Bibb County commissioners passed a resolution Friday objecting to a proposal that would rescind the school boards tax-levying authority.
During a called meeting Friday, commission Chairman Sam Hart, along with Commissioners Lonzy Edwards, Gary Bechtel and Bert Bivins, voted in favor of the resolution, while Commissioner Joe Allen voted against it.
State Sen. Cecil Staton announced Wednesday that he planned to file a bill that would give the new Macon-Bibb County Commission final say on the school boards tax levy. He cited dysfunction on the school board as one of the reasons for the move.
Edwards, however, said lawmakers shouldnt try to solve all local concerns through legislation and should let the governing bodies closest to the issues sort things out.
What I think they are calling dysfunction may just be democracy in action, Edwards said after the meeting. When you start talking about diversity of opinion, sometimes people are uncomfortable with that. Democracy is a pretty messy process at times. People dont always agree, but you work it through and hopefully you come to consensus.
As written, the bill says that the Macon-Bibb County commission must vote on the school systems tax levy before the first Monday in June each year, and that the school system must provide its final budget to the commission within a week of adopting it.
Edwards also said that in the transition to a consolidated government, theres no guarantee the new governing body wont have problems of its own to deal with. Right now, the bill doesnt include any provisions for bringing the proposal to a public vote.
In the transition to a consolidated government, city and county officials will also have to cut their combined operation costs by 5 percent each year over a four-year span, and overseeing school spending would add another complexity to the mix, Hart said.
We dont need that kind of added responsibility and the added challenge to the new government, Hart said.
Bechtel, who served on the Bibb County school board when voters approved a referendum in 2004 to give the board the power to set its own millage rate, also opposes giving the new Macon-Bibb County Commission the added responsibility. Instead, he said, voters should hold elected officials -- both on the school board and the county commission -- accountable for their decisions about tax proceeds.
The school board, in turn, has a responsibility to hold the administration accountable, he said.
I have confidence that this (school) board will do the right thing, Bechtel said after the meeting. They will not just make a decision to pay for something that they think is superfluous. Theyre going to respect the taxpayers. I have confidence in their ability to do so.
While Allen -- the only commissioner who opposed the resolution -- said there are some issues with Statons bill, he thinks legislators are on the right track. He said he likes the idea of greater oversight and having just one local taxing authority after city and county governments merge. Ultimately, though, Allen said the voters should decide.
I do think it should be a vote of the people, Allen said. Theyre the ones, constitutionally, that voted this in to give the school board the right to set their own millage.
In a statement Bivins issued to The Telegraph, he said legislators need to respect the wishes of the people who gave the school board that authority.
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.