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RiverQuarium funding explored

The Flint RiverQuarium

The Flint RiverQuarium

ALBANY — The Albany City Commission has asked City Manager James Taylor to explore the possibility of a $150,000 budget amendment that would benefit the Flint RiverQuarium.

Taylor's budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013, which begins July 1, did not include funding for the downtown educational and tourist attraction.

The current budget, which ends June 30, included $275,000 for the aquarium.

RiverQuarium CEO Sanders Lewellen asked the commission Tuesday to consider matching the $150,000 that the facility has generated through fundraising efforts.

"We're hunting in every field and fishing in every pond to fund our operations, but it's an uphill climb," Lewellen said. "Since I've come on board we've cut our budget internally by more than $341,000 and yet we still face challenges."

The aquarium's annual budget is just more than $1 million, down nearly $400,000 from last year.

Among the "challenges" that Lewellen pointed out to commissioners Tuesday were a $20,000-per-month electricity bill from the Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission and a tough fundraising market. Lewellen said making ends meet on ticket sales alone is not feasible.

"For us to make our operation work on just ticket sales, we'd have to raise prices to somewhere in the Disney range, and we're not going to do that; we can't do that," Lewellen said. "So we have to have a combination of revenue sources in order to keep our educational programs and our guides."

And despite the fact that commissioners are staring down the barrel of a possible property tax increase in order to balance the FY2013 budget, some at the table Tuesday seemed to sympathize with Lewellen.

"If we're talking about the future of downtown and the revitalization of downtown, we can't just abandon it," Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard said. "But we also have an obligation to the taxpayers."

Some on the commission seemed to like the idea of finding an alternative method of funding entities like the RiverQuarium outside of property taxes.

"Is there some way that we can designate a portion of the hotel/motel tax to the RiverQuarium?" Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta asked.

"The law gives more flexibility if you are at the 8 percent tax level, but not presently," City Attorney Nathan Davis answered.

Changing the hotel/motel tax from the 7 percent currently levied to the 8 percent maximum would require local legislation and a public referendum which couldn't be done until at least next Spring.

"I don't think we should abandon the RiverQuarium long-term," Marietta said, before asking Hubbard if the commission could ask Taylor to explore what impact funding the RiverQuarium at the $150,000 level would have on the proposed budget.

Currently, the city of Albany is the only government entity that subsidizes the RiverQuarium. The Dougherty County Commission stopped subsidizing the organization two years ago.

Comments

Cartman 2 years, 7 months ago

I remember when the RiverQuarium was first being sold by that snake oil salesman of a downtown manager, Tommy Chatmon. They told us that it would draw tourists to Albany; that it needed to be downtown instead of a Chehaw; and that it would be financially self-sufficient. It was modeled after the aquarium in Knoxville. You know, the one that was having financial problems, even during good economic times? I couldn't believe that people were actually falling for this obvious white elephant. It's like they had money in their pockets, but didn't have any good ideas on how to spend it. Even if you thought it was a judgment call before; now it is clear that we simply cannot afford luxuries like the Riverquarium. You are already running folks out of town with high taxes. The fewer folks left - the fewer left to pay. So it's not even a close call now. Be smart for once. Just say "no".

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whattheheck 2 years, 7 months ago

Much as I hate to do it, Carts, I can't hang this one around Tommy's neck although he was part of the mess. As Macon did with its Music Hall of Fame, we let an out-of-town group make a poor study of the RQ possibilities which sounded good but could never happen. Then, a Board of Directors bought off on the plan because they were also clueless on what to do and everybody wanted to "save the downtown". Add to the mix a bunch of politicians at State level who had surplus funds to plow into any venture and it became a trifecta of characters who gave us this ward of the taxpayers--not just ole Tommy.

Now, if I were Carlton Fletcher, I would hum a few bars of "Another one bites the dust", or "Slip sliding away" as a segway into the ACRI--another "dog" that won't hunt much longer without food from the taxpayer. We can entangle the same group of characters on that one except with no state stupidity at play--a local fiasco start to finish but a fiasco no less. Expect another request for funds or a "For Rent" sign on the door.

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Cartman 2 years, 7 months ago

I agree that the ACRI public funding should be nonrenewed (to borrow a new word from another controversey).

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beavis2012 2 years, 7 months ago

Great idea! Albany's favorite past time is to keep funding things that aren't working. It's great to say Albany has a Riverquarium but you've got to know when to let go. This place can't sustain itself ... I don't think it ever did without funding from the city. Between the BOE, our wonderful school system, the glorious #34, ASU and our amazing elected officials, I'm not sure how Albany can survive. Albany needs to clean house across the board and stop making dumb decisions.

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whattheheck 2 years, 7 months ago

"Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em"--know when to run away.

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43cop 2 years, 7 months ago

Well, here comes "Bodine" and his buddy, Lamar, to the rescue again. Thye are not concerned about public safety as they have already decided to cut them to the bone. Then it is the employees that they have just "mutilated" with no merit, no cost of living, insurance increases, 3% of what little is left to their retirement and so on. Maybe, just maybe, these two will someday have to live in that RiverQuarium and take the county administrator with them, I know this article was about the city, but watch who gets involved now. It has happened before, so watch these two.

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dingleberry 2 years, 7 months ago

Why don't we give the $134K IOU from Alltel to the RQ and let them collect it?

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Outtahere 2 years, 7 months ago

Any time I hear about the City Commission making decisions concerning money and/or projects, I get REALLY nervous! I brace myself for the worst!

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 7 months ago

Yep, because even if we don't like the idea they still try to cram it down our throats and we foot the bill. I am tired of it. Also, the idea of doing things over and over expecting the same results is not working either. Maybe one day they will wake up and realize this.

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Outtahere 2 years, 7 months ago

Or, maybe they won't. I don't have much faith right now and that's probably obvious!

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Amazed2 2 years, 7 months ago

The entire process was flawed from ATI to consultants. Consultants make money telling you what you want to hear. Otherwise you don't need to hire them. Secondly ATI lead by Tommy Chatman wanted or lets say needed the Big Fish Tank downtown so ATI could get downtown developement money. They were only concerned about building the Fish Tank, not operating it. ATI got a 11% development fee, Do the math on $28million dollars =/- and that is about $3 million that went to ATI. Yes they paid for some thing out of that but they got their hands on $3million dollars to steer the Big Fish Tank downtown. Now the taxpayers are close to having to pickup the tab for $20,000 monthly for the electric bill to keep the fishies and turtles alive. The project was doomed while still in the planneing stage. As you will note after that ATI gave us the Big Blue Arch and the Ray Charles Park and then it shut down. The Big Cash Cow was dead. Now somebody had to either figure out how to make the Big Fish Tank make money of it is heading toward Civic Center Status. Also in the news was the Hilton. That project was way over priced when built for what the end product was. Suspect a lot of cost when to the developers and ATI and not to the building. In otherwords people made money on the front end of the project and then left it here with the Big Fish Tank.

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iko 2 years, 7 months ago

For people like Roger Marietta, there's no limit to spending. Next year, he'll be saying "I'm just not ready to stop the funding yet," and there will be no end to it.

By the way, where are the con artists who promised that the Riverquarium would be self-supporting? Will they give their consulting fees back?

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alleebrin 2 years, 7 months ago

TurtleQuarium was a mistake from the start - so was the civic center, veterans park, and the list goes on and on - and will continue to soak the taxpayers for as long as they can. If you are planning to move to Lee County, that ain't far enough!!

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tocar 2 years, 7 months ago

Commissioners, please read each comment and listen to we taxpayers that are left in Albany. We have enough white elephants in this city / county. Also, Public Safety was not an area that you should have cut. You are a group of pathetic leaders. Maybe personal finances do not mean anything to you, but they do to the many families living on restricted budgets / income and to the families still trying to work in the city and county who feed their families. You have cut so deep into their salaries and benefits that I am embarrassed and saddened by what you have done. This is a low blow.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 7 months ago

They won't listen to the taxpayers. They will just call us terrorists on the news for speaking up or taking action to try and stop the madness (Marietta is guilty of this in the past).

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Oldguy 2 years, 7 months ago

I have lived in Albany and the Albany area for 57 years. I moved to Worth county several years ago. It is so sad to see Albany become a crime center of the South. Perhaps they should set up a place at the Welcome to Albany signs and the arch to give guns to people entering Albany. When I moved here we did not lock our doors or cars and usually left the keys in the car. Downtown was DOWNTOWN, you could go there at night and window shop with no fear. I do not go to Albany at night now and when I do go to Albany I carry a gun. Yes I have a permit. Downtown is DEAD so stop feeding a dead horse. Crime has spread over the entire city and the school system is a joke. SAD SAD SAD !!!

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