District 5 candidates hone in on blight, growth and crime

mlee@macon.comAugust 17, 2013 

Jon Carson

  • Macon-Bibb District 5 candidates

    Bert Bivins III
    District: 5
    Age: 71
    Occupation: Retired educator, Robins Air Force Base electronics worker
    Education: Bachelor’s degree in middle school education, Fort Valley State University, 1994
    Political Experience: Bibb County Commission, 1995-present

    Jon Carson
    District: 5
    Age: 64
    Occupation: Semi-retired
    Education: Lanier Senior High School (now Central High School), 1967
    Political Experience: None

    Louis Frank Tompkins
    District: 5
    Age: 70
    Occupation: Retired educator
    Education: Master’s degree in administration, Atlanta University, 1970
    Political Experience: Macon City Council, 2011-present

Three people want to represent District 5 on the Macon-Bibb County Commission, and they have a lot to say about clearing blighted properties, economic growth and crime.

But it’s probably too much to ask to do the work for 20 percent cheaper than Macon and Bibb’s combined operating costs today, they also said.

The legal agreement that marries Macon and Bibb mandates a 20 percent cut in spending over its first five years.

“I don’t think it’s realistic,” said Bert Bivins III, a Bibb County commissioner since 1995.

The county has been tightening its budget for years, he said. After the merger, “it seems to me we’re going to need all the police officers and all the sheriff’s deputies we now have because both of them are short of people.”

The unified government will have to deliver as many services -- such as garbage pickup, roadwork and parks -- as the two governments now.

“I don’t see a place where long term there will be a huge gain (of savings),” Bivins said. “We have to make the best of it.”

Macon-Bibb might need to lean on the state Legislature to relax the 20 percent demand, first-time candidate Jon Carson said.

“(Bibb) trimmed everywhere they could. You have a little bit of fat left, but how much fat have you got?” Carson said. “It’s getting scary looking at it.”

Carson said some employee departures and elimination of double-staffing would save some cash, but Carson also said he thinks demand for county services will go up when the economy picks up.

Even if savings don’t reach 20 percent, he said, “I think we would be able to show by the end of this first term, if the right people are elected, we are serious about getting Macon-Bibb County in line.” Then they will see if Bibb’s state lawmakers can cut some slack on the fiscal requirements.

“I don’t know whether to say it was right or if was wrong” to mandate a 20 percent cut, said Macon City Councilman Louis Frank Tompkins. “It’s a moot point, it’s a moot question, because it is what it is.”

But the law allows Macon-Bibb to back off from cuts if public safety demands spending. Tompkins said the new commission could think about using that clause for spending money on fire protection, hiring more deputies or setting up new buildings and equipment for the sheriff’s office.

“I think it’s an opportunity, a prime time to institute new best practices. It might just make our government more efficient,” Tompkins said.

Some chunk of money ought to be used to fight blight, Bivins and Carson said.

The candidates see blight, along with high drop-out rates, crime and unemployment as inter-related problems.

“Parts of Macon look like Detroit,” Carson said. “Any direction you come into Macon, other than coming straight down I-75 and getting off at Mercer University Drive exit ... you go through a blighted area.”

If Macon starts cleaning up, either clearing properties that aren’t salvageable or getting people to rebuild unused buildings, “we will in essence start reducing crime because it helps keep people from having a place to hide,” Carson said.

Outsiders would see Macon-Bibb investing in itself, Carson said, which would make it appealing to them.

Macon-Bibb could start with something as simple as sending a dumpster to an area where people already are voluntarily cleaning up uninhabited lots in their neighborhoods, Carson said.

Sometimes companies look at Bibb’s dropout and crime rates, “and they just don’t even talk to us,” Bivins said.

Bivins said he would support what he called a “neighborhood revitalization” SPLOST -- a special purpose local option sales tax to fix derelict buildings and complete road repairs.

“The problem is there’s just not enough money” to catch up with the deterioration, Bivins said.

Tompkins said continuing downtown revitalization is critical, because it’s a place everybody uses.

“I feel like Main Street (Macon) should be given the ability to just go out and recruit tenants for the downtown corridor,” he said.

And Macon-Bibb should get behind the proposed Walnut Creek Village development of up to 62 apartments in east Macon, Tompkins said.

“That could be an extension of the Second Street Corridor out (toward) Coliseum to east Macon,” he said.

If money talks, there’s fairly little chatter so far about the District 5 race. Bivins reported nearly $5,000 in campaign donations as of the latest required disclosure on June 30. In the same time frame, Tompkins counted nearly $4,500 and Carson, $1,200. Updated disclosures are due Sept. 2. The election is Sept. 17.


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