Charise Stephens sat near the front row of a meeting Thursday so it would be easier for her to attack Bibb County commissioners for their support of a new sales tax. Instead, she became a convert.
“I actually live in Macon, and I thought Macon was getting the short end of the stick,” she said, “but this is what we need.”
About 60 people attended a standing-room-only meeting Thursday to get more information about the July 20 special purpose local option sales tax vote that, if passed by voters, would increase the sales tax in Bibb County to 7 cents on the dollar. No one spoke against the SPLOST, and some said they’d give talks or campaign door-to-door to get the $183 million tax passed.
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert refused to sign an agreement on how to divide the SPLOST proceeds in a dispute about how services will be shared.
Macon City Councilwoman Elaine Lucas alluded to divided support on the City Council.
“I’m very supportive. I’m supposed to be on the city side, and we’re all in this together,” Lucas said.
Her husband, state Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, said the SPLOST’s funding for a new Juvenile Court building could prevent lifetimes of crime.
“This is it. There’s no other way,” he said. “Every community around us had a SPLOST right after the other one ended ... They voted in another. And they’re able to do things while we’re sitting here arguing and bickering about how we’re not going to do it.”
Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said the SPLOST could bring important projects to the area and stimulate the economy.
Hart said talk about an $83 million new courthouse is wrong. That $83 million would be split up like this: a $43 million courthouse, a parking garage, and the Juvenile Court facility as well as some interior renovations in the current courthouse.
Hart said safety problems in the current courthouse mean a judge can sentence a person and then ride down the same elevator with the criminal’s family, or even the criminal himself.
The remaining $100 million would be spent on recreation, drainage, an emergency radio system, debt service and other projects. Hart said Macon would get 62 percent of that portion of the money.
Hart said the courthouse projects alone could bring 500 jobs, and the rest of the projects could bring the total to more than 1,000 jobs.
Justin Oliverio, a recent Mercer University law school graduate, said he had been undecided about the SPLOST, but the meeting ended all doubt. He said the SPLOST would give a needed economic boost and help Macon, but it also would help people he’d seen last year while working as a law clerk in the Bibb County Courthouse.
“The people whose cases are tried here deserve something better,” he said.
An advocacy group is being formed to support the measure and has a Web site at BusinessForProgress.org. The Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, NewTown Macon and other organizations are helping fund the pro-SPLOST functions.
An anti-SPLOST group has been formed by Macon attorney Calder Pinkston. That campaign is posting information online at www.macon-bibb.com.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.