Albany City Commission meets to discuss and finalize 2022 budget

ALBANY, Ga. —  Tensions flared once again as Albany City Commissioners held a special called meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss and approve of the 2022 budget.

The budget and, more specifically, plans to use the money from the American Rescue Plan to upgrade the Albany sewer system.

Ward 6 Commissioner, Demetrius Young was vocal about the money from the rescue plan going towards COVID-19 relief.

“Our community is suffering with food insecurity, youth violence, poor health outcomes. These were things that were already a problem but made worse by COVID-19,” said Young, following the meeting.

When funding from the American Rescue Plan was announced earlier this year, the City of Albany was set to receive more than $20 million.

Ward 4 Commissioner, Chad Warbington says Albany’s need to upgrade the sewer system is mandatory.

He tells us, “Right now the city is under a four year deadline, from the EPD. Our storm and sewer has to be separated in four years. If it’s not separated, we’ll be getting fined up to $50,000 a day.”

The funding decision was difficult as City Commissioners had to consider Dougherty County’s needs in totality.

“It really comes down to, it may not be hurting us today, but in four years, there’s going to be tremendous hurt to our citizens if we don’t get this project going, getting it funded, and getting it completed,” says Warbington.

While the current budget will fund the sewer upgrades, Commissioner Young wants the COVID-19 relief conversation to continue.

He says, “Although budgets are final, there are amendments that can be made. So we will still be working, and I want to continue the discussion. We can go back and listen to that. And I think that’s the stranger part of the situation, an unfortunate situation.”

A decision over funding from the American Rescue Plan has some people heated as they protested at Tuesday night’s Albany City Commission meeting.

One of the groups protesting was Georgia 9 to 5, arguing the money allocated to Albany for the American Rescue plan should go towards COVID-19 relief, instead of upgrading the city’s sewer system.

“We have a housing shortage, we have high light bills. We have neighborhoods that don’t have access to healthy food. We have a lot of mental health problems people are struggling with. And life is just not good.,” says Albany-Dougherty NAACP President, Anna Farooqui.

But Albany Mayor, Bo Dorough sees the American Rescue Plan money going to upgrade the city’s sewer system by 2025, and Ward 3 Commissioner, B.J. Fletcher agrees

She tells us, “All of us taxpayers, if we did not follow the EPS’s direction of getting our CSO system under control, that the taxpayers were going to be facing a $50,000 a day fine.”

Fletcher also argues that money from the rescue plan and cares act is needed to help protect those in flood zones.

“The first project we’re doing is the 8th Street basin. These people, their homes are getting flooded, their streets are getting flooded. It’s a very serious issue we have,” says Fletcher.

But protestors object, noting money for Albany’s aging sewer system could come from an expected infrastructure bill coming out of Washington.

Farooqui believes, “Infrastructure money is coming from the Biden Administration also. They are literally legislating that right now. So very soon, we’re going to get money, for the sewer. This COVID recovery money is for COVID recovery.”