Macon Mayor Robert Reichert and Bibb Commission Chairman Sam Hart are privately discussing how local government services are provided.
The pair, along with senior administrative staff members and Payne City’s mayor, have met twice in talks facilitated by the Middle Georgia Regional Development Center. They are trying to rewrite the state-mandated service delivery strategy agreement, a massive document that outlines how services will be delivered to Bibb residents and says which government must pay for them.
When the current service delivery strategy was first put in place in the late 1990s, some 30 services were identified for consideration, ranging from public safety to transportation to sanitation, the mayor said. Through prior service delivery negotiations, for example, officials decided the county should fund the public library system while the city would pay for parks and recreation.
A guidebook published by the state recommends the talks be treated like open meetings and held publicly although the law does not require it. Reichert, Hart and Payne City Mayor Richard Mullis, however, have elected not to follow that advice.
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Public scrutiny could “make negotiations more difficult, the process more cumbersome,” Reichert said.
“Sometimes, frank, candid discussion is stifled because nobody wants to look like a fool and ask a dumb question (in public),” he said, adding that there is no intent to hide what’s going on.
Hart said officials haven’t yet entered a negotiation stage but have been “looking for opportunities” to combine services and procedures.
“We’re still just trying to decide and look at what we’re doing,” he said. “We haven’t even gotten to the point of how we want to proceed.”
Once the actual negotiations start, Hart said, officials will decide whether to open negotiations to the public. If there is no quorum of either the commission or City Council, the negotiations can be closed.
Reichert said officials plan to continue meeting for a few hours at a time every other Monday.
So far, discussions have included a historical review of the city-county relationship, he said, going back to a 1981 double taxation agreement signed by then-Mayor George Israel and then-Commission Chairman Emory Greene. In illustrating the complications of service delivery, Reichert points to a paragraph in the agreement calling for the city to operate a landfill while the county was expected to come up with land and permits needed to open a new landfill. That never happened.
Through this latest dialogue on service delivery, Reichert said, officials hope to create efficiencies while eliminating tax inequity. Among the issues to be raised will be areas of double taxation — where city residents who pay property taxes to both Macon and Bibb County wind up funding similar services provided by both governments.
In the past, Reichert has questioned why city residents help pay for the sheriff’s office through property taxes even though deputies spend most of their patrol time in the unincorporated county. He and City Council members also have complained about being treated as a “foreign jurisdiction” when Macon is charged for suspects who are booked by police into the county jail. The jail, city officials point out, was financed by sales tax revenue and is maintained by city and county taxpayer dollars.
There are also certain government functions that may be seen as ripe for consolidation.
Hart and Reichert said the city and county likely will discuss combining engineering departments, creating a one-stop shop for business permits and recreation funding.
“Those things have been tossed around for a good while,” Hart said.
Officials have until June 30 to reauthorize the document, although that date could change if the commission and city council both agree to do so.
Telegraph staff writer Jennifer Burk contributed to this report.