A tax cut is coming for residents who live within the old Macon city limits, while residents of the formerly unincorporated area of Bibb County won’t see a change in this year’s property tax rates.
Macon-Bibb County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to set property tax rates, leaving the former Bibb County rate unchanged while rolling the formerly separate fire protection fee into the base amount.
Because of the fire fee, this year’s tax rate legally had to be advertised as a tax hike. But there’s no net effect for taxpayers in the formerly unincorporated parts of Bibb, and residents in the former city limits should see a tax cut that’s roughly $80 on a house valued at $100,000, officials said.
For the first time the fire fee also is being applied to property owners within the old Macon boundaries, but half of the city’s separate property tax is being cut.
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The other half will go away next year, but the consolidated government -- with a budget that’s already $10 million below the former city-county combined budgets -- couldn’t afford to eliminate the whole city tax at one time, Mayor Robert Reichert and other officials have said.
The millage rate for residents of the former unincorporated county is 14.652 mills, while residents in the former city limits will pay 19.502 mills. That doesn’t include education taxes, which are set by the Bibb County school board.
Just before Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners held the last of three required public hearings on the tax rate. The only speaker at Tuesday’s hearing was former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis, who said all of the old city tax should have been repealed this year. In lieu of that income, the government should have sought other sources, he said. Ellis proposed a $25,000 to $30,000 annual fee on convenience store owners whose businesses have gaming machines, which he said are commonly used for gambling.
He also said the government should demand utility franchise fees from companies that provide Internet and video services.
In a last-minute addition to the agenda, commissioners voted 8-0 to buy the 0.7-acre lot at 656 Emery Highway from Walthall Oil Co. for $75,000. The purchase was discussed in a closed session before the meeting.
Reichert said the city is buying the land -- a lot next to historic Fort Hawkins -- to protect it from development. The mayor said it will remain as green space. Commissioner Gary Bechtel abstained from the vote since he works for the seller’s agent, Bob Lewis & Associates Inc.
Commissioners unanimously ratified nearly $10 million in appropriations to 15 agencies that got extensive debate and initial approval during earlier discussions on the fiscal 2015 budget, which was approved in June. The actual contracts were presented for final approval Tuesday. They range from $67,500 for the Historic Hills & Heights Development Corp. to $2.8 million for the Middle Georgia Regional Library.
Macon-Bibb officials are seeking a comprehensive study on identifying blight, its causes and finding money to fight it. A resolution authorizing such a study passed unanimously, as did a second to explore the idea of funding an initial anti-blight campaign with a bond issue.
Commissioner Bert Bivins said others have discussed paying for anti-blight efforts through the next special purpose local option sales tax, but that’s several years away.
“People don’t want to wait. That’s a huge problem,” he said. Though local authorities have tried various strategies for tackling blight in the past two decades, the number of empty and crumbling houses continues to increase, Bivins said.
Bechtel urged looking at major bank and mortgage companies that have made “large settlements” in recent years for their actions during the mortgage crisis. Some of the money from those legal penalties is supposed to be available to fight blight, he said.
Commissioners approved a $2.1 million with C.W. Matthews Contracting Co. of Marietta to rebuild parts of 30 streets, just over 6 miles, all of it in the former unincorporated area.
A similar list of streets within the former city is now out for bid, County Engineer David Fortson has said. The work will be paid for with money set aside in the current SPLOST, Assistant County Manager Steve Layson said.
Fortson said work should begin in 30 to 45 days. The affected streets are:
Brookside Drive, Carey Drive, Carriage Trail, Charles Drive, Clairmont Place, Cordell Court, Corey Court, Dana Drive, Dobson Road, Elnora Drive, Fausett Drive, Feagin Road, Francis Drive, Franklinton Road, Lawrence Drive South, Level Acres Drive South, Misty Valley Drive, Powers Plantation Court, Prestwick Park, Randy Drive, St. Anne Court, St. Anthony’s Drive, Stratford Hills Drive, Taylor Terrace, Tharpe Court, Treyburne Way, Stonefield Drive, Vance Circle, Willowdale Drive and Woodmere Trail.
Commissioners voted unanimously to bring Macon-Bibb standards on animal care, animal abandonment and tethering into alignment with state law, but Commissioner Al Tillman said he hoped effort would go into educating the public before penalties start.
The ordinances will raise the fine for not controlling or caring for an animal to $75 for a first offense; to $150 for abandoning an animal; and $100 for tethering or transporting an animal illegally. Subsequent offenses have higher fines.
The laws also will add a $5 fee to each citation, with the money to be used for training Animal Welfare officers.
Tillman said he only recently learned that tying a dog outside was illegal.
“In the community I grew up in, tying up your dog in the backyard was normal,” he said.
Commissioner Scotty Shepherd said Animal Welfare officers will give warnings and information to first offenders. Reichert said he thinks the greatest concern is for animals tied up without shelter, food or water.
Georgia Behavioral Health Services will get $299,994 in federal HOME Program funds to build a group home for six disabled residents. The money will be used to gut and expand a donated duplex at 980 Schaffer Place, said Cass Hatcher, the agency’s director of facilities and housing development. Georgia Behavioral Health Services already has eight such group homes scattered through local neighborhoods, he said.
Federal HOME funds only can be spent on projects such as this, said Julie Moore, assistant to the county manager for budget and planning.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.