As we barrel down the road to consolidation there is one part of House Bill 1171 that is increasingly looking thorny. Section 23 is the part of the bill that defines the budget of the new government. While it was a nice gesture to placate those who believe there is always waste in government, the section basically requires a 20 percent reduction in spending by the 2019 fiscal year. Basically, 5 percent per year, starting in fiscal year 2016.
That may be a tough nut to crack. Certainly by 2019 all of the duplicative positions will have been eliminated, but even as we speak, there are other expenses that will be unavoidable. For example, there are three new fire stations that will be online long before we hit FY 2019. Each station will employ about 24 firefighters. While the stations and equipment can be funded by the SPLOST, the maintenance and operation of those stations will fall on the consolidated government’s taxpayers. Same will be true with staffing for the new Juvenile Justice Center. While the combination of the Macon Police Department and the Sheriffs Department will provide some flexibility, it’s not known exactly what skill sets will be appropriate for the center. Law enforcement, by its very nature, concentrates its efforts in taking lawbreakers off the street, not always providing and monitoring alternatives.
Another element the new commission has little influence over are the constitutional officers. That means the commission’s hands will be tied to some respect.
There is a loophole written into the law at line 748. “The budget limits established by subsection (b) of this section may be exceeded by not more than 25 percent in any given year if extreme economic circumstances require or if additional expenditures for public safety purposes are needed but only by a vote of six of the nine commissioners ...”
The new commission has to understand that the voting public has a short memory. While they’ll remember the promise of a 20 percent cut, they will quickly forget the added personnel costs necessary for maintaining a Class I fire department that saves money on insurance costs to most of the county’s property owners.