Covington City Council nixes filming fee idea

COVINGTON -- The City Council has opted not to charge a fee to film production companies who operate within city limits.

City Manager Steve Horton told the council at its most recent meeting that city staff members are taking time away from other duties to deal with production issues and street closings, noting that other cities charge fees to cover those administrative costs.

The city of Decatur charges $100 a day plus a $500 fee for street closures, while Marietta charges $25 for a permit plus $250 for use of city property, based on information the city obtained from local Tourism Director Clara Deemer. Conyers and Madison do not have fees in place.

Mayor Kim Carter was in support of charging a fee, but council members said it's not worth losing the dollars the film industry brings to Covington. "For tourism impact, is it worth pushing them down to Madison and Conyers for that nominal fee?" said Councilman Chris Smith.

Carter pointed out that some council members have in the past suggested filming only take place at night and on weekends to reduce the impact to downtown business owners, which she said is not practical.

"We're trying to be film-friendly," she said, but added that the city needs to recoup administrative costs.

Chamber of Commerce President Hunter Hall said competition for film locations is now more fierce, noting that when Newton was designated a Camera Ready Community by the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office a year ago, there were only 16 communities with that distinction. Now there are about 115. The Camera Ready designation is the state's way of offering film and television production companies easier, faster and better access to local resources and information. Camera Ready communities must designate a liaison to assist film and television production companies on the local level.

"I want to make it very clear that the competition has changed," Hall said, noting that the city of Conyers is actively recruiting productions now and "The Vampire Diaries," which currently films primarily in Covington, has filmed in Conyers twice during the last few weeks. Hall said Conyers officials are hoping to attract a production company as a tenant for the empty John Deere building on Dogwood Drive.

The council unanimously approved Smith's motion not to charge a fee.