The news of the first budget proposal from the mayor of the Macon-Bibb County consolidated government sent shock waves through the not-for-profit sector. For decades, the city and county governments have supported arts organizations. Mayor Robert Reichert’s proposal would reduce county contributions to the Museum of Arts and Sciences and the Tubman African American Museum by $500,000.
The idea that the county should get out of the quality of life business has been around for some time. Former county Commissioner Elmo Richardson, also a former chairman of the MAS board, floated the idea every budget season, but political pressure from the museums’ supporters kept them in the budget. MAS has a slight advantage when it comes to securing county money. By virtue of their positions, the mayor, Bibb County superintendent of schools, school board president, Superior Court judge and the chairman for the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce serve as trustees for the museum.
The Tubman is a different story. Although $2.5 million in SPLOST funds are going to finish construction of the new facility along with $1.5 million from the Peyton Anderson Foundation, $1 million from NewTown Macon, congressional appropriations of about $830,000 and a Woodruff Foundation grant of about $200,000, the county does not own the museum, but the Urban Development Authority does own the building. Operational funding has long been a question. The executive director of the Tubman, Andy Ambrose, said the museum would probably have to close until more funding is secured. Susan Welsh said the doors of the MAS would remain open, but the programming would suffer.
So what to do? Choices have to be made. The consolidation legislation requires the new government to cut its budget by 20 percent within five years. The county has a juvenile justice center that will have to be staffed and two fire stations coming on line. The Animal Welfare facility will also need additional personnel.
Reichert’s aim to equalize taxes between former city and county residents is laudable. He has made it plain that eliminating funding for the museums is something he’d rather not do, however, he has made that choice.
Now it’s time for taxpayers and the other commissioners to chime in. The mayor’s 2015 budget is 5.6 percent, almost $10 million, under the 2014 budget. A community’s priorities can be seen in where it spends its money.
Maybe once and for all this community can put to rest the question of whether quality of life is one of those priorities.