Macon-Bibb consolidation costs coming

Computer purchases, consultants to increase price

jgaines@macon.comFebruary 20, 2013 

The task force working on consolidating Macon and Bibb County governments expects the city and county will have to split more consolidation costs over the next few months -- some for consultants helping plan the new government, but more for items the government will actually need to operate when it takes over in January 2014.

In the course of committees and a full task force meeting Wednesday, members approved spending another $74,950 on Schafer Consulting. In partnership with a firm called TSSI, Schafer is working out what will be needed to merge city and county information technology. Bob Lewis of Schafer Consulting said some hardware may be needed, but the main purchase decision is from a short list of software vendors.

The work is in two parts: public administration functions, which center on payroll systems; and public safety, which is much more complex and is a network that cannot be allowed to go down, Lewis said.

“The public admin side of it, we want all of this done by the second week of March,” he said. That should have finance systems “up and going” when the new government starts operating -- but it’ll take a lot more work to get city and county staff working together and trained on new software in time, Lewis said.

Sheriff David Davis noted that both existing governments will thus be asked to foot the bill.

“Bottom line, we’re talking about some substantial money here that’s going to have to be spent,” he said.

The additional money for Schafer brings the task force’s total anticipated spending so far to $650,634, according to Laura Mathis, deputy director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission. The only piece still expected to come in is a benefits consultant; bids have arrived, and range between $65,000 and $250,000, she said.

But that’s separate from the need for city and county governments to buy new computer equipment and software, so the consolidated government can function as a unit on Jan. 1.

Macon City Councilman Tom Ellington said some IT work would probably be needed even without consolidation, but with city sales tax revenue unexpectedly low -- $20 million for the year so far, instead of the $24 million expected -- the “substantial money” Davis spoke of will be hard for the city to find. Especially, Ellington said, because the city’s current budget was passed before voters approved consolidation, and so didn’t anticipate such expense.

Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said the county, for its part, recognizes the need to bear consolidation costs.

“We are somewhat prepared, probably not totally,” he said.

Lawsuit looming

A letter from attorney John Draughon, representing The Medical Center of Central Georgia informed the task force that the new government, from its first day of existence, may face a $2.7 million bill from a long-running squabble with the city of Macon.

The Medical Center wants the city to pay for the care of anyone police bring in for emergency treatment, Mayor Robert Reichert said.

“The Medical Center quite frequently renders treatment to people who are unable to pay for it, so they look for payment for treatment of indigent payments from whatever source they can,” he said. The $2.7 million total covers six years, Reichert said. The city has denied responsibility, and won a summary judgment last year. But the hospital has appealed, and it’s likely the suit will still be active in January, Reichert said. If the city is eventually held liable, that debt -- like any ongoing lawsuit -- would fall on the new government, he said.

Publicity plan

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation approved a $62,142 grant to the transition task force to publicize its work, including holding meetings in each of the nine new commission districts, sending out 15,000 surveys on what people want from the new government, and buying new digital equipment to broadcast meetings.

Chris Floore, Macon Public Affairs director, said publicity efforts are “about to really take off,” since they’d been held back in anticipation of the grant.

The public meetings to explain consolidation, answer questions and gather opinions may be held at schools, and could be scheduled over a four- to six-week span, perhaps on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he said.

Reconciling ordinances

Ted Baggett, from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, told the task force Laws Committee that he’s summarizing “differences and conflicts” between city and county ordinances, which will probably be split into subject areas and brought forward in stages for task force deliberation.

The first of those could be ready in April, he said, giving the task force time to reconcile conflicts and recommend a new consolidated code to the incoming government.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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