city pagesNews

City Pages

When the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission met last week to discuss the government’s budget for Fiscal Year 2013, which begins July 1, Mayor Nancy Denson began the meeting on a lighthearted note. With representatives of only three of the 13 independent agencies supported by ACC (in whole or in part) in attendance to ask for funding increases, Commissioner Mike Hamby asked whether the remaining agencies’ budgets would remain the same as last year.

“We’re gonna take the money from them and give it to the ones that came tonight,” replied the mayor. The line broke up the room, but it was probably the last funny thing said that night, as a vivid picture emerged of the savage toll the recession and state and federal budget slashing have taken on local service organizations, even as their assistance has become more desperately in need.

The Athens Community Council on Aging asked for a $25,000 increase in ACC’s contribution to its budget, while Advantage Behavioral Health Systems requested a bump of $16,000. The county’s share of the ACCA’s budget is about 7 percent; ACC pays for less than 1 percent of the services Advantage provides in the county. The rest of the agencies’ budgets are funded by the state and federal governments, along with other sources like grants, donations and charities for the ACCA and Medicaid, fees and insurance for Advantage.

But with state and federal money becoming more and more scarce, the agencies are turning to ACC for relatively tiny budget increases to mitigate the impact of the larger cuts. The extra money the ACCA is requesting would go to a principal-only payment on the mortgage of its adult day care center, which could lower its monthly expenses. Day care is one of a broad range of services the ACCA provides to local seniors, which also include the Meals on Wheels program and transportation to medical appointments for people who are no longer able to drive. An increasing number of Athens residents depend on those services, said Jennie Deese, the ACCA president and CEO, as the number of local seniors grows and more of them are faced with the responsibility of raising grandchildren.

Advantage, which assists residents of a 10-county region—about 29 percent of them in ACC—who suffer from mental illness, developmental disabilities and addiction, is in a similar situation. “As the economy goes down, demand for services goes up,” said Advantage CEO Cindy Darden. Only four of the 10 counties currently contribute amounts equivalent to 1 percent of the value of of the services their citizens receive from Advantage; Elbert County has cut funding altogether. The agency will operate at an $80,000 loss this year.

ACC’s fledgeling Cultural Affairs Commission requested an increase of just under $5,000 to its 2012 budget of $12,000 to help fund a part-time organizational staffer, but commissioners seemed inclined to look for assistance from current employees of the county’s SPLOST or Leisure Services departments.

No decisions on the agencies’ budget requests were made at the meeting, but with county revenues continuing to decrease, the mayor and commissioners will be hard-pressed to maintain current levels of funding.