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More than $500K in local funds suspended by state
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The top leaders of the Georgia General Assembly announced Wednesday that they were suspending payment of local assistance grants until January, and the state budget crisis may eliminate them altogether.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson issued separate statements Wednesday announcing the fate of the grants, mostly for school systems and local governments. The items are pet projects of lawmakers who select them for inclusion in the budget package.

"As we face a significant budget shortfall in our state, the Senate is working to identify essential government spending, prioritize that spending and find further efficiencies," Cagle said. "Local assistance grants should not be exempt from consideration, and I look forward to working with senators on this issue."

The 2009 state budget has 470 local grants that total nearly $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.

Gainesville and Hall County have more than $500,000 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 was included separately for the project.

Another beneficiary would have been the Northeast Georgia History Center, which was designated for two grants of $20,000 each for storage, cataloging and security efforts there.

The Hall County Library System was 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 their water system infrastructure.

The city of Gainesville was approved $50,000 for the Healthcare Initiative.

The Gainesville school system would have gotten $13,000 for after-school technology instruction at Gainesville Exploration Academy.

While communities are counting on them, both Cagle and Richardson said the state can’t afford them right now.

"Although local assistance grants are important to local communities, we cannot ignore the budget shortfall and must hold back this money until January when we will re-prioritize based on the limited resources available." Richardson said.