First budget in place for merged Macon-Bibb

jgaines@macon.comJune 30, 2014 

Macon-Bibb County commissioners swiftly voted 8-0 Monday to approve a $159 million general fund budget, unchanged from what they endorsed June 19.

Commissioner Mallory Jones did not attend the meeting, while Commissioner Gary Bechtel voted via Skype, on a laptop computer set up at his usual seat.

The budget restores most funding to several agencies that had been considered for major cuts or elimination, including indigent care at The Medical Center of Central Georgia, the Tubman African American Museum, Museum of Arts and Sciences and the Macon Transit Authority’s paratransit service.

The new fiscal year starts Tuesday.

About two dozen onlookers from various affected agencies and departments gathered in the commission chamber to watch the vote from the called meeting.

The final budget funds indigent care at $475,000, which is $25,000 less than last year; the Tubman and arts and sciences museums at $237,500 each, or $12,500 each less than last year; the Douglass Theatre at $96,000, the same as last year; the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame at $75,000, half of what it received last year; and paratransit at $317,000, the same amount as last year.

“Is this what we voted on and agreed to last time?” Commissioner Bert Bivins asked. It was, Reichert confirmed before calling for the vote. The budget passed without further discussion or dissent, ending the meeting in less than 10 minutes.

Most of the budget was uncontroversial, but commissioners wrangled for six weeks over whether, or how much, to fund various outside agencies. The commission’s Committee of the Whole approved a version June 19 which added $667,865 to Reichert’s original proposal, without clarifying where the extra money would come from. Commissioners voiced hopes that tax revenue will come in higher than expected. Failing that, the extra would likely have to come from $4.9 million in reserve funds the government expects to have on hand.

Finance officials have said that reserve, plus more, is necessary to keep up the government’s credit rating.

The budget, on the whole smaller than the combined Macon and Bibb County budgets of last year, results from a move toward tax equity for the residents within the former city limits and the former unincorporated county, Reichert said.

Half of the Macon city property tax is being cut this year, while formerly city-only franchise fees are being extended countywide.

The remainder of the city property tax will be cut next year, Reichert has said.

To help compensate for the funding commissioners added back to the budget, government departments and constitutional offices took 4.2 percent cuts, most part-time or temporary jobs were eliminated and vacant full-time jobs will be left unfilled, said Julie Moore, assistant county manager for budget and planning.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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