Macon officials agree to service delivery extension for Bibb, Payne City

Macon City Council agreed Tuesday to a 15 month extension of service delivery negotiations with Bibb County and Payne City, although members did not initially wish to do so.

In approving the extension, the council reversed course from Monday’s decision by the Appropriations Committee to shorten the proposed deadline from September 2010 to March 2010. The committee had wanted a shorter time frame so that an agreement more favorable to the city could be put in place before the budgeting process began in fiscal 2011.

The state requires the three governments to produce a service delivery strategy that describes which one will be responsible for delivering specific services to Bibb residents. How the document is put together can determine resources available to each government, and ultimately affects how residents are taxed and the quality of services they are provided.

It took a Tuesday afternoon visit from Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart to prompt the full council to sign on to the extension as first proposed. Hart told council members it would be problematic for the city to change the date because the county and Payne City would also have to agree to the switch in a short timeframe. Some action had to be taken by June 30, the most recent deadline for talks to be completed, or all three governments would have lost eligibility for state grants.

Hart said he is open to addressing some of the city’s concerns about how negotiations are being handled. But he and Mayor Robert Reichert said 15 months is needed to fully complete the talks.

The timeline also will give negotiators a chance to bring items back to their respective legislative bodies for consideration as they are completed, they said.

“Our thinking was we needed enough time to get things done,” Hart said.

Top administrative officials from each government have been meeting since January.

So far, they have identified three priorities to work on that were deemed “low hanging fruit”: funding for cultural activities, consolidation of engineering functions and combined responsibility for animal control.

Council members have been upset that they weren’t consulted before those priorities were identified.

They feel like broader, more consequential discussions about equity in taxation should be occurring instead. Administration officials say they will get to that later, after creating templates from which to work.

The council has been sensitive to these negotiations because it feels the city currently is on the wrong end of its relationship with the county.

This viewpoint goes back several years, when the county outmaneuvered the city while determining how local sales tax revenue should be split.

“The city really hasn’t been in a position to negotiate anything with the county,” said Appropriations Chairman Mike Cranford, who ultimately agreed to heed Hart’s plea as long as the council gets monthly updates on service delivery discussions. “We’ve been left out in the cold as far as we’re concerned.”

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.