Macon-Bibb County consolidation lurched forward Tuesday with the Macon City Council approving two measures: One to merge the city and county animal control operations and another backing a broader, 10-year plan to merge most aspects of the two governments.
The animal control merger, the product of months of negotiations between Macon Mayor Robert Reichert and Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart, still will have to be approved by the County Commission. Under the new agreement, the city would handle stray pickups countywide and continue operating its animal shelter near the city landfill.
Reichert and Hart are hoping to merge the city and county engineering departments next, with the county handling that service countywide. But there’s no guarantee the council will agree to that, nor is the commission sure to sign off on the animal control agreement, although many commissioners seem to like the idea.
Consolidation talks like these have gone on for years, and elected officials in both the city and county have openly wondered what sort of service their constituents would get from the other government.
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But the City Council was mostly united Tuesday behind the concept of department-by-department mergers with the county, a process that would end with a countywide voter referendum to replace both governments with a single, new one. A 10-year plan to do that, sponsored by Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, passed Tuesday with only Councilman James Timley voting against it. The Bibb County Commission already has approved Lucas’ plan.
Timley said he would “love to have one government,” but he doesn’t trust the method being used. He said that at the end of Lucas’ 10-year plan, the two governments basically would be merged without serious questions about tax burdens being answered.
What if the final consolidation plan calls for former Macon residents to pay a higher tax rate? Timley asked. That has been proposed as part of past, failed consolidation plans, he said.
“We’re going to consolidate everything, and by the time 10 years expire it doesn’t matter whether (city residents) vote for it or not,” he said.
Other council members strongly disagreed, noting that the 10-year plan doesn’t address tax rates at all. That’s one of the points to this effort, supporters said: Merge individual departments, prove to the voters that the two governments can work together, then work out the more difficult questions and ask voters to approve a full merger via a referendum.
“I think (this plan) says to our citizens that we are trying as hard as we can to make government, city and county, more efficient,” Lucas said.
Lucas also promised to work against an effort to consolidate the governments on an accelerated schedule, as some have suggested. She said anything but a 10-year plan “will go down in flames.”
To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.