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Riverquarium, ACRI funding debated

Commissioners vote down a measure to cut a proposed tax increase by two-thirds.

ALBANY — Albany city commissioners debated whether to fund independent agencies during a special-called budget hearing Monday, after the Albany Civil Rights Institute petitioned the body for money.

Last week, the commission tentatively voted to provide up to $150,000 for the Flint RiverQuarium if it agreed to functionally merge with Chehaw.

That move opened the door for the Albany Civil Rights Institute, who asked City Manager James Taylor over the weekend for $50,000.

"I gave them a personal check for $500, but I'm not giving them any of the people's money unless directed by this board," Taylor told commissioners.

Taylor, who didn't include funding for any non-government agencies in his FY 2013 general fund budget, is trying to close a $6.5 million shortfall. His recommendation includes trimming vacant city positions, pulling $2 million from the city's sewer enterprise fund and mandatory cuts on non-public safety departments.

Even with those proposals, Taylor is having to recommend a 1.33-mill increase to the city's property tax rate, which hasn't been increased since 2008.

With time running out to pass a FY 2013 budget before the year starts on July 1, commissioners have begun tinkering with the pending plan, offering up areas to cut in hopes of avoiding a tax increase.

Chief among them is Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta, who suggested cuts and policy changes Monday that he said would generate roughly $4.5 million of revenue to help close the gap.

Marietta pointed to potential savings realized through the city's use of a new health clinic, closing vacant positions, taking another look at the city's portion of local-option sales taxes and then transferring 10 percent of the city's capital improvements program budget into the general fund as ways to bridge the gap.

Even so, a millage rate increase would likely be needed, but when he offered a compromise of one-third of a mill rather than the 1.33 mill that is currently on the table, the commission voted it down 1-4-1, with Marietta the only supporter. Commissioner Jon Howard abstained and Commissioner Christopher Pike was absent.

"I think to jump into a large tax increase sends the wrong message to businesses and will stunt our economic development efforts," Marietta said. "I don't want a tax increase, but if we're going to do it, incrementally would be better."

Some on the commission felt differently.

"No one wants to raise taxes because we'll have to pay them, too. But if you want the services to stay the same, you're going to have to pay for them. It's as simple as that," Commissioner Tommie Postell said.

Ward II Commissioner Ivey Hines said that he was disturbed that previous commissions had allowed the city to get to the point where they could get $7 million in the hole. "That's the bottom line. If we raise taxes, it'll generate $2 million. We're $7 million in the hole, so we're not doing anything that we won't have to face next year," Hines said. "It disturbs me that we've to the point where we're $7 million in the hole."

After his motion failed, Marietta asked if the amount saved by closing all vacant positions could be used to fund the RiverQuarium and the Civil Rights Institute, but was rebuffed by Taylor for micromanaging the budget.

"You tell me what to fund, but you let me do the how," Taylor said.

Comments

Cartman 2 years, 5 months ago

Unbelieveable. Is Taylor the only level head in the room? Albany is broke. We are $7m in the hole. They are kicking around a tax increase because they don't have enough money. And they are still considering bankrolling the RiverQuarium and ACRI; two failed money-pits? How more irresponsible can you be?

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VietVet1 2 years, 5 months ago

Hey! It's only tax payer's money. They said it's going to draw THOUSAND of visitors. Maybe the taxpayers will donate more for parking spaces for the flow of visitors.

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whattheheck 2 years, 5 months ago

It's been a long time coming but the piper is ready for the pay. We have three venues that didn't grow up and will always be a ward of the ship of state. None are likely to become self sufficient and it's time to put all the cards on the table.

Chehaw would be visibly swirling the bowl with the other two if it weren't receiving $1 million a year in taxpayer money for 5 years, expiring next year. Also, it has gotten some hefty SPLOST dollars in the past. Feeding and caring for a bunch of animals ain't cheap and the facility is maxed out in terms of admission fees. Look for bigger problems in the future as the $1 million goes away.

RQ has the same problem but with even more unique caretakers required. In addition, it requires periodic expensive updating of displays to keep folks who aren't coming coming back. It is what it is with no chance whatsoever of it being able to stand alone--ever. No amount of $$ will change that fact. But what do we do with a failed facility anchoring a struggling downtown sitting idle as it is vandalized, a monument to past stupidity shouting "We can't make things work in Albany!"? Take notice state folks, quit funding venues with wads of tax dollars, $28 million in this case. We can't afford what you gave us--ask Macon about it's Music Hall of Done Gone Fame. .

The ACRI never drew any meaningful support years before we pumped $4 million local into the new facility. There are more civil rights museums than one can count and ours in "free city" joins a long list of losers. The only thing in its favor is lower personnel costs but its fatal weakness is not many pay admission fees to go. It has been getting money from somewhere but it surely isn't paid admissions--look at the books. It's strong point is going away won't be known or seen except perhaps by those who buy hot dogs and stumble onto it.

Like it or not, we ain't cutting it folks. We built the field of dreams and they, the tourists, didn't come, leaving us with the almost cadavers. Can Albany afford to lose them? Tough question for the commissioners, the organizations, and the Boards of Directors who need to start spinning like a top to explain why they should remain on the public teat. Get together, guys, or these venues are toast, time has run out for the tourists--and the taxpayers now facing another tax increase. A difficult issue that must be dealt with now. And while at it, look at the Thronateeska.

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VietVet1 2 years, 5 months ago

"Chehaw would be visibly swirling the bowl with the other two if it weren't receiving $1 million a year in taxpayer money for 5 years, expiring next year."

Chehaw got that in 1997 for seven years - it'll always be ongoing bail-out.

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whattheheck 2 years, 5 months ago

I'm sure you are right since they have always been at the public trough. At the moment their problems are hidden because of the present influx. It won't hold up when the spigot is shut off.

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dingleberry 2 years, 5 months ago

Albany is a small city with decreasing population and a less than robust economy tucked in a location few are interested in visiting. The flood of '94 brought an influx of federal money to build subsidized housing and we have been concentrating on growing our own poverty, not taxpayers, for years. When the RQ and ACRI were built, the reality of our status was ignored in favor of a "field of dreams" mentality, as stated above, fed by consultants and community leaders who hoped for a silver bullet to give luster to a bad situation. Perhaps all meant well but the taxpayers were to become the perennial losers from the efforts.

I have heard comments that these facilities need more money for advertising and promotion. Not the answer. Who would be targeted? I would wager that most of Albany's citizens and those in contiguous counties, have never darkened the door of other than Chehaw and then only it because of outdoor features--educational aspects take a back seat. And any money spent trying to draw tourists to pay and see little is going to be wasted. So, where do we go from here?

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 5 months ago

Both RQ and ACRI need to come up with creative ideas on how to fund raise. I think the RQ has tried but ACRI, have they even tried to fund raise privately?

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 5 months ago

Plus, I didn't know about this meeting yesterday. It would have been nice to know in advance so I could have attended. I asked the City Clerk last week for the meeting schedules and this one she did not include. Go figure though... How about posting all special called meetings on the City's website with the scheduled meetings. Some of us care about attending and do not want to see a tax increase because of mismanagement of funds over many, many years.

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whattheheck 2 years, 5 months ago

They do but it is tough going. In last year ending Jun 2011, ACRI took in about $217K ($160k from grants/contributions) and spent about $328K for a loss of $111K, after losing $92K the year before. These were the first two years after the $4 million was spent to "pep it up" which should be the best years for revenue. Dues/assessments/admissions only totaled $29k which didn't pay the utility bill much less the $92K in contract salaries. It isn't working and it won't work regardless of how much money we pump in.

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Darien 2 years, 5 months ago

What the heck!! My family and I use to visist and shop Albany. We have at times attended the river aquarium and chehaw in the past. We do not stop nor shop in Albany as it is not safe. The county/city has the police dept, sherioff office and county police dept and it still is not safe to get out of your car and shop or eat.

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whattheheck 2 years, 5 months ago

I understand. If nothing else perception is reality to many.

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billybob 2 years, 5 months ago

I think it's time to end the funding of these places. If these venues can not meet and exceed their operating expenses through customer revenue, then they are not needed. It's simple supply and demand. Perhaps they could expand their product offerings and get in the wedding/party/conference location business. I doubt it would be enough to put them in the black though.

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dingleberry 2 years, 5 months ago

The RQ does rent space for such events. However, there aren't enough such happenings to help. Might do better growing corn or okra on the space between the buildings but 24 hour guard would be needed.:)

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Hoodie 2 years, 5 months ago

The RQ needs to euthanize the old and barely swimming fish in the Bluehole display and get a few younger healthier fish that will actually move around and attempt to make the public watch them,Chattanooga has a TN river exhibit in it's aquarium but also has a salmon run, shark tank, ocean/reef tank, amazon tank, freshwater display,penguins etc. etc.....The Aviary is great and the girl working there is nice and friendly and knowledgeable she was the only person there that spoke a word to us including the ticket taker during my whole visit Upgrades and variety is the key for the RQ despite its HORRIBLE location Chehaw has this "AFRICAN" theme on its mind I think it's a waste we traded Elephants for rhinos that essentially do the same thing on display and poop the same amount The new ZOO director wants to get things going but is reliant on money and they are already working on the Sahara mess that I don't believe will draw any more visitors than a bluehole that looks like a nursing home for fish The Civil rights Museum.........I've never been to and don't plan on attending they shouldn't see a dime of taxpayer money nobody wants to go see that no matter what they do to attract visitors

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