Macon City Council expressed distress Tuesday over the impending transfer of dozens of city employees to Bibb County control, but council members wondered if they have any say-so in how the county treats its new workers.
Under the service delivery deal city and county signed last May, four and a half city departments will move to the county on July 1: Animal Control, Engineering, Traffic Engineering, Inspection & Fees, and the Recreation part of Parks & Recreation.
The county asked the Middle Georgia Regional Commission to work out implementation of the service delivery deal, said Laura Mathis, director of public administration for the regional commission. She spoke to council members in a work session as Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen, chairman of the county’s Human Resources Committee, sat in the audience.
The service delivery deal involves transferring about 690 acres of city property, mostly parkland, to the county along with associated equipment; plus 95 full-time, 11 part-time and 36 seasonal jobs, she said.
Eighty-nine of the full-time jobs are currently filled; most of the vacancies are in Animal Control, which is working at half-strength, Mathis said. How to handle seasonal employees must be worked out quickly, since their work will start before the July 1 handover, she said.
Mathis and others met with county commissioners last week to discuss three options for handling the transferred employees.
The first option, for the workers to remain under the city umbrella and keep their current pension system, with the county just writing regular checks to cover costs, was rejected in about 10 minutes, Mathis said.
The second option would have the city freeze employees’ retirement benefits and do anything else involved in a departing employee’s “normal separation,” and those workers would start anew with a guaranteed hiring at the county as new employees, she said.
The third option is like the second, but the county would give those new employees “some credit” for their city service in the county retirement benefit calculation, Mathis said.
After two-and-a-half hours of discussion, county commissioners asked her to continue work on the second option, she said. That leaves option three still open, since an actuary would have to calculate any such credit and how to pay for it, Mathis said.
“There’s a whole lot more to be decided and discussed,” she said.
For now, regional commission members are figuring out where the transferring workers should fit into the county’s pay scale, Mathis said.
Council members Lauren Benedict, Tom Ellington, Henry Gibson, Rick Hutto, Charles Jones, Elaine Lucas, Lonnie Miley, Beverly Olson and Frank Tompkins all had similar and immediate reactions.
Hutto and Gibson both said they’ve gotten calls from affected employees, “horrified” or “near panic” at the thought of starting all over with Bibb County. Gibson said if the county later cuts jobs, those counted as new hires would surely be the first to go.
Hutto and Jones both asked if the city retains any leverage in negotiating the handover with the county.
“Does this bind us to whatever they say they want to do?” Jones said.
The answer from City Attorney Martha Welsh was equivocal. The service delivery deal mandating the transfer is legally binding, but exact terms of the handover are negotiable, she said.
Lucas said she wants Welsh to prepare a council resolution asking the county to consider the third option, giving city employees some credit in the county pension system.
Miley said the county is getting a “very valuable asset” in trained and loyal employees, but it’s benefits, not pay, that keeps government employees loyal. That said, as a deputy Bibb County coroner for many years, he has faith the county will treat its new employees right.
“I certainly hope so,” Miley said.
Macon’s general financial reporting earned good marks from the external auditing firm of Mauldin & Jenkins, but handling of subsidiary funds still suffers many of the same problems as previous years, auditor Miller Edwards told council members.
A particular problem is the level of internal control and monitoring on federal funds in nine major programs, he said.
“You all had about $11 million in federal funds that ran through here last year,” Edwards said. “Of those nine (programs), we could only give you a clean opinion on five of them.”
Altogether the audit included 24 adverse findings -- fewer than last year, but still troubling, Edwards said. Most of the problems were on the same theme: documentation and following ever-changing federal rules, he said.
Edwards praised Finance Director Dale Walker for the work he’s done since arriving less than a year ago, and said many administration efforts are “headed in the right direction.” But it will require a cultural change in city departments to institute adequate oversight, Edwards said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.