COVINGTON — The Covington-Newton County 911 Communications Center will move to temporary quarters at the Covington Fire Station 22 on Alcovy Road after problems with its current offices at the Cousins Community Center came to a head over Thanksgiving week.
911 Director Mike Smith sent an email to Board of Commissioners Chairman Marcello Banes and Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston on the evening of Nov. 20 citing ongoing problems with the Geiger Street facility, including raw sewage seeping out into the parking lot. Smith had complained about rodents, mold, vagrants in the parking lot, car break-ins, lack of heat and other issues to both the BOC and City Council earlier this year. The 911 Communications Center is operated jointly by the city and county.
In addition to the sewage problem in the parking lot, Smith said in his email that the property manager had notified him that there are homeless people living in and around one wing of the facility, which was once Cousins Middle School, and that tables and chairs that had been set up for a training session had been stolen.
“I am beyond frustration and patience!” wrote Smith. “I have brought this to your attention previously with no action taken on the BOC’s behalf.”
Covington City Manager Leigh Ann Knight told city council members at a called work session Monday night that the 911 Board of Governors had agreed to the temporary move. The board is made up of the police chiefs of Covington, Oxford and Porterdale; the sheriff; fire chiefs for Covington and Newton County; the city manager and county manager; the 911 director; the Emergency Management Agency director; and the EMS director.
“It will be a temporary stay,” said Knight of the move. “It will not be permanent at the moment. That is their backup facility right now. They can operate it from there.”
County Manager Lloyd Kerr said Tuesday the county is looking at a number of options for the future of 911 Communications.
“We are going to move the employees temporarily while we work to correct the problems with the building, working in conjunction with the landlord,” said Kerr. “Then the city and county will continue to work toward a more long-term solution. We aren’t sure exactly what that’s going to be at this point, but we have had some informal discussions. We have several sites we would consider. We are trying to work through all of the details on those.”
The Cousins Community Center is a nonprofit organization that rents office space to other nonprofits in addition to Newton County and the Georgia Department of Driver Services. Officers for the nonprofit are listed on the Georgia Secretary of State’s website as Charles Berry, CFO and secretary; and Tom Solley, CEO.
The county is currently under an eight-year lease with the Cousins Center for office space for 911 Communications and Emergency Management, as well as a gymnasium and a football field. The term of the lease runs through June 30, 2023, with a monthly rent of $11,425.
Knight said she expected the move to temporary quarters take place “sooner rather than later, possibly within a week.”
Down the road, Knight said it is possible the city will build a new fire station to replace the one on Alcovy Road, which would make it possible for that station to become the permanent home for 911.
Knight said the temporary move to the Alcovy Road station should send a message to 911 employees that they are as valued as other city employees.
“We never have an issue with our plumbing (at City Hall); there is always heat and somewhere to plug it in,” she said. “We don’t have to worry about our vehicles getting broken into. I just don’t think it’s fair that we have employees that are having to work in those conditions. It is a difficult job, and we need to make sure that they understand that we want them to have the best working environment that we can give them. It’s not going to be the Taj Mahal, but we can maybe give them a little bit better working environment in the interim until something happens.”