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Library wage fix seems likely to move ahead

Jamie Menderhall Turner, ARLS employee
Jamie Mendenhall Turner holds up a sign while addressing ACC Commissioners at a Tuesday hearing on the county's budget.

A budget fix seems likely for Athens-Clarke County library employees who say they are grossly underpaid.

The issue of wages for library employees has dominated discussions over the county’s budget, both among commissioners and among the public. While county employees will make a minimum $15 per hour after a commission vote last year, that’s not the case for library workers, because the library system falls under the state’s Board of Regents. After outcry from library workers however, commissioners seem poised to put almost $315,000 into the upcoming budget to bring library wages up as well. Commissioners broadly agreed on that move during a budget work session last week.

Commissioners also seemed to come close to consensus on putting more money into neighborhood traffic calming measures, to the tune of about $160,000 dollars. Commissioner Russell Edwards said the extra money was necessary.

"I agree it's certainly an issue we're seeing countywide with sociopathic drivers threatening the livelihoods of our children and elderly and other folks who walked our neighborhoods," Edwards told colleagues.

Another proposal that commissioners discussed is the creation of a ACCPD Youth Cadet Corps, a measure suggested by Mayor Kelly Girtz in last year’s budget, but rejected by commissioners. Supporters of the program say it could create more robust recruiting opportunities for a police department that remains understaffed.

This year, that proposal is back with a price tag of $165,000 for its first year, and commissioners seemed generally supportive of the idea, as long as they didn’t have to fund it in the county’s budget. Instead, some commissioners advocated for using federal pandemic relief money, which can be used for youth development, for the plan.

Commissioner Ovita Thornton said that using American Rescue Act funding seemed to be an appropriate solution.

"Since the youth cadet corps will be almost like a pilot [program] moving those that that request to the American Rescue pot of money makes sense to me," Thornton said.

Edwards also supports the cadet corps.

"The fact that we have one Black female police officer in this community troubles me," he said. "And I think maybe we should do something about it and I see this program as a possible way for the police to work more intentionally in our school system, within our community institutions to recruit."

American Rescue Plan funding was also a suggested source for another $282,000 in funding for the Neighborhood Leader Program, bringing the county’s total spend for that item to just over $1 million.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the county’s budget next Tuesday. The public will have an opportunity to comment before that meeting.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.
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