ATLANTA - After being overlooked by state budget writers in recent years, Christine Miller-Betts' trips to the state Capitol paid off this session.
"We did talk to several people, as many people as we could get to," said Ms. Miller-Betts, the director of the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, which is expected to see $25,000 in state money to help with its operating costs. "The demands of the community and our constituents are growing greater every day, and in order to have good programming, you have to have funding."
The museum was one of several Augusta projects that secured funding in the upcoming state budget year, which starts in July. The budget now sits with Gov. Sonny Perdue, waiting for his signature.
In all, legislators included more than $6.5 million for local assistance grants across the state in the $18.7 billion budget they passed on the final day of the session.
Many of the funding nods came as part of a new system this year to hand out the grants through an application process instead of closed-door negotiations. Lawmakers had to pitch their local project requests to a review committee of House and Senate members.
Rep. Sue Burmeister, who asked for and got $25,000 to build handicapped-accessible restrooms for the West Augusta Little League baseball teams, said the process was fairer this year and allowed local groups to advocate in Atlanta for the money, which in the past often went to the most politically connected areas.
"Look in our area. There were Democrats that got local assistance grants," Mrs. Burmeister said. "When I was a representative in the minority (party), I would never get local assistance grants."
Some of grants for Augusta Democrats included $15,000 for a youth neighborhood program in the Old Savannah Road area and $25,000 to hire a coordinator for the Destination 2020 community planning group.
"This person will support our leaders and volunteers in their efforts to bring the citizens' long-term vision to fruition," said James Kendrick, the chairman of Destination 2020's board of directors. "We are thrilled to be able to move forward with this project."
The coalition of volunteer leaders from Richmond and Columbia counties has spent years developing ways to address area issues, from recommendations for public schools to economic development.
Beyond the local grants, several of Augusta's institutions also saw inclusion in the state spending plan:
- Augusta State University will be able to use $2.8 million in bonds for the school's energy plant, and East Central Regional Hospital will have more than $4 million in bonds for kitchen equipment and a roof and flooring replacement.
- The Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home received an extra $400,000 to help pay for steep increases in pharmaceutical costs. Officials with the facility, which houses about 180 wartime veterans, warned local legislators that it was facing a budget shortfall because of rising health-care expenses.
- The Georgia Medical Center Authority, a group marketing Augusta as a center for biomedical business, received $155,000 to hire an assistant director, while the Medical College of Georgia's biotech business incubator got $500,000 to help start-up companies move their research to the commercial market.
"The biotech industry is going to be a part of the future of Augusta," Mayor Deke Copenhaver said. "I'm very pleased to see that funding."
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