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Leaders to go to bat for center

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has held back the Bainbridge Welcome Center’s allowance for the coming year, meaning local officials will have to prove its value to the state’s tourism promotion efforts.

As part of his action to approve the budget for the state’s 2010 fiscal year—which begins July 1—Perdue vetoed three line item expenses and declared several more as “non-binding.”

Although the General Assembly included $98,325 for the Southwest Georgia Welcome Center among its tourism-related appropriations, Gov. Perdue essentially re-directed the funds back to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, according to Bainbridge City Manager Chris Hobby.

According to a news release from the Governor’s Office, “The department is authorized to utilize these funds to identify the highest-need projects on a state-wide basis in accordance with the purpose of the tourism program and the general law powers of the department.”

Hobby said he interpreted Perdue’s direction to mean that officials from the City of Bainbridge and the Bainbridge-Decatur County Chamber of Commerce now need to convince state officials that the Bainbridge welcome center does benefit regional or statewide tourism.

The City of Bainbridge manages a fund comprised of money leftover from the welcome center’s construction on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has been drawing about $30,000 out of the fund for the past two years to meet the welcome center’s annual budget of approximately $130,000, according to previous reports. Even without the state’s contributions, the interest-bearing account has enough in it to operate the welcome center for a little more than three years, Hobby said.

Bainbridge’s official tourism Web site is www.visitbainbridgega.com