Macon Mayor Robert Reichert and Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart vowed Monday to merge their governments through a popular vote.
“We have talked about consolidation for years, but the most recent vote was 35 years ago,” said Reichert, who argued the community needs to speak with one voice.
“What is the current state of Macon and Bibb County? Separate and struggling,” he said.
Hart said he’d like to see a vote for consolidation probably in 2011, after the public has had a chance to see how other merged departments are working. Later in the day, Reichert said wouldn’t oppose a vote as soon as November of this year. If the vote passes, he said, the changes would take place in time for the county elections in 2012 so the process of electing the new merged government could begin then. In the meantime, the two entities could work fervently toward consolidation.
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“Not that we need to rush anything,” Reichert said, “But in my humble opinion, the sooner we put it to a vote, the better.”
The city and county governments have been trying since last summer to consolidate animal control operations, which could lay the groundwork for consolidation sometime this year of engineering and public works.
The governments also could merge purchasing, recreation and even the municipal and county court operations soon. The two governments have agreed on a 10-year consolidation plan.
“Everybody seems to agree we need to consolidate,” Reichert said. “We can accelerate that.”
One person who agrees with him is state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, who said Monday at the Capitol that he plans to introduce three consolidation bills in the Georgia House of Representatives. Peake said he will file the bills in about two weeks after he meets with each member of the Bibb County legislative delegation.
Peake had earlier suggested that a new city in north Bibb County could form, but Hart and Reichert criticized any such move.
“I think it’s time to look at how we can consolidate, not separate,” Hart said. Reichert called a new city “the wrong way to go.”
The county and city governments have talked about consolidation since at least 1923, and four votes to merge have failed. The city and county have tried to work together in a number of areas, including 911.
Hart said consolidation probably wouldn’t save any money initially, but the merged government would grow more slowly and work more efficiently, saving money in the long run.
Hart said he’d heard a lot of talk lately about Warner Robins gaining more of a regional identity, and thought Macon and Bibb County needed to unify to strengthen their identity and reclaim what he called the “Middle Georgia swagger.”
Reichert said Macon and Bibb County should be prepared “to take a back seat” if the area doesn’t think regionally, saying, “We have to use our diversity to pull us together instead of pulling us apart.”
Reichert said if the governments unify, they can run more efficiently and talk with one voice to keep existing employers and attract new businesses. That will help lower the tax rate and bring jobs, which would benefit everyone.
“That’s what we’ve got to make the people in the unincorporated area understand: This is in your best interest,” Reichert said.
The comments were made to a joint meeting of the Macon Rotary, Downtown Macon Rotary and Uptown Rotary clubs in the second of a planned annual series of talks on the future of Macon and Bibb County.
Telegraph staff writers Travis Fain and Chris Horne contributed to this report.