Rose­berry makes case for NCT at Cov­ing­ton work ses­sion

The Covington News - - NEWS - SANDRA BRANDS sbrands@cov­

The Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil met for a work ses­sion Mon­day night to dis­cuss topics from fi­nan­cial sup­port for New­ton County To­mor­row to ceme­tery main­te­nance.

In June, Mike Hop­kins, di­rec­tor of the New­ton County Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Author­ity, pre­sented the coun­cil with a let­ter on be­half of NCT and its chair, Mayor Jerry Rose­berry of Ox­ford, re­quest­ing sup­port from the city.

At Mon­day night’s meet­ing, Rose­berry ap­peared be­fore the coun­cil to make the case for sup­port­ing the non­profit com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tion, which brings to­gether com­mu­nity lead­ers, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the county, city, cham­ber of com­merce, Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Author­ity and the New­ton County School Sys­tem. In ad­di­tion, there were 11 seats for cit­i­zens with­out gov­ern­men­tal ties.

“If you look at our board of di­rec­tors, you’ll see we have broad rep­re­sen­ta­tion,” Rose­berry said.

Rose­berry said NCT mem­bers got to­gether at The Cen­ter, which the or­ga­ni­za­tion leases an­nu­ally, to “talk about our prob­lems in New­ton County and within our cities, and we talk about it among our­selves and take it back to our re­spec­tive [or­ga­ni­za­tions].” The to­tal amount NCT re­quested was $18,000, the same amount con­trib­uted by New­ton County Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Author­ity. The three would be the largest con­trib­u­tors to NCT’s $100,000 bud­get.

Among things NCT ac­com­plished in the last year, Rose­berry said, was rais­ing the per­cent­age of Spe­cial Pur­pose Lo­cal Op­tion Sales Tax mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties re­ceived from 9 to 17 per­cent in 2011; and chang­ing when the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties re­ceived SPLOST funds, so cities no longer took the bills from SPLOST projects to the county for pay­ment in the form of monthly checks.

“That would not have hap­pened if we hadn’t got­ten to­gether as may­ors,” Rose­berry said.

“There are some very pos­i­tive things that have come out of [NCT] for the com­mu­nity,” he said. “There are things we need to do as city, and if we work to­gether we can get our fair share.”

Ac­cord­ing to Rose­berry, NCT helped the county and cities qual­ify as a Wa­ter First Com­mu­nity. In 2012, he said, Cov­ing­ton, Ox­ford, Por­terdale, Mans­field and New­born were five of the nine cities in the state re­ceiv­ing the des­ig­na­tion. Only two coun­ties re­ceived this des­ig­na­tion, Rose­berry said, and one was New­ton. The qual­i­fi­ca­tion al­lows mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and the county to ap­ply for and re­ceive Ge­or­gia En­vi­ron­men­tal Fi­nance Author­ity loans at one-half per­cent in­ter­est.

The At­lanta Re­gional Com­mis­sion re­quires New­ton County and its mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to have a com­pre­hen­sive trans­porta­tion plan by 2018. NCT helped by paying 10 per­cent of the $300,000 for a plan from USR Cor­po­ra­tion, which merged with AECOM Tech­nol­ogy Cor­po­ra­tion last year.

Though the plan is a county re­spon­si­bil­ity, Rose­berry said later, it does in­volve the cities and the en­tire New­ton com­mu­nity. NCT's role is limited to as­sist­ing the con­trac­tor with the stake­holder por­tion of the plan.

Ac­cord­ing to Rose­berry, by far the most press­ing is­sue fac­ing the county and its mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties is the im­pact of an­nex­a­tion of prop­erty into So­cial Cir­cle on the New­ton County School Sys­tem. NCT helped fund a study, which showed the school sys­tem stands to lose in ex­cess of $2 mil­lion a year if So­cial Cir­cle is al­lowed to an­nex large tracts of land.

So­cial Cir­cle has its own school sys­tem, he said. “If they didn’t have a school sys­tem, it wouldn’t be bad. New­ton County still gets the tax money.”

How­ever, fund­ing for schools fol­lows the stu­dent. NCSS is not “the rich­est school sys­tem in the state. Out of 187 districts, we’re 162 (in wealth).

“NCT is an op­por­tu­nity for us to have a voice,” said Mayor Ron­nie John­ston. Dur­ing meet­ings “you have the chair­man sit­ting there and a com­mis­sioner sit­ting there and you say, ‘hey, we’ve got to work this out.’”

NCT had asked Cov­ing­ton to con­trib­ute $18,000, match­ing con­tri­bu­tions from New­ton County and the New­ton County Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Author­ity. Later in the work ses­sion, coun­cil mem­bers dis­cussed the amount re­quested.

When Coun­cil Mem­ber Chris Smith said it was unfair that Cov­ing­ton, with 13,000 res­i­dents, pay the same amount of money as the county, with over 103,000. John­ston pointed out Cov­ing­ton gets a higher per­cent­age of SPLOST funds than other cities.

Smith asked if mem­ber­ship was worth it. John­ston, who is on the board, said it was a good place to talk about is­sues in the county now. “How are we go­ing to deal with 9-1-1 or Emer­gency Med­i­cal Tech­ni­cians? When we’re sit­ting in the city, it’s easy to say it’s a county is­sue. It’s not just a county is­sue.

“I know, based on at­tend­ing Ge­or­gia Mu­nic­i­pal As­so­ci­a­tion con­fer­ence, there are com­mu­ni­ties who are try­ing to get peo­ple to sit down to­gether and get these con­ver­sa­tions started,” John­ston said.

Smith also ques­tioned why NCT met at The Cen­ter, which it leases and turns around to sub­lease parts of the build­ing to the Cov­ing­ton-New­ton Cham­ber of Com­merce, and rents out to at least 39 other or­ga­ni­za­tions in the com­mu­nity. He wanted to know why NCT couldn’t meet at al­ter­na­tive gov­ern­ment cen­ters.

“That’s a valid ques­tion,” said City Man­ager Leigh Anne Knight. “One of the things Mayor Rose­berry said was (about the) wealth of in­for­ma­tion they have over there. You can’t just pack all that in­for­ma­tion in the back of your car.”

“It re­ally be­comes a neu­tral site,” she added. “If you have your mayor’s hat on, you’re here to talk about the city of Cov­ing­ton. (NCT is) re­ally about talk­ing about the county and how the county af­fects the city, to make sure that what the county does not ad­versely af­fect on city.”

Smith said dur­ing the work ses­sion that he would be com­fort­able with con­tribut­ing $12,000, not $18,000. The other mem­bers agreed and the vote to make the $12,000 con­tri­bu­tion to NCT will be on the agenda for the coun­cil’s Mon­day, Aug. 1 meet­ing.

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