Flint Riverquarium funding may be slashed - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Flint Riverquarium funding may be slashed

By Karen Cohilas - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) – Albany's Flint Riverquarium is bracing for a major funding cut from Dougherty County. Managers at the attraction say they could handle losing 20% of the money they get from the county, but the cuts could end up being much deeper as county leaders struggle to balance next year's budget without raising taxes.

They're already considering 12 furlough days for county workers.

Flint Riverquarium CEO Scott Loehr told the county finance committee his organization is prepared to lose $50,000 of the $250,000 they currently receive from the county. But if county employees have to be furloughed, the Riverquarium may not get any money at all.

Discussions about the Dougherty County operating budget for fiscal year 2011 are ongoing, but decisions are far from being made.  Finance Chairman Lamar Hudgins said, "We've been talking for several years about how bad the economy is and it's not a surprise. I mean, private sector has been dealing with it for at least three years."

And now, the county is reaching critical mass. Forced to make the same decisions private industry has had to make. Cut employee pay, cut employees, cut expenses, or find a way to make more money.

Hudgins said, "There are some people who say to be courageous and increase the millage rate, well, that would be another hit to employees, many of them live in Dougherty County, so why should we ask them to take a pay cut and increase premiums and oh, by the way, we want to increase your millage rate. That, to me, is not an alternative."

Plus, at a time when one out of 10 Dougherty Countians are out of work, Chairman Jeff Sinyard says it would be unfair to taxpayers, who are also struggling.  He said, "In my mind, raising taxes is the wrong thing to do. Every 10 places you go by, somebody hasn't got a job."

In addition to the possibility of unpaid holidays for employees, the county must look at outside agencies it helps fund, like the Flint Riverquarium.  Sinyard said, "There is nothing that is off the table to be cut. It's a matter of looking at each specific entity and seeing how it brings in, what it brings to the community as a whole."

And Commissioner Lamar Hudgins says there's no way he can wholly fund the Riverquarium while cutting employee pay.  He said, "That's where I am and I've said it. That's where I am. I just can't ask employees to take a cut and then continue to fund outside agencies."

Riverquarium CEO Scott Loehr says he is prepared to take 20% less from the county than the Riverquarium has received for the past several years.

Commissioner John Hayes said, "I think it was a very, very proactive step on his part, to say look, we're asking everyone else to make some sacrifices, we're willing to make some sacrifices too." But is the sacrifice he's offering enough?

Riverquarium CEO Scott Loehr says even with a 20% reduction in funding, he won't have to furlough or layoff employees. The proposed budget of $46 Million is an increase of 3% over last year. The biggest reason for the increase is the increase in insurance premiums over last year.

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