Three years after the state provided $1.8 million for the renovation and expansion of the Bogart Library, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia is recommending that $1.9 million be included in the Fiscal Year 2020 state budget for expansion of the Watkinsville Library.
The Board of Regents action follows the recommendation of the Georgia Public Library Service, which put the Watkinsville Library project at number five on a list of 13 Georgia Public Library projects for funding by the state.
The Georgia Public Library Service inclusion of the Watkinsville Library on its list was something of a surprise to local officials and leaders of the Athens Regional Library System, of which the two Oconee County libraries are branches.
The Public Library Service is requiring just less than $1.1 million in local funding, and Oconee County Commission Chair John Daniell says the county will come up with the matching funds.
The Board of Regents recommendation now goes to Governor-elect Brian Kemp and then to the legislature, where a decision will be made on inclusion in the state budget for Fiscal Year 2020.
The recommendation of the Georgia Public Library Service that Athens Regional Library System receive $1.9 million in funding for the Watkinsville Library was a central topic of the most recent meeting of the Oconee County Library Board of Trustees.
The Library Board has been advocating for funding for improvements to the Watkinsville Library.
|Robert Wyatt 10/8/2018|
The Board of Regents subsequently accepted the recommendation of the Georgia Public Library Service and late last year released its budget recommendations, including the $1.9 million for the Watkinsville Library.
Penny Mills, a member of that Library Board, had chaired an ad hoc committee of the Library Board that had met with Commission Chair Daniell prior to the Oct. 8 meeting of the Oconee County Library Board. Mills is chair of the Finance Committee of the Library Board.
Mills reported that she and her colleagues had discussed with Daniell the possible responses to the decision by the state to include the money for the Watkinsville Library on the list of projects it was recommending for funding.
Robert Wyatt, Library Board chair, also attended the meeting of the ad hoc committee.
Commissioner Chuck Horton joined Daniell in the discussions, which took place on Sept. 19, according to Mills.
Daniell On $1.9 Million
Daniell told me in a telephone conversation on Oct. 17 that the county will use money from the current Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to provide the $1.1 million in required local match for the state funding.
The first problem, Daniell said, is that the combined $3 million will not meet current needs for the Watkinsville Library.
The county probably needs $8 to $10 million in addition to expand the library to meet future needs, Daniell said.
(Daniell told me in an email message on Jan. 5 that the $8 to $10 million figure came up in the ad hoc committee meeting and that he indicated the figure is too high. He said he told the ad hoc committee to come up with a proposal that would cost $3 to $5 million.)
The second problem, according to Daniell, is that the current site of the Watkinsville Library on Government Station Road inside Watkinsville is not adequate for the needed expansion.
Daniell said one option is to build another facility of the dimensions as the current Library–17,500 square feet in size–in some other location with the plan to expand that facility at some point in the future.
Daniell said there is “no way to expand at the current site” of the library because of problems with parking.
“The biggest complaint I get about the Library is parking,” Daniell said. “We need to be at a different site.”
Daniell said he presented the Library Board subcommittee with options for a future site.
The Board of Commissioners is confronted with a number of space needs, Daniell told me.
The Board has agreed that it needs to move current administrative offices out of the Courthouse in Watkinsville, Daniell said. That building will become solely a judicial facility, he said.
“Where to go from there is not clear,” Daniell said.
Daniell told me in that telephone conversation back in October that he told the ad hoc committee that one option might be using the land behind the library that is owned by the Board of Education.
Board Of Education Land
The current Watkinsville Library sits on a parcel of county land surrounded by other county parcels housing the Public Health Department, the U.S. Post Office, and the County Jail.
Behind the Library is 6.7 acres the Board of Education purchased from David and Chuck Williams for $900,000 in 2009.
At present, that land is unused.
Adjoining that 6.7-acre parcel is another 12.8 acres also owned by the Williams brothers that is being developed as a residential complex called Wisteria Ridge.
Chuck Williams formerly represented Oconee County in the Georgia General Assembly from the 119th House District and currently is director of the Georgia Forestry Commission.
Daniell told me in that Oct 17 telephone conversation that the county could consider adding expansion of the Watkinsville Library to the next SPLOST.
The current SPLOST expires in 2021, and Daniell said the next SPLOST could include at least part of the additional $8 to 10 million needed for a new library at a new site.
The problem is that it could take 20 years to get the needed funds from SPLOST alone, Daniell said.
Daniell said private fund-raising was a possible solution to that problem.
Even the $1.9 million from the state from the 2020 budget is not a certainty, Daniell said.
“Unless we push really hard, we are not going to get the funding this year,” Daniell said. “Just being on the list does not mean we will get the money."
Daniell said the county needs to talk to its legislative delegation “to push for the money now” and make it clear there is a need and that the Board is prepared to match the state money with local SPLOST funds.
In Fiscal Year 2017, the Board of Regents had recommended that the state budget include $1.8 million for the Athens Regional Library System for the renovation and expansion of the Bogart Library.
The item was number five on the list, but Gov. Nathan Deal did not recommend funding, and neither the Senate nor the House versions of the budget included the money for the Bogart Library.
In the Conference Committee of the Senate and the House, on which Sen. Bill Cowsert sits, the money was added to the budget. Cowsert represents Oconee County in the Senate.
That money ultimately was included in the budget signed by Gov. Deal, and the construction is underway.
The Georgia Public Libraries funding request is part of the Capital Outlay budget of the Board of Regents, meaning it is a request for bond sales for the construction projects.
Included in the Board of Regents budget request is $298.5 million for the University system of Georgia, with $5 million for the second phase of the Engineering Center renovations at the University of Georgia part of that request.
The Georgia Public Library projects ahead of the Athens Regional request on the list are $1.7 million for the Sequoyah Regional Library, $1 million for the Quitman County Library, $2 million for the Gwinnett County Public Library system, and $2 million for the Statesboro Regional Library System.
In an email message to me on Dec. 20, after the Board of Regents budget request was released, Valerie Bell, executive director of the Athens Regional Library System, wrote, “As a public librarian, I am appreciative of the legislature, for understanding the importance of public libraries to our community and residents.
“I also thank the Board of Regents for supporting our efforts through the Georgia Public Library Service,” she added.
This video below is of the Oct. 8, 2018, meeting of the Oconee County Library Board. Wyatt, Board chair, presided.
The meeting took place at the Bogart Agricultural Building, 141 E. Thompson Street, Bogart.
Discussion of the Georgia Public Library Service recommendation for the Watkinsville Library begins at 28:02.