Macon officials said Wednesday they can’t afford to wait to see whether Bibb County’s proposed sales tax passes this summer. They said they need to make plans now to upgrade the city’s outdated public safety radio system.
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert is proposing a $727,600 plan in the fiscal 2011 budget to upgrade the radio system.
While that wouldn’t fix all the problems with the system, it would provide a “foundation,” said city Information Systems Director Stephen Masteller.
The radio system is so old, Masteller said, that parts are no longer made for it. His department had to turn to hand-me-downs from other cities to make repairs. Presently, he said, the only service provider he’s found is in France.
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Radio system upgrades have been a hot topic for some time, both because of the enormous estimated cost for a complete upgrade — about $10 million — and the fact that the system is about to fall apart, which officials said could cause serious problems in an emergency. To foot that enormous bill, city officials planned to put the system upgrades on the city’s list of projects for the special purpose local option sales tax. Bibb County voters will determine the tax’s fate in a July 20 referendum.
Over concerns about the double taxation of city residents, Reichert pulled out of SPLOST negotiations, asking county officials to delay a vote on it until November so the two sides could come up with a new service delivery agreement to outline which government will pay for what service. Instead, the county moved forward without the city. As it stands, even if a SPLOST passes in July, the city won’t receive any money for almost three years because state law requires the primary SPLOST project — the new county courthouse — be paid for first.
Masteller said the radio system can’t wait that long.
“There are only two or three years left for the radios,” he said. “If the SPLOST doesn’t pass, what are we going to do?”
Reichert’s spokesman, Andrew Blascovich, lamented Wednesday the county’s decision to move forward without the city.
“What they’re talking about is a three-year wait (for the city’s SPLOST projects), but we were only asking for four months to finish the service delivery strategy,” he said. “These projects are all about delivering services to our citizens.”
If the SPLOST fails in July, it can’t be placed on another ballot for at least a year.
Officials estimate the SPLOST could bring in $30 million a year. About 40 percent of that sales tax money, they say, comes from people who live outside Bibb County.
Councilman Mike Cranford noted that city officials have known the day would come when they would have to pay to fix overlooked items such as the radio system, and he isn’t surprised that it’s this year.
“I think the Mother’s Day tornadoes were an eye-opener for us in terms of communications (breakdown),” he said, referring to the logistical problem the outdated radio system caused and could cause in the future.
The two divisions Masteller oversees — the Information Systems division and Communication Maintenance division, have a combined proposed fiscal 2011 budget of $1.13 million, which is down 7 percent from the $1.23 million it received this year.
To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.