The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners voted 4 to 1, with Commissioner Harry Johnston voting against the motion, to postpone the project and let a $2 million grant from the state earmarked for the construction expire.
Sequoyah Regional Library System Director Susan White said Wednesday morning that she wasn’t happy.
Last month, she made an appeal to the board to help the project move forward before the state grant expired in November.
“I am extremely disappointed that it got as far as it did,” she said of the project, which began in 2009. “It came up to the very last minute, and it got canceled. Why wasn’t it stopped (sooner)?”
The Lathemtown library project may not be dead forever, though, as the Board of Commissioners discussed making a request that state Rep. Calvin Hill (R-Canton) aid them in getting moved up on the state’s list to be granted the funding later.
But White isn’t holding her breath for the state to grant the funding again anytime soon.
“I’ve worked with the library system for 42 years and I know that when a building project is taken off the list, it always ends up at the bottom of the list,” she said. “And that’s my opinion and my years of experience speaking.”
White said now there are 39 projects from around Georgia sitting on that list.
Only three grants were handed out this year, she said.
Since White went before the board of commissioners last month asking them to make moves on the quickly expiring state grant to build the library, many have spoken out against it.
County resident Joe Long was among them.
Long told the board Tuesday that with the county already having money troubles, the belt needs to be tightened.
“If I remember correctly, we had to raise the millage rate because revenue’s short,” he said. “I don’t think we ought to spending (this money) to build a new library.”
White said Tuesday that the library system has estimated that it would cost Cherokee County around $300,000 each year to run the proposed library.
The budget for the would-be 18,000-square-foot library in the northwest end of the county, though, would’ve topped off at around $5.6 million, with the state to pay $2 million and Cherokee County footing the bill for the rest.
Commissioners agreed Tuesday that the county’s $3.6 million portion of the construction, which would’ve come from the 1 percent Special Option Local Sales Tax, wasn’t as much the problem as the operating costs for the facility were.
Commission Chair Buzz Ahrens said the $300,000 that had been estimated to to run the library has not been budgeted.
Commissioner Jason Nelms said he was a “big fan” of the library system, but now is not the time to try to come up with another $300,000 a year to run an additional library, when the county has already reported a $4 million shortfall for this budget year.
“My son goes to the Rose Creek Library weekly,” he said. “I just don’t think the time is right. We’re looking at, in this budget year, about a $4 million gap to make up.”
Commissioner Raymond Gunnin also voiced his concerns.
“I think that if there is any money extra, we could expand the programs at the current libraries,” he said. “I just believe that we’re gonna place the county in a bigger burden than what we’re in already. (County) employees haven’t had a raise since 2008. This’ll assure us that they won’t get any kind of increase for several more years.”
Johnston, however, said that even though the timing could be better, the county has already spent some of the $2 million from the state and may be on the hook for that money to the state, should construction be postponed.
“It’s a hard and close call for me,” Johnston said. “But I come down on the other side. I think while the timing isn’t perfect, the right time to have made a decision about this was a year or two ago, before we spent the money. The official position is that we owe that (money) to the state, upon not moving forward with this library. Maybe they’ll let that slide — I don’t know.”
Commissioner Brian Poole said he agreed with the other commissioners that the time was wrong.
“We’ve still got a $100,000 bill we have to pay right now for (the Ball Ground Recycling facility),” he said. “That’s hanging over our heads. We got the new aquatic center opening this week. And we all hope and pray it’s going to pay its own way, but if it doesn’t, we gotta make up the shortfall there. I just think we’ve got to be good, knowledgeable stewards of the taxpayers right now.”
During the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, the board also:
• Voted unanimously to reappoint Vicki Benefield, Shelia Garrison, Ann Kinzer and Steve Scott to the Cherokee County Library Board;
• Discussed coming appointments to the Cherokee County Ethics Board;
• Voted unanimously to declare several dozen county vehicles as surplus and sell them;
• Unanimously approved the lowest bid for the purchase of two Chevrolet Tahoes for Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services in the amount of $60,620;
• Voted unanimously to approve a proposal from Site Engineering Inc. to replace pipes at the Woodbridge subdivision for $87,940;
• Unanimously approved a one-year intergovernmental agreement with the city of Waleska to provide county services to the small city. County Manager Jerry Cooper said Waleska will pay $11,000 a year to the county in return;
• Unanimously approved a sub-grant agreement between the county and the Atlanta Regional Commission to develop a comprehensive transportation plan. Cooper said Wednesday the ARC has granted Cherokee County $500,000 for the project and “we are required to match 25 percent, or up to $125,000;” and
• Voted unanimously to approve a resolution and settlement agreement in the amount of $100,000 with the victim of a car accident with a county vehicle. County Attorney Angela Davis said it made more financial sense for the county to settle the suit than let it go to trial.