Proposal to cut Macon road funding sparks anger

The three Macon City council members who represent east Macon on Wednesday announced their unified opposition to Mayor Robert Reichert’s plan to partly balance the budget by canceling road paving projects in their ward.

At a news conference they called near the intersection of Howard Street and Tyler Place — two dirt roads residents say should have been paved decades ago — council members Rick Hutto, Lonnie Miley and Elaine Lucas said they would not vote to cut $300,000 that was budgeted for that work, which also includes two additional east Macon roads and three other roads located elsewhere in town.

Reichert has targeted the funding as one potential source of savings as the city faces what could be a $2 million deficit when the fiscal year ends June 30.

“We just simply say ‘No,’ ” Lucas said. “We will not vote for it. We think it would be a total miscarriage to have us delay this thing any longer.”

Council members and residents said they have been waiting for more than 30 years for the east Macon streets to be paved. Bonds issued in 1976 paid for surfacing on all of the surrounding roadways, and council members said that as the years passed administration officials told them there were no dirt roads left in the city. This turned out not to be true, and in 2004, Hutto said, the council began working again to get funding into the budget for the east Macon roads.

“If these streets were anywhere but a poor, black neighborhood, they would have been paved long before now,” Hutto said.

The streets serve a handful of homes off of Shurling Drive. Barbara Howard, who grew up in the house at the end of Howard Street, said the neighborhood was once vibrant. Many residents have since died or moved away, she said, but those who remain continue to wait for the street improvements they said were promised years ago.

“Mayor, will you please pave my street?” she asked. “You live on a paved street. I want to live on one, too.”

Elizabeth McCollum, a Tyler Place resident who has lived there since 1973, said the roadways should have been paved years ago. City officials promised the work would be done but seem now to be reneging on that commitment, she said.

“I’m very disappointed,” she said. “We want our area upgraded just like any other part of town.”

Hutto and Lucas suggested Reichert targeted the road money in retaliation for their votes against a new fuel contract that he had recommended. The pair have been somewhat vocal in their anger over a previous fuel contract they said was mismanaged by the administration after it locked Macon into paying more than $3 per gallon for gasoline.

Fuel costs, and to a greater extent shortfalls in sales tax revenues, are the primary culprits behind Macon’s deficit.

But the council members say savings can be found elsewhere, in ways that don’t involve cutting the road money.

“At this point, it really shouldn’t even be a talking point, because (the work) really should have already been done,” Miley said.

Andrew Blascovich, a spokesman for the mayor, said there is no ill intent. Reichert is simply making suggestions for dealing with the financial troubles based on recommendations from his staff, Blascovich said, and is willing to work with council members on them.

“There’s several options on the table,” Blascovich said.

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.