Originally created 02/26/03

Officials say center could lose funding



Although the director of Fort Discovery said Tuesday that the center's state funding is safe from budget cuts, some local state legislators said they were not sure the funding would stay in place.

"We're in a difficult year here, trying to find a way to maintain services without raising taxes," said Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, who is on the House Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Harbin said Fort Discovery's $1.5 million contract that allows the center to admit the state's schoolchildren for free was not included in the proposed budget of state school Superintendent Kathy Cox.

"We have to find more than $600 million and we are cutting everything," said Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta. "At this point, it's anybody's guess.

"It's too early in the process to know if we're really sure that the contract will be included."

Fort Discovery's chief executive, Joe Edwards, said he received assurances from the area legislative delegation that the center's contract would remain in the budget.

"We're really good and strong in our level of public support, and our legislative delegations looked at that," Mr. Edwards said Tuesday.

Mr. Edwards said the day after an article about the funding issue appeared in the Jan. 29 editions of The Augusta Chronicle, numerous phone calls, e-mails and letters were received by Fort Discovery and legislators in support of the science center.

In a Jan. 16 letter, Mr. Edwards warned Sen. Don Cheeks that without the $1.5 million state contract that admits Georgia school students for free that the shortfall would jeopardize the center's operations.

Ms. Burmeister and Mr. Harbin said they support the mission of the center.

"It's a good program, and we understand its need," Ms. Burmeister said. "But this may be one of those years."

Mr. Edwards said: "I think it is entirely appropriate for our tax dollars to be spent on an educational purpose."

Reach Jeremy Craig at (706) 823-3409 or at jeremy.craig@augustachronicle.com.