In the Macon-Bibb County commission District 4 race, the candidates largely agree on how to draw more businesses and industries to the area.
“We have to create a positive atmosphere, and we have to improve our image,” said Theron Ussery, 69, who served on the Macon City Council from 1976 to 1995. “We’ve got the water, we’ve got the location, we’ve got the interstate system. We’ve got to take advantage of our positives, but I think the first thing is to improve our image.”
Ussery faces sitting Macon Councilwoman Beverly Olson, 62, and Realtor Mallory Jones III, 66, for the northwest Bibb County district. About 65 percent of the district is white, and a little more than 25 percent is black, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Elections for mayor and the nine commissioners of the new government are Sept. 17.
Olson said the commission should help promote and support existing economic development groups such as the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority, the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce and the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority.
“We need to be ambassadors of the city,” she said. “It takes everyone working together.”
Jones said the welcome mat should be thrown out for everyone to see.
“You have to say ‘we’re open for business, and we want you here,’ ” he said. “We have to improve the education system so we have a trained or trainable workforce. I think if we can speak with one voice, that will make a tremendous difference with industries looking at Macon.”
The new government is mandated to reduce government spending by 20 percent over the first five years, and the candidates say they will try to get it done.
But Olson said it might not be possible to reduce the budget the first year because she expects there will be a lot of extra costs then.
“I think that’s a good goal to strive for,” she said.
The commission will have to look at the duplication of services and may have to look at reducing personnel who hold the same positions, she said.
“I know no one wants to talk about that,” she said.
Ussery was a little more pessimistic about the reduced-spending goal.
“It’s not realistic, but we are going to have to do what we have to do,” he said. “People wanted an efficient government, and I think the (reduction) was the big selling point.”
Ussery said the goal would be to raise revenue “so we want to increase our tax base, and bringing new industry and business into Macon would (do that). Personnel costs are 70 to 75 percent of your budget, so you have to look at personnel.”
He understands a lot of employees are going to retire, so much of that reduction may be through attrition.
“We might have to cut some services, might have to do some cutting back and may have to do some privatization,” he said.
Jones said he thinks the reduction goal is achievable, and it mostly will come into play the second year.
“Many consolidated governments have found the first year of the new budget was the easiest,” he said. “There will be a lot of attrition. ... There is fat in the county budget and there might be some in the city budget. ... I think we will be a leaner, more efficient government.”
Jones also says the commission will need to look at privatization, “possibly of the trash collection. ... I think we need to look at each department and look at ways to save.”
The candidates praised the work of the existing police department and sheriff’s office, but Olson said the first year of the new government likely will be the hardest for departments.
“There may be some police who are not going to work with the (county) or not be happy,” she said. “This has to be a cohesive group.”
While violent crime numbers are not high, eliminating gangs should be a top priority, she said.
“I think the (special purpose local option sales tax) is helping (the sheriff’s office), and we can always use more officers and we are going to get them,” she said.
Ussery said the sheriff’s office should be provided with the best tools and personnel to get the job done.
“We can’t micromanage it,” he said. “A lot of crime could be solved ... if we provided recreation to help get kids off the street and we get the community involved.”
Jones would like to banish people who commit repeated crimes in Bibb County.
“I would like to see career felons banished from Bibb County and from contiguous counties,” he said. “Violent crime is down, but what’s up are home invasions and entering autos. That’s disturbing because people need to feel safe in their homes.”
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.