Albany City Commissioners Ivey Hines, left, Bob Langstaff, City Manager James Taylor and Mayor Dorthy Hubbard presented the city' legislative priorities to local lawmakers Thursday prior to the opening the the state general assembly in Atlanta next month. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)
ALBANY — Albany and Dougherty County commissioners met Thursday with area lawmakers to voice their priorities when the Georgia General Assembly convenes next month in Atlanta.
State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson; State Reps. Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert; Winfred Dukes, D-Albany; and Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, heard the city and county contingents’ concerns. The legislators also met earlier in the day with the Dougherty County School Board.
Albany City Manager James Taylor asked the lawmakers to help find funding to create a juvenile assessment center, which would be used to prevent children from entering the criminal justice system.
“Currently when we arrest juveniles, an officer has to stay with them and it takes up a lot of operational time and resources,” Proctor said. “We would like to have a place where we can assess and evaluate these kids and direct them to the proper social service networks and keep them out of the criminal justice system.”
Commissioner Bob Langstaff added his thoughts.
“Adults are using these kids to commit crimes because they know the kids won’t get locked up,” Langstaff told the lawmakers. “One of my biggest concerns is the manpower we are using, basically as baby-sitters. I’d just like to ask if any juvenile justice money is available, we’d sure appreciate the help down here.”
Commissioner Roger Marietta then brought up revisiting the controversial TSPLOST (Transportation Local Option Sales Tax) which was defeated by the region’s voters in 2012.
“My thought is that the regions which passed it are getting everything they wanted out of (TSPLOST),” Rynders, who is a member of the House transportation committee, said. “Right now there are not enough ‘wow’ projects over the past two years to revisit it in the next session. It’s basically a lack of public trust. But it could come up again in the next two years.”
Greene, however, said there is a "wow" project in Randolph County, which is part of the Columbus region which approved TSPLOST. He pointed to the near-completion of work on U.S. Highway 27 and said that people in Randolph County are now spending their money in Columbus rather than Albany because their money is coming back to them.
“We will always have transportation maintenance issues,” Sims said. “I know the people in my counties that voted to approve the TSPLOST (Randolph and Terrell) are very happy and we say, ‘Thank you.’”
Albany Fire Chief James Carswell asked the legislators to consider funding an expansion to the Albany Fire Training Center to include dealing with train derailments.
“The nation’s rail lines, like highways and bridges, are deteriorating, and we’ll see the number of derailments continue to rise,” Carswell said. “We also have a rail line that runs through the middle of town that is used to transport hazardous material 24/7.”
Greene suggested that the the AFD use train derailment containment training to help expand the center regionally.
When it was the county’s turn to voice its priorities, Commission Chair Jeff Sinyard also pointed to juvenile crime.
“We have a problem with juveniles in Dougherty County,” Sinyard said. “But we also have another problem because we have a backlog of cases and the state says we now have to have an assistant district attorney and public defender assigned to each offender. We didn’t have to do that last year and we don’t have the money to do it now. A juvenile court judge could handle it by himself in the past. We are going to need some funding to hire assistant district attorneys and public defenders to meet that mandate.
The lawmakers said they would see what they could do to secure funding and Greene asked Sinyard to send him a letter specifying an amount he thought the county would need.
The county also asked for $2 million in funding to renovate the Northwest Library, saying they wanted to utilize 11,000 square feet of undeveloped space and repair the building’s roof.
State Rep. Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, did not attend because she is recovering from injuries received in an automobile accident.