The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia has listed funding for a renovated and expanded Bogart Library as its fifth highest priority among library capital projects that the state should fund for Fiscal Year 2017.
The ranking for the Oconee County library project in 2017 is two rungs higher than the ranking the project was given by the Board of Regents last year. Funding for the Bogart Library was cut from the capital budget in the final days of the legislature last year.
Gov. Nathan Deal did not include the Bogart Library in his list of FY 2017 library priorities, as was true last year as well. Last year Gov. Deal selected only a library project in Carroll County for funding, and this year he recommended none of the 10 projects selected by the Board of Regents, leaving that decision to the General Assembly.
The Oconee County Library Friends, a group of volunteers and supporters of the Oconee County libraries, is asking citizens of the county to contact the three members of the General Assembly who represent Oconee County urging them to tell the leadership of the House and Senate of their support for the Bogart project.
In unrelated news, the Oconee County Planning Commission tonight recommended in an 8-1 vote the approval of a rezone for an expansion of Epps Bridge Centre, voted 6 to 3 to recommend rejection of the proposed Mars Hill Road Overlay District, and voted 9-0 for a series of changes to the Unified Development Code.
The Board of Regents each year lists 10 library projects that it recommends be included in the state capital budget.
Last year, the General Assembly selected six projects for funding, three of them higher rated than the Bogart Library, and three that were lower ranked. Two of those lower-ranged projects funded were not even on the Board of Regents top 10 list.
The Bogart Library was ranked number seven last year, and it is ranked number five this year.
The Board of Regents is asking for $1.8 million for the project, up from $1,755,750 a year earlier.
Last year the county agreed to contribute $955,750, and this year it is being asked to contribute $1 million.
Robert Wyatt, chair of the Oconee County Library Advisory Board, told me on Feb. 11 that the county money is to come from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue, though he isn’t sure if the source will be unspent monies from the 2004 SPLOST or from anticipated revenue from 2015 SPLOST.
The county has just less than $3.6 million in unspent funds from 2004 SPLOST, and the money for the Bogart Library match last year was supposed to come from that amount.
Wyatt said he now isn’t sure if the county is going to make that money available or draw from the $2 million designated for library work from 2015 SPLOST, which the county only began collecting money from in October of last year.
Wyatt said the Library Advisory Board had planned to use the 2015 SPLOST money for improvements to the Watkinsville Library.
A House-Senate conference committee removed all funding for the renovation and expansion of the Bogart Library from the state Fiscal Year 2016 budget approved in the final two days of the General Assembly last year.
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 all of Oconee County in the Senate.
Sen. Cowsert was one of the three senators to join with the three House members on the Conference Committee.
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 by the conference committee.
Rep. Regina Quick, who represents Bogart and two other Oconee County precincts in the Georgia House, was a frequent and outspoken critic of House leadership in the runup to the vote to increase motor fuel and hotel taxes to fund state transportation projects.
I wrote to Cowsert, Quick and Rep. Chuck Williams via email on the evening of Feb. 11 asking them for an update on Senate and House action on the Board of Regents recommendation regarding the Bogart Library.
Quick wrote me back the next morning saying that the Higher Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee was still deciding on the Fiscal Year 2017 budget and she would keep me informed of the outcome.
Shortly after I heard from Quick I received a reply from Williams, who is vice-chair of the Higher Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.
Williams wrote that “Discussions at the House committee level are ongoing, and I am hopeful that we can successfully make the case for inclusion of the Bogart project as the budget work proceeds.
“This is a continuing discussion item for Rep. Quick and I at this stage of the budget formation process,” Williams said in his email message.
Cowsert wrote me on Feb. 13 saying that the Senate was waiting on the House to send its budget proposal.
Library Friends Appeal
The Oconee Library Friends sent out its email appeal on the afternoon of Feb. 12, pointing out that the House Higher Education Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee is scheduled to complete its work tomorrow.
The House Calendar has a report from that subcommittee scheduled for 7:15 a.m. on Wednesday.
The Oconee Library Friends is asking citizens of the county to write to the three Oconee County legislators urging them to restore state funding for the purchase of public library materials, which have been “drastically reduced over the past eight years, down to zero dollars in FY2016.”
Citizens also are encouraged to ask the legislators for their “support for a much-needed expansion of the Bogart Branch Library.”
The addresses of the three legislators are below: