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Local projects could get left in a lurch if funds are cut
Bob Slack works on the new poultry exhibit Thursday at the Northeast Georgia History Center. Local entities such as the history center and the Field of Dreams in South Hall County still are pursuing local grants that are in jeopardy because of the state’s budget cuts. - photo by Tom Reed

In the state budget, they are called Local Assistance Grants, however, those who oppose them call them "pork."

The 2009 state budget has 470 local grants that total around $6 million. The money is used to pay for everything from grass and a sprinkler system for a courthouse to materials for a 4-H club.

They are the pet projects of lawmakers, who select them for inclusion in the budget package.

Last week, state Senate leaders allowed their local assistance projects to move forward. House budget leaders are asking representatives to take a look at their grants and recommend any that could be reduced or eliminated altogether to help ease the state budget deficit.

State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said he is not backing down from his project requests.

"I asked for all of mine to be funded," Rogers said. "It’s a small amount of money, and the folks need the grants, especially in these soft economic times."

Gainesville and Hall County have more than a half million dollars included in the grants.

The largest, $300,000, would go to the proposed Field of Dreams, a ballpark for physically challenged children at Alberta Banks Park in Flowery Branch. An additional $50,000 is included separately for the project.

Another beneficiary would be the Northeast Georgia History Center, which would receive two grants of $20,000 each for storage, cataloging and security efforts at the center.

The Hall County Library System is to receive $20,000 to repair a heating and air conditioning system.

The city of Flowery Branch was approved for $40,000 for materials and equipment to improve its water system infrastructure.

The city of Gainesville will receive $50,000 for the Healthcare Initiative.

The Gainesville school system will get $13,000 for after-school technology instruction at Gainesville Exploration Academy.

Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver said the funds are critical.

"They were included in our budget, and we don’t have an available source to replace them," Oliver said, adding that sales tax collections will be down this year, and state homeowner grants may be gone or delayed.

The state also appears to be moving ahead with plans to borrow $1 billion in construction funds for capital projects across the state. Included in the package are design funds for a new academic building at Gainesville State College in Oakwood and expansions of Lanier Technical College in Cumming and Dawsonville.

The projects are funded with bonds that are paid over a 20-year period.