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Legislators meet with local officials

ALBANY, Ga. — Members of the area’s state legislative delegation got an earful and then some Tuesday during all-day meetings with the Dougherty County and Albany City commissions, the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, the presidents of Darton State and Albany Technical colleges and representatives of the local judicial delegation.

The theme of the meeting with each group varied according to their most pressing needs, but the bottom line was about the bottom line — money and how to get more of it.

“Each group has come to us with specific challenges, and most of them center around funding for those challenges,” State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, said. “Part of the problem is that a lot of people haven’t come to accept the ‘new normal,’ which is less money.”

While Dougherty County Commissioners were concerned with jail reimbursements, library funding and area transportation issues; their counterparts on the Albany City Commission spent their session talking about tax-related issues such as tax-exempt status of property located within the city limits, confusion generated by the state’s Local-Option Sales Tax law and how tax money would be spent on funding charter schools.

The chamber delegation, which had already discussed that body’s legislative agenda at a breakfast last week, spent much of its session discussing charter schools and funding for such cash-strapped local attractions as the Flint RiverQuarium.

“What you’ve got now is kingdom building within each organization,” Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, said. “You’ve got people fighting over one penny of a hotel tax so they can all watch each other starve to death.”

Albany City Manager James Taylor told the delegation, which also included Reps. Winfred Dukes, D-Albany, Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, and Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert, that the city’s financial woes are exacerbated by the tax-exempt status of 24.7 percent of the property within the city limits. Taylor noted that “at least 16 percent” of that property is owned by one entity, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

“And the estimates we have on that property is probably low because they have no motivation to re-evaluate,” Taylor said. Told by Dukes that “we have given you the means to deal with that issue,” Taylor said all tax issues are handled by the county-appointed tax director.

“You talk about wrestling a 150-ton gorilla,” Taylor said.

When Dukes was told that the county tax director (Denver Hooten) was appointed rather than elected (the only one in the state who is), he said, “We can drop a bill tomorrow making that an elected position.”

Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard noted that the concern over growing tax-exempt properties is not Albany’s alone.

“It’s a statewide issue,” she said.

Fullerton praised Albany Tech President Anthony Parker and Albany State University President Everette Freeman for their “informal pact” through which they have a “gentleman’s agreement” to request funding for only the most pressing budget item.

“They set an example that the rest of the state should follow,” Fullerton said.

Parker told officials that Albany Tech operates with the smallest budget per FTE (student count) among the institutions in the state’s technical college system, noting that his school’s average per FTE is $1,664.49, compared to the state average of “right under $3,000.” He also said other technical colleges in the region, none of which matched Albany Tech’s graduation or job placement rates, average around $3,400 per FTE.

When county officials asked for $2 million in funding to finance a new roof (estimated to cost $780,000) at the county’s Northwest Library branch, Sims said of the purchase of the building five years ago, “That’s a bad purchase.”

Dukes, meanwhile, used the request to offer his personal concerns about the closure of two “underused” library branches in the county.

“Someone who’s running that Library Board has their priorities out of order,” Dukes said. “Instead of some grandiose design, the people of those neighborhoods (where the libraries were closed) need access. You want $780,000 for a new roof, and I can’t get a library open in my neighborhood.”

Greene, the new kid on the block among the local delegation after redistricting brought a portion of Northwest Dougherty County into his new district (151), said the meetings have been beneficial for him in particular.

“I’m kind of the catch-up guy,” he said. “I’m learning a great deal in these meetings about the issues that concern this region. What I’d like to hear, though, is more from the local representatives and less from us.”

The 2013 Legislative session is set to run Jan. 14 through April 18.

Comments

whattheheck 1 year, 7 months ago

Bigger than a 150 gorilla,doesn't begin to describe the tax exempt issue. Most tax exempt buildings are not even on the records, which some in government know but won't speak about. The $750 million exempt value actually shown on the records is likely only half or less of the "real" number.

The tax exempt issue is statewide as Dorothy of the Good Life says. But it is very apparent in Albany which has the massive Phoebe/Hospital Authority holdings, copious low rent housing, 800 parcels of "religious" property, payroll development property, and the usual trappings of federal/state/city/county/authority holdings. How bad is it? Well, bad enough that other counties can have significantly lower millage rates and still raise more revenue. And do we think those relocating to the area don't look at these numbers?

The basic exemptions are set up by the state but the application of those exemption laws is administered by the Board of Tax Assessors. From a local perspective of what can be done, someone needs to look at what the BOTA has exempted and why. Charity hospitals are exempt, but all all the medical practices being bought up by Phoebe in its name, or the Hospital Authority in support of Phoebe's desires, supposed to be tax exempt? If the new Mt Zion complex is on 110 acres of land, is the entire area exempt from taxes under the "sanctuary" provision or should perhaps 100 acres of unused land be taxed? Are we "enablers" to what has become our growing problem?

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dingleberry 1 year, 7 months ago

Yes, the Riverquarium is "cash strapped" as are the ACRI and Chehaw, Carlton. The extent of the "strap" is such these none of these can possibly survive without a continuous influx of public monies the need for which will increase each year. We are at the point where a local decision needs to be made, right here, right now, on which of these outfits will be supported in the future. Chehaw is nearing the end of a $1 million a year subsidy, the RQ has blown through its endowment, and the ACRI doesn't have enough gate sales to overcome the annual power bill.

It's decision time for the locals and in the background one can hear Kenny Rogers singing "Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold "em". And for goodness sake, don't let Winfred talk us out of the wise decision to close the two library branches. The "not in my backyard" comments he made show exactly what the problem is: We don't have the resolve to solve problems with expenditures even in the face of overwhelming evidence of the necessity to cut.

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B4it 1 year, 7 months ago

Dingle...You are spot on about Winfred Dukes' typical liberal irresponsible comment about the library closures. Library funds to local districts were cut by the state and the local library board had to make some tough decisions. They made the appropriate cuts and some, like Winfred and Commissioner John Hayes, want to make it a political racial issue.

Next time they raise this library closure issue, ask them why the state had to make the funding cuts, and why are there no libraries in every corner of the county. Someone has to make good economic business decisions when funds are not available.

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Cartman 1 year, 7 months ago

Local Public Officials Meet With Legislators How did I know the entire discussion was going to be about how much money they can give us. It's our money stupid. And we are tired of you spending it like it was free.

  1. I move we close the Riverquarium. It was a stupid idea in the first place. It had zero chance of ever supporting itself. It will never support itself. It is a continual drain of public funds. It is an unnecessary expense at a time we cannot afford it. Just close it. At a minimum, quit funding it with public money.

  2. I move we close the ACRI. It was nothing but a political feel-good idea to start with. It was funded with public money and will continue to require public money. It will never support itself. It is an unnecessary expense at a time we cannot afford it. Just close it. At a minimum, quit funding it with public money.

  3. Chehaw is a horse of a different color only because it does financially support itself to some extent. However, $1m/yr to too excessive. Cut that funding down to zero and see if it can swim. If not. Close it too.

It isn't that complicated people.

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dingleberry 1 year, 7 months ago

And that's the sad point, Carts. It isn't that complicated but the "won't" to do what is needed outstrips the "will" to do it. As you point out, Chehaw does better financially but when the million dies out, its ability to reach the "some extent" won't be there so all three are swimming in the big red ink pool.

Your point on the free money is certainly appropriate. How many times has the gullible public been led to believe something is "free" if fed or state dollars are used rather than local? Rather than going to the well for state dollars, we need to be talking about what we can do without or what we can do for less.

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