City cuts back on funding for non-essential agencies

Published 5:14 pm Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The LaGrange City Council reviewed more than $900,000 worth of budget requests during Tuesday’s budget meeting, but funding for only $498,000 of those requests was agreed on by the council, the lowest amount since the 2015-2016 budget year.

During the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the city supplied a total of $620,920 in funding to local agencies ranging from Circles to the LaGrange Memorial Library to the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra. During the 2018-2019 budget year, six agencies that previously received funding from the city will no longer receive city funding and need to make up for that funding through fundraisers and donations.

Council members agreed that they should fund what they deemed essential services of the city.

“I just feel as though we are not a cash cow, and we are going to have to do some cuts because number one we have to go up on the rates on our utility bill — which needs to go up because it hasn’t in a long time — but at the same time we have no taxes,” Council Member Willie Edmondson said. “So, if we have no taxes, that is one service that we offer already.”

Programs that requested funding for the 2018-2019 fiscal year that were not approved included First Tee, Certified Literate Communities, Circles, Success by Six, Fellowship Deliverance, Literacy Volunteers of Troup County, Adaptive Growth & Cultural Advancement, CASA of Troup County, Get Fed Inc. and Calumet Neighborhood. Those programs totaled $263,531 of the requests, and the council agreed to decrease funding to other programs as well. However, programs like Harmony House and LaGrange Personal Aid were unanimously agreed on as essential services.

“When somebody says LaGrange is a great place to live, I think to myself, LaGrange is a great place to live if you live in the nice part of LaGrange,” Council Member Tom Gore said. “When I think about the strength of our community, I think of it as having the weakest link, and you are only as strong as your weakest link. So, all of these efforts — everything we’ve been talking about in here mostly on the social services side — are an attempt to strengthen that weakest link.”

Education programs saw the most cuts overall. Several council members have stated in the past that they feel that education programs should fall under the Troup County School System. The city has not had any power over local schools since 1994 when they became part of TCSS.

“I just think it gets on that blurred line of, we are out of the education business, and we are making decisions for somebody who struggles — no matter what district they are in — they are living on a fixed income, and we are giving away their money,” Council Member Mark Mitchell said. “We have to take that just like it is our own money.”

Council members also expressed concern regarding increases that are often requested for agencies who have previously received funding.

“I would love to see these programs be weaned off the city at some point, not continually come back for more and more and more,” Council Member Jim Arrington said. “So, I am kind of sitting here, and this is a new program that we are about to add on that next year we are going to be sitting here and saying, ‘alright, we gave them X amount last year. Now they want X plus $5,000. What are we going to do?’ We just keep adding more and more and more programs, and we need to figure out our priorities — what we really want to see happen here in the City of LaGrange.”

The concept of putting a cap on the number of years that an agency can receive funding was also discussed. The idea has been brought up on several occasions, but that cap was not officially established on Tuesday.

“We could have a philosophy that — and I am talking mainly about social services — that they only be funded for X number of years, like say 3 to 5 years,” Gore said. “If someone has been receiving funding for three years already, we could say to them that we are going to cut things off at five years.”

Most programs for the arts retained funding in full or in part, with Mayor Jim Thornton pointing out that major manufacturers have decided to locate in LaGrange due to the presence of certain aspects of the arts community. It was also noted that in Georgia, supporting the arts is considered a city function.

“The Georgia Constitution specifically lists arts as a purpose for the cities, so arts is one of the things that we have historically done is provide the arts,” Thornton said. “We can either do it ourselves internally, or we can contract it out to someone else to provide those services. So, it is a legitimate city function.”

The city has previously discussed creating an art council to decide which groups receive a set amount of city funding, but the council did not indicate plans to create an art council in the immediate future on Tuesday.

The City of LaGrange will hold a public hearing on the budget to hear comments on the entire budget including agency funding on June 12 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Avenue.