C.W. Grant, chairman of the board of the Albany Civil Rights Institute, answers a question offered by Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell during a pre-briefing before Tuesday’s Albany City Commission meeting. The board voted to give the ACRI a one-year, $50,000 subsidy.
ALBANY, Ga. — Albany City Commissioners voted Tuesday to pass a $110 million fiscal year 2013 budget, but whether that will require a tax hike remains uncertain.
The budget as presented included a recommendation from City Manager James Taylor to raise property taxes for city residents by 1.33 mills. But the fact that the budget was adopted Tuesday night, doesn’t mean that property taxes will go up, he said.
“There will have to be a separate vote on whether to increase the millage,” Taylor said. “The budget contains a recommendation for a millage increase, but they haven’t yet voted to do it.”
The $110.1 million budget is $1.3 million less than the current FY2012 budget that will expire Saturday.
The only significant change to the budget that came Tuesday night, was the addition of a one-year, $50,000 subsidy to the Albany Civil Rights Institute.
C.W. Grant, chairman of the ACRI board, asked the commission for the funding after the organization missed the deadline to apply for funding from the city commission during the FY2013 budget preparation cycle.
“It was an oversight and we beg all of you for forgiveness,” Grant said while addressing the commission.
Grant said that the organization was in the beginning stages of a fundraising drive that he hoped would allow ACRI to become more self-sufficient.
Started on June 23, the ACRI is campaigning to get 200 area churches to commit to donating $100 per month to the organization to fund operations.
Grant also said that the organization hopes to revive a membership drive that was envisioned when the organization opened 10 years ago.
Grant said it was his hope that 3,000 to 5,000 new members will join the institute each year, at $25 per person. Currently ACRI has roughly 1,000 members, he said.
Some on the commission were skeptical of ACRI’s efforts.
“I don’t see a plan to really raise any funds,” Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike said. “Based on this information, I don’t see it. It’s hard when you’re raising taxes to invest money in other things.
Ward V Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Langstaff said that he and his wife have each given their personal money to ACRI but that he doesn’t believe the taxpayers should subsidize it.
“My wife and I have given personally to support it, but I don’t believe it’s right to use tax dollars to support it,” Langstaff said. “There are a lot of good things out in the community to support, but, as a government, we have to get back to basics.”
In the end, the commission voted 6-1, with Langstaff voting against, to give the $50,000 to the ACRI for one more year.
On the flip side, commissioners voted to table a request from the Flint RiverQuarium for funding.
RiverQuarium Executive Director Sanders Lewellen told commissioners that discussions were continuing with officials at the Parks at Chehaw — a major determinant in the commission’s ultimate decision to award funding to the RiverQuarium — and that the organization had raised more than $500,000 in private funding and donations since December.
But after receiving a letter from the RiverQuarium officials insinuating that there may be some contractual obligation for the city to fund the Riverquarium for at least another two years, and that the Riverquarium was now asking for $250,000 after commissioners were considering granting $150,000, some commissioners had harsh words for Riverquarium board members and management.
“Frankly, it’s a bit of a slap in the face to jump to $250,000 when you knew we were considering $150,000. It doesn’t even sound like you asked please to me,” Pike said.
“It’s going to be difficult for me, as the representative of the poorest ward in the city, to explain to a little 80-year-old lady in south Albany how I’m going to raise her taxes to pay for the RiverQuarium. It’s a slap in the face really.”
Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard echoed Pike’s comments.
“I”ve been given my marching orders by the people of East Albany,” he said. “It would be hard to go and tell the senior citizens in my ward that we’re going to raise taxes, give money to the RiverQuarium and yet we’re going to cut transit services.”
Tommie Postell said that he too was “insulted” by the RiverQuarium’s request for $250,000 from $150,000 but still managed to make the motion to table a formal vote on whether to allocate funds and how much, until another meeting.
For now, the budget as voted on Tuesday night does not include any funding for the RiverQuarium, however commissioners can vote on a budget amendment after revisiting the issue at a later meeting.