Who will pay for new street lights in the Macon-Bibb County consolidated government? Thats the topic that drew most debate Wednesday at a meeting of the Laws Committee thats helping work on consolidation.
After long discussion, however, nothing was decided, and Betty Hudson of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government went back to work on several options to consider again soon.
Hudson told the committee that the city and county now have very different policies on installing street lights.
We dont have a recommendation as to whats the best, she said.
Macon absorbs the cost of new lights in its general fund budget, while Bibb County splits the cost with affected property owners, she and Bibb County Engineer David Fortson said.
If those respective policies stay in place after consolidation, county residents would essentially subsidize lighting within the former city limits, Fortson said. Further complicating the situation, Georgia Power owns all street lights in the unincorporated area, while in the city Georgia Power and the city itself each own some. Bibb County bears the full cost of installing lights at road intersections, but it splits the expense with affected landowners inside subdivisions, Fortson said.
Mayor Robert Reichert said special service-delivery districts should be created, with a separate tax, to pay for new lighting in currently unlit areas.
I dont think you can have a uniform standard when its not uniform in the distribution of the lighting, he said. Reichert urged a flexible policy.
City Councilman Tom Ellington suggested creating two classes of lighting: one for suburban dwellers, who might get the same deal as city residents; and one for installation of lights in mostly undeveloped areas, for which landowners might need to share the cost.
Thats something the new government should work out after it takes over Jan. 1, he said.
Im not sure were going to hammer out a standard today, and if we did Im not sure it would be a good one, Ellington said.
The consolidation charter does allow the creation of special tax districts for various services.
But committee member Pearlie Toliver said she didnt want to see The Telegraph reporting that committee members discussed a possible tax increase for county residents.
Toliver said she preferred something more akin to the city standard.
Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said he was also concerned about what message the discussion might send, but hed like to see a consistent standard countywide. That was one of the motivations for consolidation, he said.
Hudson urged the new government to seek new agreements as soon as possible with Georgia Power, Atlanta Gas Light and several small rural power companies so it can begin collecting local franchise fees countywide, instead of just within current city limits.
Committee members agreed to that recommendation. First talks can start shortly after the Oct. 15 runoff election for new Macon-Bibb offices, Hudson said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.