COVINGTON -- Mayor Ronnie Johnston is proposing shifting a portion of the Main Street Covington program responsibilities and funding to the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce.
Johnston told the City Council Monday night that he believes the move will make business recruitment more efficient and more successful.
"My sincere desire is to reorganize so we can actually become more aggressive," he said. "Right now, in the Chamber, as ya'll well know, they have an industrial wing that handles recruitment of industry and they have done a pretty darn good job with Baxter and several others." Johnston said he'd like to shift some funding from Main Street to the Chamber "so we can get the same results from small businesses."
"I want to have an individual or department that is aggressively going after the Cracker Barrels of the world and movie theaters and whatever else is out there," he said. "We have a great story to tell. We just need to be telling it in my opinion. Right now, we can be very attractive for people coming here starting off new businesses."
Johnston said a report generated by a consultant hired by the city to review Main Street indicates that there are not enough resources devoted to business retention and recruitment. Main Street would still handle functions like festivals and be in charge of the appearance of downtown, Johnston said.
Johnston said he believes in the next 10 years the region will see 8,000 to 10,000 new jobs.
"I have had some people look at me like I was absolutely crazy saying that, but when you look at the halo effect of all this stuff that's going on right now, we have got some great opportunities. I just don't want us to sit around and say, gosh we should have done this or we could have done that. I want us to be on the frontrunner of this whole thing," he said.
Main Street is funded by the city and county and by a percentage of the 8 percent hotel/motel tax. The city and county fund the director's salary and administrative costs, while the hotel/motel tax funds the rest of the program.
Main Street receives 40 percent of the first 5 percent of the hotel/motel tax, with the Chamber receiving the remaining 60 percent for tourism. The remaining 3 percent is split 50/50 between the Chamber and a reserve account at the city.
Main Street has received a total of $48,512.10 in hotel/motel taxes from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2012, according to the city's Accounting Manager Denise Stiles. The amount budgeted for this fiscal year in hotel/motel taxes for Main Street is $98,000.
In addition, the city allocates $87,736.16, half of which is reimbursed by Newton County. That puts the total budget for the program for this fiscal year at approximately $185,700.
Johnston said he has been advised by the assistant city attorney that it is possible to shift the hotel/motel tax from Main Street to the Chamber. He said at this time he doesn't know how much in funds would be shifted.
He said he does not believe additional funding would be required.
"As I've said before, I'm about efficiency and cost effectiveness. I want to get as much out of that money as we can for the people," he said.
Johnston also said he wants to launch a "unified master marketing plan" with cooperation from the county in order to be more aggressive in marketing to small businesses as well as industry, noting that the plan would not just focus on the downtown but would be city and county wide.
Councilman Chris Smith thanked Johnston for his leadership in the matter.
"I've had a lot of people come and ask me, 'We've got the report, we've spent the money, are we just going to push this under the rug and do nothing?' I've told them no, that's not what's going to happen and I appreciate you at least looking at some ways we can restructure this program and make it effective," he said.
The council gave Johnston its blessing to talk with county officials about the proposed changes. After that, he said the next step would be to talk with the Main Street Board of Directors and Chamber about the specific details. He said he has already had initial conversations with the Chamber president and board of directors.
"I want to publicly say that this is not about any individual. This is about a city and a county that is on the cusp of something great, if you ask me, and we can readjust some things and keep everybody whole," he said.