Published on January 16th, 2015 |3
Fulton chairman: Buckhead library to be renovated not moved
He said he remembers well the controversy about seven years ago when there was talk that Ben Carter would buy the library branch on Buckhead Avenue in the Village and move it so that it would not be in the way of his Streets of Buckhead development plans.
“I’m not going to get in the middle of that controversy again,” Eaves told the BBA breakfast audience in response to an audience question.
That proposal seven years ago to replace the branch angered residents who wanted to preserve the facility’s architecture, Eaves said. “The Buckhead Library is an architectural gem,” he added, refusing to listen to those who dispute its architectural value.
That older controversy may have first opened the Fulton chairman’s eyes to the value of the county’s library system, but he admitted he again “learned the hard way” that the libraries are popular when budget constraints caused the libraries to cut back on their hours of operation.
Last Spring, the library system had to cut $5 million from its budget because of reductions in library funding from the county. The system laid off part-time employees and closed all but two of the county’s 33 library branches on Fridays.
“Our citizens weren’t going to have that,” Eaves recounted. “When we cut the hours, we got an earful from our residents.” He said people make 4 million trips to the libraries each year. That outcry caused the restoring of hours at some of the branch libraries, including the Buckhead Library.
“We found out that last year that our libraries are the most popular service we do,” Eaves said.
An improved library system was one of the four major initiatives Eaves said the Fulton government will take more of a leadership role in with the new makeup of the commission after the last redistricting and the elections this past fall.
Using money raised through a bond issue, the county is in the process of building eight new libraries and will be renovating 23 existing library branches, including the Buckhead Library branch on Buckhead Avenue in the midst of the new Buckhead Atlanta development.
Eaves told the BBA audience that the other three key initiatives were: (1) identify how the county can support the Pre-K through 12th grade educational systems, (2) support transportation legislation and help in finding funding to get more people into using transit, and (3) play an increased role in economic development programs.
Speaking to the education issue, Eaves suggested the county could partner with the Atlanta Public Schools system on after-school programs.
The county commission chairman pointed out that APS does not fare as well as the Fulton school system in terms of student scores and graduation rates. He said the county sees the results of that because it runs the jail system and sees the high percentage of high school dropouts that are part of the 40,000 inmates who go through the jail each year.
Of the $600 million county budget, $100 million of it goes to funding the jail operations.
Eaves said Fulton County has been “the Rodney Dangerfield of governments…It gets no respect.” But he said the newly elected Board of Commissioners “is the beginning of a wonderful thing for Fulton County.”
He pointed out that the new board is made up of four African Americans and three whites, represents a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds. He assured the group of business leaders “you are going to see a better allocation of resources across the entire county”…. and, “a whole lot more consistencies.”
Eaves pointed out that there are 3,000 counties across the nation and Georgia has 159 of them. He said 3.5 million people live in the five counties around Atlanta and 1 million of them live in Fulton County.
Quoting an old adage, Eaves said, “The prophet is not honored in his own country.” But he added that nationally, Fulton County is rated very good. “We have a good bond rating….We had not raised our mileage rate in 20 years until last year. We are considered to be fiscally good.”