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Gwinnett lawmaker, library official not sweating budget dispute

camie.young@gwinnettdailypost.com

ATLANTA - Both the House and Senate want to spend $2 million on a new branch library for Hamilton Mill.

They just disagree on the timing.

The $17.8 billion mid-year budget approved by the Senate on Wednesday would remove funds the House earmarked two weeks ago for the Hamilton Mill branch and three other library projects across the state.

Those projects would not be funded until after the start of the new state fiscal year in July, the same timetable Gov. Sonny Perdue recommended in January.

A couple of weeks ago, the House voted to speed up the funding for those libraries by putting them into the mid-year budget.

"We believe the projects ... need to stay in '07,'' said Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The schedule for the libraries is just one of a host of differences between the House and Senate midyear budgets that negotiators for the two chambers will be working to resolve by next week.

Gwinnett County Library Director Jo Ann Pinder isn't sweating it.

Because the county would have three years to spend any state grants, Pinder said Wednesday that she did not have a preference which budget the money landed in.

She said the bonds for 2006 still have not gone to market, so even if the money had been approved a year ago, the county still wouldn't be any closer to building the branch.

"I don't think it makes much difference either way as long as the money is approved,'' Pinder said. "It doesn't add a lot of speed either way. ... It really depends on when the bonds are sold.''

Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, expressed similar sentiments after the Senate adopted its version of the midyear budget 52-1.

"Whether it's moved up by four months or not probably won't matter much,'' said Balfour, a member of the Appropriations Committee.

The Hamilton Mill branch, which would be the county's 15th, isn't scheduled to open until late 2008 or 2009.

"This fits in with where the Hamilton Mill branch is programmed,'' Pinder said of both proposals.

Pinder said the county is now installing shelves at the Dacula library branch, which is expected to open in April. The Grayson branch is still on schedule to open by the end of the year, she said.

County Chairman Charles Bannister, who was a member of the House Appropriations Committee until he took over the county office in 2005, said it was not unusual for an earmark to be placed in both budget versions.

"We'd be happy to receive it no matter which budget it's in," he said.

The other three library projects caught up in the budget dispute are in Augusta, Forsyth County and Heard County.

Senators agreed with the House to speed up a library project in Hall County and added one library project in Chatham County.

In defending the addition, Hill said the Chatham project was at the top of the Georgia Board of Regents' priority list. The state university system has jurisdiction over state funding of public libraries in Georgia.