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Porterdale City Council members spar over price of holiday cheer
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Monday night's Porterdale City Council meeting featured a heated discussion of how much the city has paid for events organized by Porterdale Better Hometown Director Patti Battle, as well as whether some of this weekend's Christmas in the Village festivities should be cancelled.

Battle came to the meeting to give a monthly update of her work as Better Hometown director and request she be given a 2008 budget for her expenditures.

Post 1 councilman Robert Foxworth wanted to know why the city had spent more on events than Battle had raised through donations.

"Most Better Hometown directors do not have to provide 100 percent of their budget for events," Battle said.

 Foxworth said he understood that, but did not understand why the expenditures had not come before city council for approval. Post 3 council member Perry Barnett said he also was unaware the city had spent more than combined sponsorships, donations and vendor fees on 2007 events.

Soon after Battle's part-time position as Better Hometown director was approved by the city council in late spring, she began planning Porterdale's Patriotic Day, a Fourth of July celebration.

Battle received $4,350 in donations for the July event and spent $5,557.45 - a difference of $1,667.50 met with funds from the city's budget.

"You don't spend money if you don't have it," said Linda Finger, Post 2 councilwoman-elect. "That's how people go into debt all the time."

For the Yellow River Jam, Battle received $4,735 from sponsorships and vendor fees and paid out $5,557.45. The city again met the difference of $822.45.

Battle said donations such as from Charter Communications, which come from corporate rather than local avenues, are still trickling in for the event.

She informed the council she has collected approximately $1,200 for the Christmas in the Village event featuring a giant tree lighting and Santa sleigh parade with live reindeer. City Manager Tom Fox provided a ledger for the event which shows only $700 has been received.

The weekend rental of the stage cost $1,000 by itself.

Foxworth suggested using a smaller stage owned by a city resident who would donate its use.

Battle said such a large stage was necessary for the performances by the Covington Regional Ballet and Conyers Ballet troupes.

"I could call the companies and say we can't provide them the proper staging and we can contact them for a future event," Battle said. "That would save a $1,000."

Foxworth and Barnett both mentioned possibly paring down the event to only one day.

Battle said attendees of a committee meeting attended by her, Porterdale Mayor Bobby Hamby, Post 4 Councilwoman Kay Piper, members of the business association and other civic organizations decided to organize a weekend of events.

"Let's just be the Scrooge of the county and cancel the whole event," Hamby said.

As tension escalated, Foxworth made a motion to discuss the position of Porterdale's Better Hometown director at the January meeting while Battle was still present.

"Patti has done an excellent job with what she's been given and how much direction she's been given," Hamby said.

Hamby also mentioned Battle's recent graduation from the Georgia Academy of Economic Development and the fact that Foxworth approved her position and hire with other council members at a public meeting.

"We all make mistakes," Foxworth said.

Once the fuming subsided, Post 2 Councilwoman Mary Johnson said the event should not be cancelled because of its advertisement in local media.

She said cancelling the event would make the council look foolish.

"Porterdale has been the laughing stock of this county for the past 20 years," Johnson said.

"We will continue to be when we go broke paying for parties," Finger replied.

Johnson said the city would not go broke by paying what it has for the events.

"I came here tonight not wanting to cancel the event, but to know what money is being spent where," Foxworth said.

Jamie Peterson, manager of Social Circle Better Hometown, explained how the Social Circle City Council gives her an annual budget for expenses such as office electricity bills, but not for events.

Peterson said the city's Friendship Festival and golf tournament fundraisers mainly support Better Hometown events in Social Circle such as this weekend's one-day Christmas Celebration.

"Our businesses and local civic organizations are also very supportive," Peterson said.

Battle said she hoped in addition to a budget for next year, members of the Porterdale Business Association would step up and contribute more to the three events she wants to see become city tradition.

She added that because she was hired in the middle of the year, her requests for corporate donations were met with requests from the corporations to send them a letter at the beginning of the year when their yearly budgets were being calculated.

Peterson also said the Better Hometown program in Social Circle has had time to grow as it is approaching the 10-year anniversary of its establishment.

"This is kind of a learning process and Porterdale is a smaller town than most of the towns the other Better Hometown directors I've talked to operate in," Battle said.

Better Hometown programs are coordinated by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs' Office of Downtown Development.

The ODD expects participating communities to work toward historic preservation and the National Main Street Center's Four-point Approach to Downtown Revitalization.

The approach involves organization, design, economic restructuring and promotion.

Battle said it takes dollars to promote tourism and business for downtown retailers.

"Part of Better Hometown is bringing attention to downtown through activities that would bring people downtown," Battle said.

Barnett said the activities are not the issue about which he, Foxworth and Finger were concerned.

"It's not a problem of who, what, when, where," Barnett said. "The Porterdale City Council was not aware of the money the city has spent on these events."

Foxworth agreed.

"In the future we need to be kept abreast of everything," Foxworth said.