.8 million in property taxes, but has only budgeted $4 million in an effort to be conservative and leave a cushion should collections not meet expectations, said Mayor Kim Carter.

Carter said the city's tax digest has declined by 17 percent from 2009 to 2010 and another 15 percent from 2010 to 2011. She credited City Manager Steve Horton, department heads and staff for holding down expenses without any employee layoffs.

In other news, the former AT&T parking lot downtown will soon be open for public parking. Several years ago, the city entered an agreement with the company to swap property, granting AT&T use of the old 911 Center on Industrial Boulevard in exchange for its lot on Pace Street, with the intent of providing more parking downtown.

The lot has 47 spaces, including three handicap spaces. Twenty are located under a shelter. It is fenced off from the adjoining parking lot still in use by AT&T, which is not available for public use.

The lot will be open in early August, said Transportation Project Manager Billy Skinner. Vehicles will enter on Pace Street and exit on Hunter Street. A 9-1/2 foot wide sidewalk stretches from the lot to the Newton County Administrative Building, and a crosswalk is being added across Hunter Street to the Judicial Center.

The lot is intended for use by citizens doing business with Newton County and Charter Communications.

"Hopefully the employees in those facilities won't abuse that and leave it open for customers transacting business," said Mayor Kim Carter.

There was some discussion about whether time limits should apply, but the council decided against that.

"I don't want people doing business in the courthouse saying, 'I've got to go move my car or I'm going to get a ticket.' I'm not for that at all," said Councilman Chris Smith.

The vote to allow use of the lot to be unrestricted was 3 to 1, with Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams opposed. Council members Mike Whatley and Janet Goodman were absent.

Also, Horton said some citizens have requested the city use its personnel and equipment to film private events to run on local public education and government channels. The city only films public events for that purpose, he said. However, the public may rent space in the studio at City Hall to produce programming or submit programs filmed with personal equipment to air on PEG Channels, providing the programming meets certain criteria and has a community-wide appeal. For more information, call 770-385-2000.