The final face-off may be coming in the decadelong battle over where to draw the line between Monroe and Macon-Bibb counties.
County attorneys who are familiar to each other from years of litigation are scheduled to gather in two months to argue over a possible shift of the border by a few hundred feet.
In a meeting at the state Capitol on Thursday, Secretary of State Brian Kemp told lawyers from both sides to prepare their arguments, evidence and witnesses for a hearing on Aug. 30 so he can decide where the true county line lies in a disputed wedge of north Macon-Bibb.
Monroe County says its borders should rightfully include part of the Bass Pro Shops complex and some nearby houses south of Interstate 75. Bibb disagrees.
Kemp’s decision should settle which county is in charge of providing public services such as schools and roadwork for the area, as well as whether Macon-Bibb gets to continue collecting the area’s property taxes for schools and the general fund, which are worth roughly $2.1 million a year.
Kemp will draw on surveys, maps and other evidence, including data from a state-appointed surveyor whose 2009 findings he has previously rejected.
The public procedure on Aug. 30 will look just like a hearing in court, complete with cross-examinations.
“Secretary Kemp made it clear that at the final hearing, ... he expects resolution of this issue and full presentation of evidence,” said Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for Kemp’s office.
It’s a dispute that’s outlasted a governor, a secretary of state and numerous county elected officials. Attorney Virgil Adams, representing Macon-Bibb, said he thinks he’s driven to Atlanta nearly 25 times over the years working on the case.
“You would hope that this would be the end of it,” Adams said after the Atlanta meeting.
The border dispute bubbled up after the 2004 announcement that Bass Pro Shops was coming to town. It got the attention of folks in Monroe County who said the border just there was unclear. A Monroe County grand jury called on then-Gov. Sonny Perdue to define the line.
The issue has taken the counties and the secretary of state through several court battles and two appearances at the state Supreme Court. It landed in Kemp’s lap after Monroe took him to court to try and force a decision.
Mike Bilderback, who’s now chairman of the Monroe County Commission, was one of the first to look into the border more than a decade ago. He hasn’t been happy with the way Macon-Bibb and the secretary of state have rejected the survey that was completed in 2009.
“I’m hopeful the secretary of state is genuine in his search for the truth here, and I hope that he will make a decision relatively soon,” he said.
The hours of work by surveyors and attorneys have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Broce said the Aug. 30 proceedings will follow the same rules as an administrative court, and Kemp will — like a judge — make a decision.
It’s possible that one party or the other, if unhappy with Kemp’s ruling, may try to ask a judge to force some other action. But for now, both sides are preparing for the hearing.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.
Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee