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DFCS building possible; still a long shot
Old equipment is stacked inside the current DFCS office. - photo by Photo by Andrea Washington
A memo delivered to state agencies could guarantee Liberty County gets a new Department of Family and Children Services building — or simply become the next chapter in the saga of Georgia lawmakers and Gov. Sonny Perdue.
The four-paragraph note, written by House and Senate leaders, was recently sent to department heads to urge them to appropriate funds from the state’s 2008 budget as outlined by the Legislature, instead of following Perdue’s orders to redirect spending based on priority and other terms.
Lawmakers cautioned that if agencies abide by the governor’s wishes, they could face funding troubles during the 2008 legislative session.
“You should be aware that any expenditure conflicting with the intent of the appropriation jeopardizes our confidence in your ability to act as a proper steward of public funds,” the memo read. “In writing the 2008 Amended Budget, we reserve the option of reducing or eliminating funding for your agency by that amount.”
According to Georgia Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson (R-Savannah), one of the six memo signers, the purpose of the letter was to reinforce legislators’ position on who controls the state’s budget.
“We wanted to make sure they knew the same thing that we’ve been communicating with the governor,” he said. “While we are trying to work out differences, we wanted to let (agency heads) know that we still believe that they should follow our intent.”
But Perdue responded with a letter to lawmakers reiterating his intentions for state agencies to follow his redirection policy. He wrote that the current disagreement between himself and General Assembly members over department spending needed to be resolved “together and amicably” to ensure “agency heads are not given conflicting directions from our two branches.”
Most agency officials have not publicly acknowledged which mandate they would follow, but if the Georgia Department of Human Resources adheres to the budget as set by lawmakers, it would be good news for Liberty County.
The county was allotted $257,000 in the DHR budget to begin work on a new DFCS building that would replace the current office and storage facility on North Main Street in Hinesville. Both buildings have been considered overcrowded and insufficient by both staff and residents for years.
But when Perdue approved the budget in May, he used his line-item veto to direct the agency to spend its total budget to expand, renovate and relocate buildings based on the state’s priority list, not the earmarks in the budget.
The county’s DFCS office, unfortunately, ranks a low 24th out of 53 buildings throughout Georgia. With the state only funding up to five buildings a year, it could be another five years before work would start on a new facility in the county if the DHR sticks with the governor’s guidelines.
Although the agency is currently revising its priority list, it is doubtful the county will move up far enough to receive financial support from the state this year.
“Per our memo, we still want them to spend (the money) in Liberty County this year,” Johnson said, commenting on the effectiveness of the letter. “But I’m not confident that will happen.”
Attempts to reach DHR officials for comments about where the department stands in the debate and an update on the county’s ranking were unsuccessful.
“In the meantime, workers at DFCS are subject to overcrowded working conditions. And these conditions continue to impact their ability to do their jobs,” Liberty County DFCS Director Cornelius McCrae said. “Bottom line is, Liberty County needs new offices.”
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