ATLANTA - From renovating a theater in downtown Harlem to buying emergency equipment for the sheriff's office, several Columbia County projects were given nods in the recently approved state budget.
It was a quiet year in local legislation affecting only Columbia County residents.
The issue of giving voters the option of county consolidation never made it into an official bill because area legislators and officials were unable to reach an agreement about the effects of such a plan.
"We still feel like it's very valuable for the county and the thing to do," said Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross. Members of the county government and local legislative delegation plan to meet again soon to discuss the idea. "Hopefully, we can get it presented next year."
On the final day of its session this year, the General Assembly passed an $18.7 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts in July.
In it, local money will help Augusta Technical College pay for early construction work at its proposed Columbia County campus and for the chamber of commerce to hire a coordinator for its program to bridge the public school system and training for area manufacturing employers.
The project to move the original Evans High School's arch to a new location also got a $10,000 grant.
Planners are hoping to put the 79-year-old stone pillars and arch at a more permanent spot around the pond at the county's library and amphitheater on North Belair Road.
"It's going to cost a lot more than that, but they're engaging in the fundraising now," Cross said.
The Legislature handed out about $6.5 million in similar local assistance grants statewide this year.
Through the process, Harlem officials successfully lobbied for money to upgrade the former Columbia Theatre, which city officials hope to eventually turn into a performing arts space as well as a place to hold arts and drama classes.
Though the $40,000 state budget writers included was less than the city's request, the appropriation will help start work on converting former film rooms into teaching areas.
"Every bit helps," said Ann Blalock, the president of the Harlem Economic Development and Industry Foundation, who estimates that the initial renovation phase will take almost $85,000. "We're not turning anything down."
Meanwhile, the long-discussed plans to open a satellite campus of Augusta Tech in Grovetown got another boost in the state budget, with $135,000 included for pre-construction site work at the property.
During the budget negotiations process this year, that money appeared to be in jeopardy when the Senate cut it out of its recommendations. But it was restored in the final version of the budget that lawmakers voted on the night of March 30, their last day in Atlanta for the year.
"Hopefully, we're going to get the ground broken this summer," Sen. Jim Whitehead, R-Evans, said about the facility, which has received the bulk of its funding in previous state budgets. "We'll be ready to go at a much faster pace."
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