Reichert: Payne City would benefit by joining Macon-Bibb

Voters would have to ask legislators to revisit 2012 decision

jgaines@macon.comDecember 2, 2013 

PAYNE CITY -- “I’m not trying to sell you anything,” Macon Mayor Robert Reichert repeatedly told a crowd of two dozen gathered in the small City Hall of Payne City, even as he listed several reasons he said the tiny town should dissolve itself into the coming Macon-Bibb County consolidated government.

Lower taxes, better representation, more services and the “psychological advantage” of belonging to what will be Georgia’s fourth-largest city all argue in favor of Payne City joining the political entity that completely surrounds it, Reichert said.

Though no method of dissolving Payne City’s government was chosen at Monday night’s town hall meeting, Reichert’s message got a generally favorable reception.

The incorporated city has an estimated 218 residents, but Mayor Grace McCrimmons said there are only 70 registered voters. In the July 2012 consolidation referendum nearly 33,000 Macon and Bibb County residents voted, but only 16 people did so in Payne City -- and they voted it down 9-7.

The new government is set to begin next month, and Payne City’s continued existence creates several issues, Reichert said. He sat down to talk informally, facing the crowd in the City Hall’s main room, which doubles as a kitchen.

More people were present than voted in the consolidation referendum, but several said that while they own property in Payne City, they don’t actually live there.

Reichert told the crowd that he wants to find out what they want and don’t want from the new government, since he’s their only representative on it.

“There are nine single-member districts, but you all didn’t get to vote in any of them,” he said. Since the new mayor’s job is countywide, however, Reichert himself represents Payne City’s interests. In November he won a runoff election to head the new Macon-Bibb government.

Reichert acknowledged that because of the magnitude of the mayor’s job, he is often hard to reach, though unintentionally. But if Payne City joined the new government, residents would be part of a smaller commission district. Payne City would be within District 9, represented by Commissioner-elect Al Tillman, which contains just one-ninth of the county’s population.

Payne City had lower property taxes than Macon, but when tax rates are equalized countywide that will eliminate the financial advantage since everyone will pay county taxes -- plus a city levy on top of that for Payne City residents, Reichert said.

“What’s going to be the millage rate under the new government?” asked a voice from the crowd. That’s not known, since it will take a majority of the new commission to set the tax rate, Reichert replied.

“So we’re going to have taxes raised, and we’re not going to have any representation,” former Payne City Mayor Richard Mullis commented.

Long ago Payne City opted out of code enforcement, but property owners and residents would still pay taxes for that service and others if Payne City endures, Reichert said. By joining the consolidated government, they’d get what they pay for, he said.

Payne City’s history is “unique and special,” but that could be preserved as a historic district without remaining an incorporated city, Reichert said.

William Paul Murray Jr., a resident, asked for options.

“What do we got to do, point-blank?” he asked.

Reichert said Payne City could hold its own referendum, though that would be expensive; circulate a petition for regular voters; or lobby for a whole new election. Any of those would demonstrate to state legislators, with varying degrees of impact, Payne City’s desire to give up its charter and perhaps be designated as a historic district, he said.

State Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon, said he wouldn’t ask the General Assembly to dissolve Payne City unless he was sure voters there actually favor it.

“I think a referendum, a vote, is the cleanest way to do it,” he said.

Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards listened to the discussion also, but he declined to offer his opinion.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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