Cannot wait

January 11, 2013 

Not a week goes by that I do not read something about Macon that makes me glance at the calendar to see how much longer we must wait for consolidation.

But what of the new government when it consolidates? Surely its first year will be tied up with financial issues. It is supposed to save us money. It probably will not.

Once those discussions are had, I hope the conversation turns to the Middle Georgia Regional Airport. Recently The Telegraph ran a story about the number of businesses looking at Bibb County. Several are aerospace companies. Unbeknownst to many Bibb County residents, the Middle Georgia Regional Airport has a good bit of undeveloped land -- not just the farm between the runways.

The airport, however, is hampered by a runway not long enough to meet the needs of many cargo carriers, though they would be a natural fit. The consolidated government should be proactive in finding the money to get that runway expanded.

We should also give up the fools errand of having air service that flies people to and fro to Atlanta. It is not needed. No one uses it. In 2012, I flew more than 76,000 miles. Not one of those miles was out of Macon’s airport. I drove to Atlanta.

If the airport is going to keep commercial air service, its essential air service carrier needs to go to somewhere besides Atlanta.

I think air service for passengers in and out of Macon would be a good idea, but it has not been shown to work. We have thought about it too much inside the box. Additionally, with an economy still stagnant, I doubt any major air carriers would consider it. Cargo and aerospace industry are the way to go, but they require a longer runway. The consolidated government, if it really wants to bring in well-paying jobs, should make that a priority.

Another priority is going to have to be rethinking recreation. The people who live near Durr’s Lake want and need an outlet. It is a beautiful piece of property. It should be developed. But the consolidated government should also consider consolidating recreational facilities. They are spread out. They are old. More and more counties are building a few consolidated areas for recreation. It saves money and resources.

Consolidated recreation areas would require a public transportation system that could get people to those facilities who otherwise lack means of transportation. The Macon Transit Authority would have to get involved. But it is doable, would save money, and would provide better overall facilities. Think back early in our city’s history with the development of Central City Park. Cities such as Fort Worth, Texas, have combined baseball fields, football stadium and a large gymnasium on one site. In Somerset County, Md., they have combined a walking/jogging trail, seven ball fields and a playground. There are plenty of models of centralized facilities out there to investigate.

I hope the consolidated government will also look at all the authorities. It is a tricky subject and one full of fiefdoms and king makers. We need an Industrial Authority. It does good and essential work. But we have a great many authorities and I am not sure all of them do truly essential work. Some of them cost nothing to keep. Some do have a cost. The consolidated government should be discerning about what to keep and not keep.

The biggest hurdle to be overcome will be the integration, or lack thereof, between the Sheriff’s Department and the Macon Police Department. We can be thankful we have a great new sheriff to spearhead this difficult task reasonably. It will not be easy.

Along the way, I have one request for our local delegation -- make as many of these local elected positions nonpartisan as possible. As we move forward with new government, we should move forward with new ideas and face. Nonpartisan elections will help.

Erick Erickson is a CNN contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.

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