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Albany commissioners tentatively add money for Flint RiverQuarium, Civil Rights Institute

In a 4-3 vote, Albany city commissioners add $300,000 in support funding to the FY 2015 spending plan

Albany Police Department Deputy Chief Mark Scott at the Tuesday meeting of the Albany City Commission discusses memoranda of understanding between the department and Albany State University and Darton State College that would formalize an emergency aid agreement between the two educational institutions and APD. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

Albany Police Department Deputy Chief Mark Scott at the Tuesday meeting of the Albany City Commission discusses memoranda of understanding between the department and Albany State University and Darton State College that would formalize an emergency aid agreement between the two educational institutions and APD. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — Bucking Albany City Manager James Taylor’s budget recommendations, the Albany City Commission voted 4-3 Tuesday at a work session to supplement both the Flint RiverQuarium’s and the Albany Civil Rights Institute’s operating expenses with a total of $300,000 in funding.

Noting the “$250,000 to $300,000 in donations and in-kind services” generated by the RiverQuarium through its fundraising initiative, Director Tommy Gregors asked the commission for $200,000 so that the aquarium could offset its expenses and continue to generate interest among corporate and individual donors.

Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell made the initial motion to allocate the funding.

“I’ll say I was against this funding in the past, but we don’t need to let the RiverQuarium go,” said Postell, who then asked what amount the city had given to the Civil Rights Institute last year. Told that amount was $50,000, Postell said, “I also move that we increase the amount we give the Civil Rights Institute to $100,000.”

Postell’s motion was challenged by Ward V’s Bob Langstaff and Ward III’s B.J. Fletcher, who, along with Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard, voted against the funding.

“We will have to take $1.979 million out of our reserves to balance the budget as presented,” Langstaff said. “I don’t know how we expect to keep doing this. We’re heading toward leaving a legacy of desperation, because the MEAG (Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia) money (in deregulation credits) will be gone in 2018.

“I’m not saying this is not a worthy cause, but I don’t see how we can afford it.”

Fletcher said she’s frustrated by the lack of a five-year plan for either attraction.

“This is taxpayer money,” she said. “I love all that (the RiverQuarium and Civil Rights Institute) do for our community, but if this was a real business there would be a five-year plan in place. Giving them money year after year is not a business plan.”

Howard said he supports both venues, but “I’d have to vote no on giving $200,000 and $100,000.”

Before the start of Tuesday’s work session, the commission held a special called business meeting to vote on an ordinance that would prohibit non-law enforcement city employees from having handguns or other weapons in government buildings or city vehicles. Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta asked for more flexibility in the ordinance.

“Almost every employee I talked with said they think there are times when they need a handgun,” Marietta said.

Taylor replied, “That’s why they have me in charge of city employees. We don’t always do what they want.”

Marietta said Water, Gas & Light Commission linemen and Albany Civic Center employees, among others, might be better served if allowed to have weapons with them “after hours.”

“I think it’s unreasonable to ask employees to be unarmed when they might be working with criminals,” the Ward IV commissioner said. “Some of our employees are little old ladies.”

Langstaff said the city faced potential litigation if one of its employees who was untrained in handgun usage used a weapon while on city property.

“Our law enforcement personnel go through extensive training in the use of weapons,” the Ward V commissioner said. “I believe we would face incredible liability if we didn’t require the same proficiency of all employees (who carried weapons).”

The ordinance, a similar version of which was passed by the Dougherty County Commission Monday, passed by a 6-1 vote.

Before going over the Water, Gas & Light Commission’s proposed $132 million budget, city CFO JoEllen Brophy told commissioners a $2 million budget amendment was needed in anticipation of closing out the Fiscal Year 2014 budget. Brophy said funds were needed to cover insurance premium increases ($900,000), Medicare Part B payments to retirees ($200,000), an environmental assessment for the city’s multimodal transportation site ($50,000), additional police hires ($867,000) and stormwater utility fees for city departments ($33,000).

That request, renewal of state lobbyist Rufus Montgomery’s $5,000 monthly fee and the WG&L budget were tentatively approved by the commission. Montgomery, who is principle of his firm, The Cason Group, told commissioners recent figures show a 48-to-1 return on every dollar paid by the city.

The commission also agreed to memoranda of understanding with the state Board of Regents so that the Albany Police Department can provide aid and request help from both the Darton State College and Albany State University police departments. Postell also recommended that Jay Sharpe be approved to fill a vacant spot on the Water, Gas & Light Commission board.

Marietta asked if candidates who had applied for the WG&L post could come to next week’s night meeting for questioning, but Mayor Dorothy Hubbard encouraged Marietta to “do your own due diligence.”