Administrator recommends no RiverQuarium funding

ALBANY, Ga. -- In the face of declining revenues, Dougherty County Administrator Richard Crowdis has recommended that the Commission's Finance Committee eliminate funding for the Flint RiverQuarium.

The RiverQuarium has received annual support from both the city and county governments to augment private donations, gifts and grants.

But with property and sales taxes down -- the chief sources of revenue for the county -- and reserves dwindling, Crowdis said that a tough decision needed to be made.

"Part of my job is to make recommendations to the Commission and Finance Committee. Some may or may not be popular," Crowdis said. "I'm sure the 12 unpaid holidays weren't very popular with our employees, but it's a recommendation that I believe needed to be made."

Crowdis' recommendations on the budget will ultimately have to get through two voting bodies -- the Commission's Finance Committee and then the Commission itself.

While Crowdis' recommendation likely carries weight with commissioners, they as policymakers for the county have the ultimate say as to what makes it into the budget or what is cut.

Flint RiverQuarium Executive Director Scott Loehr, who made a presentation to the Finance Committee Monday, said he was aware of the recommendation for no funding but he hoped the commissioners would understand the value and importance of a cultural resource such as the RiverQuarium and would fund it at least to some degree.

"The leadership here at the RiverQuarium is certainly aware of the hardships our local governments are facing and are sympathetic," Loehr said. "We hope that they would understand that some level of funding would certainly allow the RiverQuarium to stay in the big picture until we can find alternate sources of funding."

The RiverQuarium has cut $690,000 from its budget since it opened in 2005 and has raised more than $10.5 million in private gifts, donations and grants, with the goal being to reduce the amount of government funding needed.

Loehr told commissioners Monday that he would trim the RiverQuarium's request for funding from $250,000 to $200,000 out of consideration for the county's dire financial situation -- a cut of roughly 20 percent.

Finance Committee Chairman Lamar Hudgins said that while he understood the RiverQuarium's situation, he can't justify spending the money when times are so tight.

"I just can't do it when we have to send our employees home without pay once a month," Hudgins said. "It just wouldn't be right."

While Crowdis has recommended no funding, City Manager Alfred Lott has written $275,000 for the RiverQuarium into his FY 2011 budget proposal. That amount matches the total stipend the city gave the RiverQuarium last year.

Following an executive session on an unrelated matter Wednesday, Albany Mayor Willie Adams said he was aware of Crowdis' recommendation but said that the City Commission would likely be hesitant to give any additional money to the RiverQuarium.

Loehr, meanwhile, emphasized a number of key roles the RiverQuarium plays in the community.

"If you look at the increases in the hotel/motel tax figures over the last five years, part of that is directly attributable to Albany's cultural resources like the Flint RiverQuarium," Loehr said. "We do play an economic role. We play a significant cultural role, and we play an educational role for this community."