Thursday, April 09, 2015

House-Senate Conference Committee Cut Funding For Bogart Library In Oconee County From State Budget

Only Project Cut

A House-Senate conference committee removed all funding for the renovation and expansion of the Bogart Library from the state budget approved in the final two days of the General Assembly last week.

The conference committee action was taken at the direction of Terry England, R-Auburn, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, according to Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents Bogart and the rest of Oconee County.

Cowsert is majority leader of the Senate and, in that capacity, had knowledge of the conference committee deliberations.

Terry England

The Bogart Library was the only one of seven libraries designated for funding in the budgets approved by the House and Senate to be zeroed out in the conference committee.

Rep. Regina Quick, who represents Bogart, bucked House Republican leadership and was one of only 43 Republicans who voted against the HB 170, the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, when it was approved by the House on March 5.

One Explanation For Decision

Cowsert told me in an email message yesterday morning that “The library funding was removed by the House Appropriations Committee chairman after we had to cut about $20 million in bonds in the conference committee to make the budget balance.”

Funding for the library and other capital projects is part of the General Obligation Debt Sinking Fund section of the budget. That part of the budget authorizes bonds to be sold and then includes money for the first payment against those bonds in the next year’s budget.

The Athens Regional Library System was seeking $1,755,750 in state funding for the Bogart Library renovation and expansion. That was to be matched by $955,750 in funding from the 2004 Oconee County Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

On Burson Avenue

The Georgia Public Library Service, the statewide library authority, had ranked the Bogart project as number seven on its list of 10 projects for funding this year.

The Georgia Public Library had ranked three of the six library projects that survived the conference committee cuts lower in priority than the Bogart Library.

Another Explanation

When I talked to Quick by telephone on Tuesday she said she didn’t have any explanation for the defunding of the Bogart Library project.

“It was in the House and in the Senate budget bills,” she said. “It was taken out in conference committee.”

When I asked her if it was retaliation for her vote on HB 170, which increased fuel taxes to pay for transportation, she said “I don’t think that is the case.”

Quick’s district consists of three precincts in Oconee County, Bogart, Malcom Bridge and Athens Academy, small parts of Barrow and Jackson County, and western Clarke County.

Rep. Chuck Williams, also a Republican, said he “had no idea” if retaliation was involved. “That is beyond my pay grade.”

“There are a lot of dynamics in the budget process,” he said, “and I would be speculating beyond what I know.”

Williams’ district is about evenly split between Oconee and Clarke counties.

First Budget Step

Julie Walker, the state librarian and head of the Georgia Public Library System, also said she did not know why Bogart was singled out for defunding.

The Georgia Public Library requests fall under the Georgia Board of Regents budget.

Walker said that the 10 top-ranked projects, with Bogart in the seventh slot, were sent forward to the Governor, who had the option of including them in his budget proposal.

He chose Villa Rica Library in the West Georgia Regional Library System for $1.5 million, according to Walker and the documents she gave me summarizing the process.

House Action

Williams sits on the Higher Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, and the House added the East Marietta Branch of the Cobb County Public Library System and the Bogart Library to the budget.

The East Marietta Branch was given $1 million, half of the amount requested, and Bogart was given $875,000, or just less than half of the $1,755,750 requested.

The House also left in the $1.5 million for Villa Rica, which was the full amount requested.

It also added in $1 million for major repair and rehabilitation of libraries system wide.

Senate Action

In the Senate, the Marietta money was doubled, to the $2 million requested, and the Bogart money was doubled, to $1,750,000, or just $5,750 short of the request, and the Villa Rica money was left untouched ($1.5 million)

The major repair and rehabilitation money also was doubled to $2 million.

The Senate added money for the Charlton County Public Library ($565,000) and the Harris County Public Library ($2 million).

Both of these had been on the list of 10 recommended programs from the Georgia Public Library System and were funded at the full amount requested.

The Senate also added $2 million for the Harlem Library in Columbia County and $2 million for the Sharon Forks Public Library in Forsyth County.

Both of these libraries had requested the $2 million granted, but the Forsyth County request was ranked in the 11th slot on the Public Library Service list. The Harlem Public Library was ranked 25.

The conference committee made only two changes in the Senate allocations.

It reduced the amount for major repair and rehabilitation from $2 million to $1,885,000.

It cut entirely the money for the Bogart Library.

SPLOST Request

The Oconee County Library Advisory Board had made a case to the Oconee County Board of Commissioners last year for inclusion of library projects, including renovation and expansion of the Bogart Library, on the 2015 SPLOST project list.

Sign At Door

It said the Bogart Library, built in 1997, was heavily used, that the facilities needed to be updated, and that extra space was needed.

The library is next to the Bogart Recreation Complex at 200 South Burson Avenue in Bogart. Only a small part of Bogart is in Clarke County.

The BOC agreed that the need was great for the upgrade at the Bogart Library and decided to use unspent 2004 SPLOST funds for that project.

The County allocated $955,750 as the local share in the application for the state funding.

State Librarian Walker said the Bogart proposal had been a strong one. The local “money was there and ready to go,” she said.

Next Year

“It was a shock,” Robert Wyatt, chair of the Library Advisory Board, said yesterday when I asked him about the defunding of the Bogart Library.

Penny Mills, another Advisory Board member, said she and other members of the Board had spoken with Cowsert, Quick and Williams about the state funding.

“We were under the impression progress had been made and we would be able to get the state contribution as soon as the governor signed the bill,” she said.

State Librarian Walker said the Bogart proposal “will come back next year and probably be number one on the list.”


Anonymous said...

In Georgia, voters have made the decision to elect a Republican Governor, Senate and House.

If one of their own bucks the system, which is basically a handful of people (Deal, Cagle, Ralston, and a few others), the Republican leadership will be swift and vindictive.

This is an example why. Oconee residents who use the cool Bogart Library pay the price of Regina Quick voting her conscience. Bill Cowsert sits on the sidelines, cowardly, and allows it to happen.

The best and brightest in Georgia do not run for the house or senate. We get unimpressive wannabe's and poseurs.

Beanne said...

No matter which party is ruling, the GA legislature is where power rules absolutely. Just look at what happened at the end of the legislative session. The Governor promised Mercedes Benz a deal and they stuck it in at the last minute, bypassing the rules and despite the objections of their own members - yet the electorate is happy with Mr. Deal Maker. So, poor Regina Quick who follows her conscience and the Bogart Library. Nothing is safe when the legislature is in session.