Culture losing out in sales tax fight -, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Culture losing out in sales tax fight

August 25, 2004

Albany - The fight over sales tax money continues. "We're all going to be sitting back, looking hungry at the commissioners and begging for what they feel is best," said Albany Museum of Art Director Aaron Berger. City and county projects are taking precedence which leaves community programs wondering if they'll get any money at all.

Albany and Dougherty County agree upgrading technology, from computers to emergency radios, is a necessity. But, they can't agree on how to spend the rest of the sales tax money, if voters even decide to continue the tax.

It's a child's play date at the Albany Museum of Art for friends Tina Barrett and Monique Johnson. "I just feel it's important to expose our children to all different areas," said Tina Barrett.

The moms say art is just as important to the quality of life in a community as good roads and sewer lines. "I don't think the children would be as well-rounded if they didn't have ways to express themselves creatively," said Dr. Monique Johnson.

The Museum of Art is one of a handful of community programs asking for sales tax money. The museum wants about $3.3-million to relocate downtown, across from the Flint Riverquarium.

"In our current location, there's no chance to just walk by and happen upon the museum,' said Director Aaron Berger. "Downtown, you may come to go the Riverquarium but when you walk outside, you'll see the other things going on. That may extend your stay and give you a reason to have dinner downtown. Hopefully, you'll take in some of the shows and other things. It's a ripple effect."

For now, the museum's future remains an empty canvas as city and county leaders debate over how to spend $108-million in sales tax revenue. They've agreed on $20-million for projects ranging from a new radio system used by emergency and city/county employees to a fire training facility. The remaining money will be split with 62% going to the City and 38% to the county. Commissioners plan to decide Thursday morning how much, if any, money will go towards community projects.

"Those infrastructure issues are, of course, vital because that's what keeps the City moving forward. But, I think these cultural entities also are a key component to moving forward too," said Berger. And, it SPLOST or bust for the Art Museum. "We won't be able to move. We'll remain where we are."

The kids, playing at the museum, don't understand how sales tax money can shape their community, but they do realize that art is fun. And, they're learning. Is that reason enough to approve the Museum's SPLOST request? That's up to city and county commissioners to decide.

Bear in mind, the city and county are making plans for money they don't have and might not even get. It'll be up to voters to decide whether to extend the one cent sales tax in November.

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