The push to merge Macon and Bibb County animal control departments took a step forward Monday when a Macon City Council committee approved the consolidation agreement.
Now it’s up to the full council, the Bibb County Commission and, for its small part of the agreement, Payne City, to sign off on the agreement to finalize it. If approved, the city would take charge of stray animal pickups countywide and continue running its animal shelter, where the county has been paying to board animals while running its own two-man department.
Left undecided is the controversial issue of licensing fees, which city pet owners are supposed to pay but often don’t. There’s no fee in the unincorporated area, and adding one has been something of a sticking point for county commissioners.
Though there was support Monday on the council’s Public Safety Committee for expanding the city’s $12 per-pet, per-year licensing fee countywide, disagreements about the fee shouldn’t be allowed to kill any merger deal, Mayor Robert Reichert said. If unincorporated residents don’t want the fee, the city will get rid of its fee, he said. Then the city’s general fund would cover the full cost of animal control, with the county government and Payne City paying their share, based on the number of animals picked up in the respective areas.
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The fee generates about $5,000 or $6,000 a year now.
The agreement likely will be before the full council and County Commission after the first of the year. Reichert said he’s confident it will pass and send a message that the two governments are serious about combining services and eventually combine both governments into one new consolidated Macon-Bibb government.
“People are going to scoff at it and say, ‘Oh, that ain’t anything but animal control,’’’ Reichert said. “It’s the first step.”
The county would take the two deputies working in animal control and reassign them within the sheriff’s office, Reichert said. The city probably would need to hire one person to take up that slack, he said.
Talks are ongoing, Reichert has said, to let the county take over engineering services countywide, something that’s been discussed for many years without being implemented. Getting that agreement approved will be the mayor’s next consolidation priority, he said.
Council President Pro Tem James Timley expressed support for consolidating services during Monday’s meeting. But he cautioned the mayor that, to keep that support, long-lingering double taxation issues must be addressed.
Though county leaders don’t necessarily agree, many in the city think Macon taxpayers pay too much in taxes given that they pay county taxes, but some of their city taxes support county services.
For example: The city pays the county a per-prisoner fee to use the Bibb County jail. Said Timley: “At some point, these things are going to have to be addressed.”
To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.