COVINGTON — By a 3-1 vote, the Covington City Council approved the city providing monthly funding to Newton County Tomorrow (NCT), a nonprofit organization created in 2003 to provide a means for communication between the various governing bodies of the county.
Council member Josh McKelvey cast the lone dissenting vote at the Sept. 19 meeting. Council members Susie Keck and Michael Whatley were absent.
Covington has been a part of NCT since its inception, but while the council put the $13,000 annual funds for NCT in the 2019-2020 budget, they had withheld making monthly payments until they could decide if they wanted to continue.
The group is made up of the mayors of the five municipalities, plus representatives from Newton County and the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority. The total cost of Newton County Tomorrow is $120,000 and covers leased office space and a salaried employee.
The council discussed the issue at a called work session on Sept. 11. Keck and Whatley were also absent from that meeting.
Mayor Ronnie Johnston admitted at the work session that in the past he has been frustrated with the lack of action on the part of NCT, but that he felt it is still a good organization.
“I think our better potential road is to continue to be a good neighbor and collaborate and really focus on getting involved a little more so we can get some more production out of it,” said Johnston. “Maybe someone else on this board could start coming, too. You can really get a feel for the value of this thing. Right now, you’re only going by what I say, and I’ve been critical in the past... But I do think with some good direction and push we can start getting some better things out of it.”
Kenneth Morgan stated he believes Covington still needs to be a part of NCT.
“A lot of people are saying they want them to have a plan, and that’s understandable,” he said. “I just don’t think we should not fund it because of that... This is the only thing we have where we have a joint effort as far as city and county actually working together, and I don’t think you can tear that up.”
Hawnethia Williams agreed.
“It makes sense,” she said. “There is a lot going on in this county. When you do things individually, it lessens the amount of results sometimes, especially when you’re trying to put out fires in the terms of what’s going on in the county. It’s better to have people working together so that when something does come up, you already have been together, and therefore it lends itself to better cooperation on down the road.”
But McKelvey said he is tired of hearing the same thing from Newton County Tomorrow every year.
“We’ve had this for four years now and they keep coming back and saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to do something better. We’re going to have more direction,’” said McKelvey. “I’m fine with contributing money to a collaborative effort. But right now all the money we’re giving is just going into a lease, and it’s not doing anything else. We’re not getting anything tangible back.”
Johnston reiterated that the potential value of NTC is greater than what has or has not already been done.
“That group really needs to be focused on issues that do touch all of us and how we can deal with them together,” he said. “Every group has ups and downs. But I think the potential value is stronger and is something I encourage you to dive into with me and say let’s see if this is truly a value and you will have a much better feel for this whole thing.”
At the Sept. 19 meeting, City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said the monthly payments are $1,083.33 and that the city has withheld payments for July, August and September, which totaled $3,250.