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Covington City Council denies gazebo, Square changes

COVINGTON — Discussions about building a gazebo and implementing landscaping improvements to the Square came to an abrupt halt at Monday’s City Council meeting when the measure was voted down, despite a committee speaking in favor of moving forward with the changes.

The vote to approve the committee’s suggestion to use hotel/motel tax to fund the project that would include planting new flowers, enhancing the Confederate memorial and building a gazebo was denied by a 4-2 vote. Council members Janet Goodman and Michael Whatley were the only two in favor with moving forward immediately.

City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said the gazebo committee, which was made up of business owners and citizens chosen by the council, was in agreement to fund the master plan through hotel/motel tax.

The gazebo committee was made up of council members Goodman and Keith Dalton; citizens Roger Gossage, Fred Harwell, Lanier Sims, Steve Horton, Mac McKibben, and Susan Kirk. Knight and Planning Director Randy Vinson also attended the committee meeting last week.

“The funding request would occur at the same time as the request for the restroom construction and would allow the Square changes to happen immediately,” Knight said at the meeting. “The project would include the gazebo, reworking the walkways to the memorial, planting azalea beds and adding benches.”

Councilman Chris Smith questioned how much the total master plan would cost and expressed apprehension on voting to use hotel/motel tax because the council agreed to use it first for the restrooms and then maintenance on the American Legion field.

“First, the council agreed to use that money for restrooms, then we were going to improve the fairgrounds second,” Smith said. “By approving this, we’d be putting the American Legion off. I haven’t heard total costs and would like to know that beforehand. It’s very irresponsible to vote on a project when there’s no set costs.”

Vinson said the gazebo would cost between $36,000 and $38,000. While the labor would be donated, he said, the city would still need to provide $25,000 for the azaleas and other items needed to improve the Confederate memorial.

Mayor Ronnie Johnston said the discussions were never just about the gazebo, but the master plan as a whole, which he thinks would benefit the city in economic development and growth.

While council voted to deny moving forward immediately with the entire project, Johnston suggested the council consider breaking apart the master plan and doing it in phases.