A Macon City Council committee agreed Monday to allow open containers of alcohol in a limited area for tailgating on Mercer University football game days, in hopes of capturing tax revenue from spillover business downtown.
In a separate measure, the council is contemplating borrowing $2 million from a city reserve fund to pay its bills until property tax revenue starts coming in late this year.
Both issues will be up for a final vote by the full 15-member council Tuesday night.
An ordinance allowing the carrying of open containers for the purpose of tailgating on the eight days Mercer hosts football games was tabled July 15 when several council members argued that Mercer should pay for any city police or cleanup costs. Those members asked for information on the expense.
Keith Moffett, assistant to the citys chief administrative officer, said Mercer didnt ask for the tailgating permission. The administration saw it as a chance to promote downtown and get more business for restaurants and other establishments, since thousands of people will be arriving for the game, he said.
The ordinance, sponsored by Mayor Robert Reichert, would allow open containers -- plastic cups or aluminum cans, but no glass bottles -- from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on the eight Saturdays this fall that Mercer hosts football games.
Mechel McKinley, Main Street Macon director, said the games are expected to have a minimum of $6.5 million in economic impact. The proposed tailgating area now covers just Tattnall Square Park and a small section downtown centered on Cherry Street, with $2 shuttle rides to the stadium provided by Macon Transit Authority. Cleanup for that area is expected to cost about $3,800 per game, and about 30 police would be assigned to handle traffic and provide security, McKinley said.
Councilman Henry Gibson again said Mercer should contribute to those costs.
This shouldnt be on the taxpayers, he said.
Public Safety Committee Chairman Virgil Watkins asked how many police officers are on duty in the city during those hours on an average Saturday. Seventy-five, he was told.
Macon police Maj. Charles Stone said the 30 officers assigned to handle the tailgating crowds wouldnt get overtime pay. It would either be part of their regular workday, or theyd get other time off instead, he said.
Watkins and Gibson wondered how the city could handle tying up nearly half its Saturday force for hours, while City Council President James Timley questioned why police ask for overtime on other occasions but are able to arrange their schedule to handle this.
Despite those concerns, the ordinance passed the Public Safety Committee 4-1, opposed by Gibson. In the later Ordinances & Resolutions Committee, the issue was placed on the full council agenda for a final vote Tuesday.
The Appropriations Committee voted 5-0 to borrow $2 million from the Filomena Fund to keep the city running until property tax revenue arrives.
This is something we have done for the last couple of years, Committee Chairman Tom Ellington said.
Councilman Henry Ficklin said he aided late Councilwoman Filomena Mullis in establishing the reserve fund for this specific purpose. Before that, the city sometimes had been forced to borrow money from outside sources, paying interest, to get through the first part of the fiscal year, he said.
Ficklin noted that the current resolution, sponsored by Reichert, didnt include a specific date for repaying the money to the fund. It was amended to require repayment as soon as possible, but no later than Dec. 31.
Property tax revenue is expected to arrive in November. Ellington said the current balance in the Filomena Fund is $7.2 million.
The Appropriations Committee also heard that Macon has again been recognized for its good, clear finance reporting. The Government Finance Officers Association commended the city for both its Popular Annual Financial Report and Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012, Finance Director Megan McMahon said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.