Payne City merger dead for 2013

mlee@macon.comFebruary 27, 2013 

ATLANTA -- Payne City will remain an independent municipality for the foreseeable future, on the failure of a legislative move to dissolve the 218-resident enclave into a consolidated Macon-Bibb County.

It’s not yet clear how Payne City and Macon-Bibb will relate to each other come 2014.

In 2012, Payne City voters turned down consolidation with Macon-Bibb by a vote of seven for and nine against. The state Senate attempted to lasso in the rebel city by passing Senate Bill 28, by state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, which would have overridden the vote.

But Payne City’s two representatives, state Reps. Nikki Randall and James Beverly, both Democrats, disagree with each other on it. Beverly said he wants to follow the will of the voters, and he declined to sign the bill. Randall signed it, saying that as she understood it, Payne City leaders thought the town was not financially viable alone.

“Not that I wanted to go against what the voters voted,” said Randall, “but they can’t possibly survive.”

She pointed out that Payne City is still in an expensive lawsuit with MedSafe LLC, a company that aimed to build a medical waste incinerator in the city.

Randall and Beverly are the only two members of the House of Representatives who represent any part of Payne City, but with Randall’s signature alone, she said, the bill is not going anywhere.

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, said he’s not going to adopt the orphan bill and push it through over the heads of the Democratic minority, as he has with other consolidation-related bills.

Staton said he respects Beverly’s position but added that he does “not know what virtue there is in keeping a small, and one might even say, unviable municipality in the midst of an otherwise consolidated county.” The costs of preserving Payne City, he said, are excessive for its taxpayers.

If the House members stick to their positions, that means Payne City consolidation is dead until at least next January, when the Legislature starts a new session.

By then, Macon-Bibb County is set to have organized its consolidated government and elected its first leaders.

Beverly is not mourning. He suggested there is a middle path for independent-minded Payne City. He said Macon-Bibb County and Payne City could “hammer out agreements” on public services.

“Maybe they could come under Bibb planning and zoning,” Beverly gave as an example, because he is concerned that an independent Payne City may not fight moves that aren’t in the best interests of their Macon-Bibb County neighbors, citing the proposed incinerator.

Cities and counties regularly share departments under so-called service delivery agreements, like the one that puts both Macon and Bibb parks and recreation functions under Bibb County management. Among other services, Payne City already buys water from the Macon Water Authority and runs it through its own pipes.

It’s also possible that in the future, the Legislature could authorize another referendum for Payne City voters. State law allows a city as small as Payne City to vote on joining a consolidated government without dragging all of Macon and Bibb County back to the ballot box on the question.

Asked about service delivery agreements or another referendum for her residents, Payne City Mayor Grace McCrimmons said, “I’m going to have to get with the (City) Council. ... We’re going to have to discuss this. ... I don’t want to go into Macon-Bibb, and the council doesn’t either.”

But she also pointed out that while Payne City has enough revenue to hold steady, the specter of an unaffordable city expense, like an equipment breakdown, stays in the back of her head.

When Macon and Bibb County legally disappear, it’s expected that their contracts would generally continue, including their service delivery contracts with Payne City, said Laura Mathis, deputy director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission.

But Payne City, like any city, has to provide at least three services to its residents to continue as a “Qualified Local Government.” That’s a status defined in state law and is separate from being an independent, chartered city. Mathis said Payne City is near that line.

If Payne City officials lose that status, “then they’re not eligible for state funding ... and they would not be entitled to share in (the local option sales tax),” Mathis said.

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