As ACC commissioners finalize the county’s fiscal 2022 budget, Black Athens residents came to City Hall during an input session last week to ask for more programs for young people in the wake of a wave of gun violence in the community.
In early May, Athens experienced five shootings in one week. A 20-year-old Athens man named Ke’Travian Tyvon Cole, a hip-hop artist who performed under the name EBE Montana, was shot and killed on Highway 316 in what the Barrow County sheriff described as a possibly gang-related drive-by. Last week, Ashawn Adams, 16, of Athens, and Tyler Parten, 24, of Flowery Branch, shot and killed each other during a meeting in Athens’ Stonehenge neighborhood to complete a Facebook transaction involving a dirt bike, according to Athens-Clarke County police.
Ke’Travian Cole’s father, Hamilton Cole, spoke to commissioners about the disconnect between Athens’ “beautiful” community centers and the community itself. “They have no outlets,” Cole said of young people today. “Ten, 20 years ago, maybe they could go shoot ball, get on the youth soccer team, something of that nature. Now, it’s kind of pushed back. They’re not able to get into those programs because those programs are not available at community centers. That leaves them to go back to, quote-unquote, the block.”
Mayor Kelly Girtz’s proposed budget includes funding to continue Leisure Services’ recently revived summer youth program Grand Slam. Commissioner Mariah Parker has proposed a community garden program that would cost $100,000 to start and $50,000 a year to operate. And commissioners have raised several issues related to law enforcement during two budget hearings.
At a May 21 meeting, District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez lobbied for $173,000 to hire a grant writer and an assistant DA to oversee a diversion program that keeps first-time offenders out of jail, as well as to create a public data porthole. Some commissioners are also interested in a request from the public defender’s office for $28,000 to give staff raises.
Because the commission is loath to raise taxes during tough economic times, any additions to the budget will require cuts. Several commissioners questioned Girtz’s $184,000 proposal for a police cadet training program that he has argued would provide a path to the profession for local youth and improve diversity on the force.
Commissioner Mariah Parker is pushing for ACC to sell an armored vehicle called a Bearcat that the county received through a Department of Defense program that donates surplus military gear to local law enforcement agencies. The Bearcat is worth $240,000 and costs “tens of thousands” to insure and maintain, according to Parker. But it’s unclear whether ACC can even sell the vehicle, given that DoD regulations require many items to be returned if unused, or whether anyone would even want to buy it, since other law enforcement agencies can also get such equipment from the federal government for free.
Other requests at least some commissioners are interested in funding include:
• $369,000 for Advantage Behavioral Health Systems to pair medics and counselors to respond to mental health crises, modeled after the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, OR. That’s in addition to the four mental health co-responder teams consisting of a police officer and mental health professional that Girtz has included in his budget.
• an additional $220,000 for the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, a nonprofit that’s partially funded by the ACC government.
• $154,000 to hire two new groundskeepers.
• $73,000 for poll workers.
• $78,000 for a digital coordinator in the Public Information Office.
• $50,000 for a “walk of recognition” in the former Linnentown neighborhood, which was destroyed in the 1960s to make way for the University of Georgia’s Baxter Street dorms.
• $6,000 to start the process of creating a “quiet zone” in Boulevard where trains don’t have to blow their horns, which could wind up costing $200,000.
A final vote on the budget, which currently totals $271 million, is scheduled for June 15.
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