Noon, June 30, Georgia Mountains Center, 301 Main St. SW, Gainesville
6 p.m., June 30, Georgia Mountains Center
Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting
When: 6 tonight
Where: Georgia Mountains Center
More info: View an agenda online
Hall County commissioners are looking into cutting funds to the Community Service Center - a decision that could save the county $624,000, but could mean the center loses millions in grants.
Hall County and Gainesville fund about 25 percent of the $3.5 million budget for the center that operates public transit, the senior center and Meals on Wheels, plus provides counseling services.
"You need local government money to leverage your federal dollars," center director Phillippa Lewis Moss said. "Without the local dollars, you don't get the federal dollars. So the local dollars, while they're a smaller value, they are actually critical for those federal dollars."
Commissioner Billy Powell suggested on Tuesday the county look into making the cuts.
"The community service center does some great things for the community, but I'm just not sure if that's the role our government needs to take at this point in time," Powell told The Times. "We had considered eliminating ambulances, parks and community centers. Then why shouldn't we be looking at the Red Rabbit and Community Service Center?"
If the cuts are made, Powell said the county would have to pay back some of the grants the center has received. Initial reports indicate it would owe about $500,000.
"But if we did pay that back, that means we would get our money back in less than a year," he added.
Moss said she's OK with her department being placed on the chopping block. She just wished she had more time to defend her budget.
"Clearly, like any local government agency, it is appropriate for elected officials to challenge us and consider us for possible reductions," she said.
"But what's disconcerting about this particular move is that it's occurring seven days before the final decision is made. And unlike other agencies, which had sufficient time to argue and to defend their budget, we basically have one day, one meeting. It puts us in a precarious position."
Commission Chairman Tom Oliver said he doubts any decision will be made on the issue before the budget is finalized June 30. He said it typically takes staff 30 to 60 days to gather the appropriate information before a decision can be made.
If the county does cut the funding, Moss said the center would be in a very tough situation.
"It would leave the city of Gainesville to leverage the entire department," she said. "As much as the city is in a much better financial condition this year, I do not believe they could cover the entire department. ... We would lose a portion, if not the entire department."
The Community Service Center has been around since 1970 and affects 2,500 households, according to Moss.
One of its largest services is the Red Rabbit bus system.
"The largest number of public transit users are persons who are transit dependent," she said. "Meaning they do not own, cannot afford or do not have skill sets to drive a car."
Gainesville resident Stanford Walker said he uses Red Rabbit almost daily.
"(Cuts) would have a whole lot of effect on people because, mostly, they don't have their own transportation," he said. "A lot of people rely on Red Rabbit."
Asked what he would do if the buses were cut, Walker laughed and pointed to his feet.
The center also provides counseling, parenting help, financial education, meal deliveries and other services to the community.
"If you're a human being and live over the age of 1, at some point in your life you're probably going to need some assistance in one way or another," she said. "What some members of the commission are calling for is to eliminate the very infrastructure that was put in place to help people in our community."
But Powell said he doesn't feel the services would disappear altogether.
"I know there are a lot of agencies out there which provide similar services," he said. "So I don't know that those services would actually be eliminated from the community. But they would just be replaced by a different agency that currently does that."
Powell also said once the commission has all the information, it may find a middle ground.
"But I definitely think it's a line item that ought to be looked at," he added.
A commission board meeting at 6 tonight includes time for public comment. Two more public hearings on the budget are scheduled for noon and 6 p.m. June 30.