City looks at utility policies

COVINGTON -- The city of Covington is set to adopt new policies related to utilities.

The first policy involves deposits required by the city. The city's current ordinance requires charging a multiple of the average bill determined by the applicant's credit history. The new policy proposes set amounts for deposits. Customers with adequate credit will not be required to make a deposit; deposits can range from $200 to a maximum of $400 for residential customers. The maximum deposit is $600. The maximum deposit for commercial customers cannot exceed three times the average monthly bill.

The second policy would involve the agreements offered by the city to assist customers with past due balances. Customers will be allowed three agreements a year, excluding doctor's excuses, which can be used only once a year; half of the past due amount must be paid on the date of the agreement and the remaining within two weeks; agreements won't be made with any customer who has violated or broken an agreement during the one year period prior to the last broken agreement; if an agreement is broken the past due plus the reconnect fee must be paid to restore services; and no agreements can be made on the day of cut off.

Finally, landlords with rental property will have the option of having utilities automatically transferred to the landlord's name when a tenant moves out. This will eliminate the reconnection fee charged to landlords and help them quickly do repairs and cleanup to get the property rented quicker, said Leigh Anne Knight, the city's finance director.

The first reading of the ordinance change was approved at the council's Nov. 5 meeting and the final reading is set for Monday during the council's regular 6:30 p.m. meeting at City Hall.

In other news, the city will not impose an excise tax on energy. Although no vote was taken during the Nov. 5 meeting, following a description by City Manager Steve Horton of the tax, the council was mostly silent on the issue. Councilman Chris Smith said, "I'm fine with leaving it like it is."

The General Assembly enacted a tax reform package earlier this year that included a sales and use tax exemption for energy used in the manufacturing process. The exemption has a four-year phase-in at a 25 percent rate, with full phase-in by 2016.

It also gave local governments the authority to levy a new local excise tax to recoup revenues lost due to the exemption. The tax would be collected by the county from companies that sell energy to manufacturers within the county, according to Association County Commissioners of Georgia. Newton County has opted to wait three to six months to see the impact of the exemption before deciding whether to levy the tax, leaving the cities with the option. None of the county's five municipalities have agreed to impose the tax.

The loss to Covington is estimated to be more than $14,000 at most in SPLOST and LOST revenues during 2013, the first-year of the four-year phase in, and increase to more than $57,000 by 2016, the last year of the phase-in.

Finally, the City Council approved the donation of Christmas lights and decorations for the downtown by "The Vampire Diaries" television series, which films locally. The decorations were used by the series for the Christmas episode that filmed in October.