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Members of the area’s legislative delegation break bread with city leaders

ALBANY — Albany City commissioners were treated to a catered lunch by their state lobbyist at the Albany Fire Department’s Training Center Tuesday afternoon, and commissioners used the time to talk issues with a trio of special guests _ members of the area’s state legislative delegation.

State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, and Reps. Winfred Dukes and Carol Fullerton, both Albany Democrats, strategized with city officials about such issues as funding for city attractions and public safety. State lobbyist Rufus Montgomery welcomed the state and city officials before turning the discussion over to Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard.

“We just left a meeting where we talked about funding for Chehaw Park,” Hubbard said. “I believe quality-of-life issues are important to our citizens, and we have some quality-of-life entities in dire need.”

Dukes said local officials should not expect an infusion of state money to help with operations of attractions like Chehaw and the Flint RiverQuarium.

“The deal was (the state) said, ‘We’ll build this for you, but that’s where the money ends,’” Dukes said. “Look at what’s happening all over the state: The Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Golf Hall of Fame have been shut down. Where you lost your deal was in the construction. There was a $5 million endowment set up to run the facility, but they used all that in construction (overruns).

“Many of us weren’t (elected officials) then, but we’re the leaders now. We’re going to have to find a way to make this work.”

The District 150 representative also chastised former Chehaw officials for rebuffing calls to put water attractions at the wild animal park.

“There was a lot of talk about a water slide, and the folks out there said, ‘That’s beneath us,’” Dukes said. “You know what? So is bankruptcy. We’ve got to be willing to look at doing some different things. If it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense.”

When Ward V City Commissioner Bob Langstaff suggested having the state Department of Natural Resources team with the RiverQuarium as a cost-cutting measure, Fullerton said such a joint venture would be tough, given DNR’s budget constraints.

“They’ve been cut by 40 percent, more than any other department in the state,” the District 153 rep said.

Sims said local officials are waiting too late to seek help from state officials.

“We don’t need to hear about it when places are about to close,” she said. “We have to be proactive (to look for emergency funds), and that puts pressure on all of us. We need to know long before things are going to happen.

“We know where the challenges are (with the RiverQuarium and other attractions). We need to determine how we move forward. We need to fix things and move on.”

Langstaff asked the state legislators about public safety issues such as the local juvenile justice program, delayed cleanup of dilapidated structures in the city and employment opportunities for parolees.

“You have to make tougher laws,” Dukes said. “In College Park, if you don’t cut your grass you don’t get a citation, you have to come to court. If you don’t show, you go to jail. That’s for not cutting grass. They don’t play up there.”

Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard said the federally mandated closure of nearby state-run mental health facilities will bring “an epidemic” (of potentially dangerous patients) to Albany.

“And what’s going to happen when the YDC (youth detention center) closes?” Sims asked. “You guys have got to get a plan in place before these facilities close.”