Macon community center likely to get funds to open for holidays

Macon officials are committed to supplying the Booker T. Washington Community Center with emergency operating money by the end of the day today, a spokesman for the mayor said.

The center, an independently operated facility that has been closed since October, says its needs $15,000 to reopen for a few weeks during the Christmas break. Longer-term plans for the center are being worked on but remain unsettled.

Regardless, city officials said it is crucial that the facility, located in the historic Pleasant Hill neighborhood, be made available to students while they are out of school. They said the programs the center offers are needed to occupy the children during an extended period that for many might otherwise be unsupervised.

Today is the last day of school for Bibb County students until Jan. 6.Mayor Robert Reichert met with the center’s leaders Wednesday night, a day after the City Council passed a resolution requesting that the mayor find funding for the center. His spokesman, Andrew Blascovich, said Reichert plans to come up with the money by this afternoon.

Macon likely will front the center $10,000 from a state grant that normally would have been funneled to Booker T. through the city. That money has been held up because Macon’s 2005 audit was decertified earlier this year, disqualifying the city from receiving several local assistance grants from Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs.

Administration officials have been working to resolve the audit issue, but until that happens “we’re looking to forward the money (to Booker T.) from our funds and then reimburse ourselves” once the state grant is accessible again, Blascovich said.

Thursday, officials still were working to identify a source for the remaining $5,000 that is needed. And it still is unclear exactly how any of the money will be appropriated or whether an emergency meeting of the City Council will be required to make the payment.

The Booker T. Washington Center has faced tight finances in recent years as some of its chief benefactors, including the United Way and Bibb County, have withdrawn funding.

Council members have said that whatever money the city provides on an emergency basis must include the proper oversight.

“I think that’s what the citizens would demand that we have,” said Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, who initially proposed the resolution seeking money for the center.

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251