Macon and Bibb County are fighting over how to split proceeds from an annual Justice Assistance Grant.
The standoff leaves the governments only about two weeks to come to an agreement and apply for the grant, or neither government will get any money.
The grant, which is awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice every year to municipalities and counties across the country, is designed to supplement a wide range of programs by local law enforcement agencies.
In a letter to the city, Bibb County Chief Administrative Officer Steve Layson said he wants to split the $128,482 grant in a 50-50 arrangement with the city. Each would receive $64,241 under that scenario.
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But Thomas Thomas, the city’s chief administrative officer, said the city wants an 80-20 split, because the bulk of the violent crime in Bibb County happens within city limits.
Thomas said the federal government recommends the 80-20 split, because that’s where the need is greatest.
“It’s all based on data from the Department of Justice,” Thomas said. “It’s based on crime. On average, we represent 80 percent of the crime, so it should be an 80-20 split. (The grant) is supposed to be used to addressing the issues in (crime) categories.”
The U.S. Department of Justice normally requires the 80-20 split but said Macon and Bibb County have “disparate jurisdiction,” meaning there’s an unusual sharing of the costs. In such cases, the federal government leaves it up to the communities to determine how to share the money. If they can’t agree, they don’t get to apply.
Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said commissioners are united: “We decided 50-50 makes sense to us.”
Hart said the county has been using the JAG money for drug court, which largely benefits city residents, and is trying to be proactive in fighting crime.
The funds were split 50-50 for four years. That changed last year, when the city received 60 percent of the funding. But the JAG funds in 2009 were substantially larger — about $572,000 — because they were augmented by stimulus money.
Under Thomas’ proposal, the city would receive $104,611 this year while the county would receive $23,871.
In the past, the city has used its portion of the funds to buy new equipment ranging from new software to in-car cameras for police officers.
Thomas criticized the county’s spending on the drug court.
He said the grant, by its design, can’t be used to replace an item that is already supposed to be funded in the county’s budget.
In a letter sent last week to county officials, Thomas said, “the use of the grant to support a continuous program risks violating the rule against budget supplanting. This could result in Bibb County having to return the money it has taken over a number of years.
Conversely, the city of Macon has used the grant to fund many different projects and equipment that directly support the reduction of crime and will continue in this manner.”
Thomas said this week that the city hasn’t decided yet how it will use its portion of the new grant. He said as of Monday he hadn’t received an official response from Bibb County about the 80-20 split.
City Councilman Rick Hutto said the county needs to acquiesce.
“If we don’t accept this together, we don’t get any money,” he said. “It seems doubly asinine, because it’s the federal government saying it should be 80-20. This is not us requesting that.”
Layson said he expects to provide Thomas with the county’s response this week, but he said Bibb County isn’t changing its stance on the 50-50 split.
To contact writer Philip Ramati, call 744-4334. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.