Bibb County commissioners united Tuesday to launch a July 20 sales tax vote while leaving the door open for Macon leaders to take a more active part in the controversial ballot issue.
Much of the commission’s 15-minute discussion focused on what Macon could lose unless it signs an intergovernmental agreement that makes the city a bigger partner in the special purpose local option sales tax vote. The Macon City Council and Mayor Robert Reichert wanted to delay the SPLOST vote until the city and county finished negotiating how services are provided.
Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said if the city signs on to the agreement, Macon can start getting sales tax money next year, instead of several years later, after a new courthouse is completed.
Addressing council members Tuesday evening, Reichert kept his comments about the county brief.
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“I’m basically going to wish them well and refrain from further comment,” the mayor said, repeating his earlier comments that the county’s decision to move forward with a July SPLOST vote is “ill-advised.”
“Instead, I’m focused on a new service delivery strategy,” Reichert told the council.
He added that the city and county are on the threshold of selecting a mediator to negotiate a new service delivery agreement. Friday, Reichert said the attorneys representing the city and the county had settled on a list of three potential mediators. That number is down to two, he said Tuesday, and those two potential mediators are being interviewed.
Councilman Tom Ellington questioned Tuesday whether the county had the authority to submit language last Friday for the July SPLOST vote when commissioners didn’t vote until Tuesday.
With the Board of Elections set to meet Thursday to consider the county’s resolution, Ellington said he thinks the city should investigate quickly whether the county acted appropriately. Councilwoman Lauren Benedict agreed, saying the city may consider filing a formal objection.
Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections Supervisor Elaine Carr said the April 30 deadline was for the wording of the ballot only. That allows the elections board to submit the wording to the company that creates the ballots.
“It’s much easier to tell them to remove it (if the resolution was not approved),” Carr said.
She said if the SPLOST fails in July, it would be at least a year before the county could put the measure on another ballot. The SPLOST is expected to generate $30 million a year. The last SPLOST expired in March 2009.
The ballot measure approved by commissioners Tuesday uses a draft list prepared by Macon officials but never approved by the city government. The six-year, $183 million tax measure would build a new main courthouse and a smaller Juvenile Court building first. The remaining $100 million would be split by population among Macon, unincorporated Bibb County and Payne City. Macon would get the lion’s share, 63.2 percent, with Bibb County getting 36.68 percent and Payne City getting 0.12 percent of the money.
Countywide money is earmarked for recreation, equipment purchases, a radio system for emergency workers and stormwater drainage fixes. Macon’s money is destined for stormwater system repairs, the radio system, equipment buys, recreation and building construction and repairs. Payne City would upgrade its City Hall as well as improve its water and sewer systems, streets and sidewalks.
County commissioners voted unanimously for the SPLOST ballot item, which must be reviewed by the county elections board and then federal officials.
But county commissioners split on what could happen if the SPLOST vote fails. Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, an attorney, said he would oppose building a new courthouse with property tax proceeds and bonds, despite a court order for better facilities. Commissioner Joe Allen said that’s an avenue that can be pursued if the SPLOST fails.
But Hart and Commissioner Elmo Richardson said the best option is for the SPLOST to pass.
“We just need to be focused, totally focused, on this one,” Richardson said.
County Attorney Virgil Adams said the project list matches exactly what city officials reviewed in January.
“Everybody has been on board with these projects,” he said. “There has not been a single dispute.”
But the Macon City Council never approved the project list and has formally requested a delay in the SPLOST vote. City leaders say portions of the SPLOST are tied to issues of double taxation, which can be addressed through a service delivery strategy agreement now due in October. County commissioners have said SPLOST and service delivery are completely separate issues.
Hart said the county had a handful of people interested in promoting the SPLOST. He said he expected a committee to advocate the tax soon would be formed. State law prohibits government officials from advocating for the tax directly, though they can talk about the facts surrounding a SPLOST vote.
Any advocacy or opposition groups will have fewer than 11 weeks to lobby.
To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.