COVINGTON — Newton County and Covington will no longer be taking a joint approach to economic development.
The City Council decided last Monday that it would create its own internal office of economic development that would focus more on city issues. The county Board of Commissioners on Thursday continued in the direction it had begun in December, approving the “structure” of an intergovernmental agreement that would place economic development under the control of the Newton County Industrial Development Authority.
Economic development had previously been a function of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce and was funded jointly by the city and county at $280,000 each this fiscal year. However, in mid-December, the Chamber board announced that it had decided to terminate its economic development contract with the city and county in order to place more emphasis on its membership. The contract with the Chamber will terminate at the end of March.
Commissioners met Thursday in a special called meeting to discuss the economic development situation. They first discussed personnel in a closed session that lasted more than an hour before returning to open session and voting to approve an intergovernmental agreement structure with the Development Authority that will be subject to final approval by the board.
Under this structure, commissioners said Office of Economic Development employees will become employees of the Development Authority. In the short term, they will be subject to the county’s human resources and purchasing policies, at least until separate policies are approved by the Board of Commissioners. The Office of Economic Development currently has three employees: Dave Bernd, vice president of economic development; Serra Hall, senior project manager; and Kathy Morgan, CID/278 administrator.
Under an intergovernmental agreement previously approved by the Development Authority, all hiring and firing powers would be held by the authority. The Development Authority is made up of members appointed by the city, county and Chamber.
The county also agreed Thursday to continue its level of funding for economic development through the end of this fiscal year, June 30. The county is beginning its fiscal year 2021 budget process, and commissioners said any future funding for economic development would be addressed in the new budget.
Commissioners approved the IGA structure by a vote of 4-1, with District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson abstaining. Henderson said he abstained because he believes the city and county should be working together to cut the costs of economic development.