Natural Resources Ups Budget Cut by $2 Million Two-Year Budget Pared by $6 Million

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Byline: Dave Williams, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- The agency charged with protecting Georgia's environment will make do with older cars and computers in order to keep state parks open.

The Board of Natural Resources yesterday approved a $2 million cut in next year's budget request, to go with the $1 million reduction board members signed off on two weeks ago.

Board members also voted to pare this year's spending by the same $3 million, the Department of Natural Resource's share of across-the-board cuts ordered by Gov. Roy Barnes in the wake of declining state tax revenues.

"We don't want to close sites, fire people or take money out of essential operations," said Natural Resources Commissioner Lonice Barrett. "We have sought to . . . hurt the agency the very least."

The largest portion of this year's spending reductions -- more than $1.2 million -- will come from funds set aside for replacing motor vehicles, heavy equipment and computers.

Another $1 million in cuts approved two weeks ago will be made through a hiring freeze.

But the department will be forced to dip into funds for several multiyear studies to get next year's budget down to the target set by the governor.

The largest of the fiscal year 2004 reductions -- $500,000 -- will come from the Fall Line Air Quality Study, which focuses on Augusta, Macon and Columbus.

All three cities face the possibility of falling out of compliance with the federal Clean Air Act under a tighter air-quality standard being proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. …