Macon City Council taps SPLOST to help budget

With little dissent, the Macon City Council on Tuesday approved a plan to pull $1.8 million out of the city’s excess SPLOST fund to help balance a $2 million shortfall that administration officials have said will occur by the time the fiscal year ends June 30.

Revenues have started to slip significantly, and the city is burning through fuel at a rate that will carry it hundreds of thousands of dollars beyond what officials planned to spend.

The excess SPLOST funds would be used to reimburse general fund expenses that were covered by the tax in previous years but were not this year. About $9 million in SPLOST money has been set aside and left alone this year because it represents funds collected beyond the amount voters authorized when they approved the tax in 2005.

The council voted 13-2 to use the penny tax proceeds. Most council members say that the funds offer the best way for dealing with slowed revenue streams and hope they can use them instead of resorting to cuts in capital expenditures that Mayor Robert Reichert has proposed.

“We need to plug the hole for this year,” Appropriations Chairman Mike Cranford said. At the same time, he said, the city may need to start looking at the possibility of raising property taxes should the recession drag on beyond this year. It has been several years since Macon raised its millage rate.

But Councilman Erick Erickson, who along with Councilwoman Nancy White voted against using the SPLOST funds, said by using the money now the council is putting the city in an untenable position down the road. Tom Barber, Macon’s finance director, has recommended the funds be saved to deal with an economic downturn that he says could continue to cut deeper and may last for several years.

“We’re probably going to need this money for harder times,” Erickson said.

Reichert has somewhat begrudingly agreed to go along with the council’s wishes for the SPLOST money. But he has said he will ask them to also consider cuts to capital expenditures, including road paving, the city’s truancy program and improvements to the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.

Discussion of Macon finances will continue today and Thursday, as the Appropriations Committee holds mid-year budget reviews with department heads. Cranford said council members will look at adjustments that may be needed in departments that are outpacing their spending plans.

“Slash and burn,” he said, half-joking.

Also on Tuesday, Reichert honored two Maconites with proclamations.

The first, Julliard-trained violinist Robert McDuffie, played two musical selections for the crowded council chamber, including the church hymn “How Great Thou Art.” He said it was a song he grew up with at First Presbyterian Church.

“I hope this sets a good tone for your meeting,” he told the council.

McDuffie, who now lives in New York, has appeared as a soloist with most of the world’s major orchestras. He uses a $3.5 million violin once played by 19th-century virtuosos Nicolò Paganini and Ludwig Spohr. McDuffie is also the namesake for Mercer University’s Robert McDuffie Center for Strings, where he is a distinguished professor of music.

Also receiving recognition from the city was Maliek Montgomery, a Macon eighth-grader who took second place this month in the National Silver Gloves Boxing Tournament in Missouri. Montgomery is ranked first in the country, said Sam Henderson, an aide to Reichert, and is the first member of the Middle Georgia Boxing Club to compete on the national level.

“I think we have a lot to be proud of when we have a young man doing the kind of things this young man is doing,” Henderson said.

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.