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Arts council asks county for new office
County looks to trim budget
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The Hinesville Area Arts Council is looking for a place to call home.
HAAC’s chairwoman, Leah Poole, came before the Liberty County Board of Commissioners during the regular monthly meeting to ask for the county’s help. She requested permission for the fine arts club to use the Liberty County Division of Elections facility and fix it up properly. The office and its staff at the elections division will be moved into a new office once the old courthouse is finished.
“We came before you several months ago about what the arts council does and how we are able to do that through various forms of funding,” Poole said. “And we talked about the Mills House and how we are in danger of losing that property — not that it ever belonged to us — but just the free time we’ve been able to stay there and utilize that space since last May. We’re just here tonight to ask if we can use that facility if you would consider us doing all this renovation in lieu of rent.”
The group currently hosts weekly meetings and art classes at the historic Osteen-owned Mills House on the corner of Memorial Drive and Oglethorpe Highway, but it is time for the group to find a bigger and more permanent structure, Poole said.
She said the monthly cost of rent at the voter-registration office would be $415, which includes bills and fees, utilities, pest control services and trash.
Members looked at a minimum of 10 properties, but rent was too high to continue offering “quality programming” or the damage to the structure was too much, considering rehab costs. The voter-registration office was the best fit, Poole said. 
Commission Chairman John McIver and others listened to Poole’s estimate of $13,551.10 for various repairs — including light fixtures, pest control and the installation of new bathrooms, among other fixes — and said the information would have to be reviewed before the board could make a decision.
“I think the first step would probably be to consider what use we have for the building,” McIver said.
County Administrator Joey Brown said the commissioners had not discussed future plans for the building prior to Poole’s presentation.    
“The board hopefully will be able to further discuss the matter at their July meeting. I will be meeting with representatives of HAAC before then to further look at the building and discuss modifications. I will also be trying to come up with a simple lease document for the board’s consideration if and when that is necessary,” Brown said. “If agreeable terms are reached, I would guess they could move in when renovations are complete.”
Poole said the area in the front of the building ideally would be used for a gallery-type setting.
“The gallery area up front is appealing, as well as that 660-square-foot space being used for art classes versus the bedroom-sized space we use now, which keeps people on top of one another. This also gives us the chance to spread out into the interior of the building for storage, drying art, hanging all of the art we have collected over the years, etc.,” Poole said.
“It is also located downtown, which has been revitalized so much in the past five years with continued improvements and new structures such as the justice center and city hall, so this will put us in the middle of a hub of activity, thus increasing involvement, we hope. We can envision window displays that will entice people with the arts, as well as new offerings for writer’s workshops, poetry workshops, etc.”
It is the council’s hope that the county approves the building and that renovations will take just a few weeks or a month at the most. If the plans move forward, Poole said she hopes the improved building will show the public that the group cares about offering specialty classes to the community.
“Realize that in rehabbing this building, the HAAC is doing a service to the community so in turn the community can support HAAC events, which are typically free or low cost,” Poole said of needing public support. “We are a nonprofit, so we seek funding from various sources, but this outlay at the beginning is going to be a tremendous investment for us as an organization and commitment to seeing cultural arts expand in Liberty County. They can also get involved in the arts, of course.”
In other meeting news:
Officials met to discuss the proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 that will include a slight budget decrease.
The proposed budget is $24,912,095, with a $586,155 budget decrease from last year, according to a review put together by Liberty County Finance Officer Kim McGlothlin.
She attributed the cuts to revenues being flat, tax-collection rates being down and digest growth. Capital items also will be purchased as cash is available, and there are no expected employee furloughs.
“The adoption will take place at 6 p.m. (on June 16),” McGlothlin said. “It is a public meeting, but not a public hearing. The budget is pretty much set, and I expect it to be adopted as is.”
Further revisions may be completed once the digest is available for review.
“This is probably the toughest budget year I can remember since we lost federal revenue sharing in the late ’80s,” Brown said.
“Over the last several years, our departments have worked to reduce costs by cutting operational expenses that they have direct control over. We have eliminated some non-filled positions throughout the county and, at this point, have been able to continue to provide services to the public.”
Brown said some non-filled positions throughout the county have been eliminated and that county governments still have certain costs associated with services that are mandated by law.
“Declining revenues, as a result of a lower digest and slow economy, make it a real challenge to be able to continue to provide these services at the same level. We will get a final look at our tax digest in the month of July,” Brown said. “I would not rule out the possibility that we may have to revisit the budget with all departments at that time.” 

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