Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart promised Thursday that there won’t be a property tax increase while the county government takes over five Macon departments this year, which may add some $5 million to the county budget.
“We aren’t going to raise taxes,” Hart said in an interview Thursday. He said the county has worked through tougher budget problems and also noted that this is an election year.
Finance Director Deborah Martin said she is planning a conservative budget, but she warned that the county may have to draw from its reserves.
“We may budget to dip” into those reserves, Martin said. Hart added, “Even if we did have to, it would be a very small amount.”
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The conversation came just before Hart and Macon Mayor Robert Reichert announced progress toward implementing their service delivery strategy agreement. The deal calls for moving five departments -- recreation, engineering, traffic engineering, inspection and fees, and animal control -- to the county. Hart and Reichert said they’re studying ways to treat the Macon employees fairly as they move to the county.
Hart said he called Thursday’s news conference because the county hadn’t been as open about the process and planning as it should have been. The public was confused, “and a lot of people at the city got the impression we were not concerned, so we kicked the ball and we’re trying to regroup, and I guess in a sense trying to be more transparent,” Hart said.
Important details on the transition -- such as how much it would cost to have some city pension funds follow the employees to Bibb County -- are expected by early February.
James Hand, who runs the city’s Frank Johnson Community Center and has worked for Macon for the last 17 years, is worried about whether he’ll get the same salary and keep vacation and sick time. He plans to come to a promised follow-up news conference next month.
“Still looking for answers because nobody can give me answers yet,” Hand said.
Reichert told Hand the city may try to transfer sick leave and vacation days to the county, then pay the county for them -- or to cash out those days.
“We’re determined to make it fair and equitable,” Reichert said.
Some 142 employee positions are expected to be transferred between the governments, adding millions of dollars to the county’s payroll.
But other changes, such as a new special purpose sales tax that will begin paying off county debt and buy police cars, will cut some of the expenses from the Bibb County general fund. Martin said she expects that sales tax revenue will save an average of $1.9 million per year in debt payments from the county’s general fund.
Officials said the $5 million challenge isn’t unprecedented. Martin said the current year’s budget planning began with a deficit of close to $15 million, but ultimately drew down about $2.4 million from its financial reserves.
“This is no different from every year we start with the budget,” Martin said. “This year there’s a few more unknowns.”
The governments have to deal with questions both obvious -- how much do you pay the employees? -- and obscure. Martin said the recreation department now takes its lawn mowers to Macon’s central services department for repair, for example, but Bibb County doesn’t have such a department.
Said Bibb County Chief Administrative Officer Steve Layson: “It’s almost every nut and bolt, roof over their head. Everything’s got to be addressed.”
Reichert said the moving of the five departments is setting a precedent for further mergers or outright consolidation of the two governments.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.