Tax increase unlikely as Bibb leaders agree on budget cuts

Bibb County leaders agreed on most of the budget cuts to avoid next week’s planned tax increase.

But they agreed on little else during a contentious meeting Thursday.

In the end, a 3-2 vote to slash about $1.7 million from the current budget means the County Commission probably can do a full rollback on taxes at its meeting Tuesday. If so, the average property owner wouldn’t get a tax increase from the county government this year.

Commissioners successfully rescinded a plan to furlough employees on Memorial Day instead of paying them for the holiday. That $119,936 still needs to be cut from the budget by Tuesday to fill the rest of a $1.8 million revenue shortfall. Commissioners also agreed to delay $165,000 worth of road repaving repairs.

But commissioners split 2-3 on a motion to pay $250,000 promised to River Edge Behavioral Health Center for repairs to a drug and alcohol treatment home. Commissioner Elmo Richardson said the agency simply picked a contractor and did the project, violating an agreement that the agency would use county bidding procedures.

“State statutes do not allow us to fund something like that,” he said.

River Edge released a year-old memo to three county officials discussing its “understanding of the bid, payment, and reimbursement process.” The agency said it followed the memo and kept updated a county official, who praised the agency for its handling.

In the meeting, County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said the county should ask department heads and employees to suggest cuts to cover the River Edge money instead.

Edwards is a River Edge board member. He made the failed motion to keep that money in the budget.

“It’s out there as a thing we may very well be on the hook for,” he said.

Separately, County Commission Chairman Sam Hart drew fire from Probate Court Judge William Self, who noted that Hart ended the County Commission meeting without asking if any of the elected officials he’d invited wanted to say anything.

He, like Edwards and County Commissioner Joe Allen, said they weren’t invited to last week’s news conference when Hart and Richardson proposed the cuts.

“If we had met with you, perhaps we could have come up with some cuts,” Self said. “But we get surprised by a press conference that you call, knowing full well that it involved the other elected officials.”

Hart said his office was open every day and he was available to talk any time. Self repeated that, then said no county commissioner had ever come to his office to discuss his department’s needs or its budget.

Self said later that Bibb County has a long history of trying to force other elected officials’ employees.

He said nine offices are not under the commissioners’ direct control: those of the sheriff, district attorney, State Court judge, State Court solicitor, Civil and Magistrate judge, coroner, tax commissioner, clerk of court and Probate Court judge. The county budget shows those offices have about 557 of the county’s 821 employees, or more than two-thirds.

Besides the proposed-and-shot-down furloughs, the original slate of cuts included the slashing of nearly all take-home vehicles across the county’s departments. Those proposed vehicle cuts remain in place.

The budget will come up again at Tuesday’s commission meetings. A public hearing on the proposed 1-mill increase remains scheduled for 6 p.m., though that is not expected to pass. Hart said commissioners united on rolling back taxes.

“I think we just disagreed on where those cuts came from,” he said.

Separately, he said much of what’s been cut, such as road paving and plans to buy south Bibb County properties that are encroaching on Robins Air Force Base, are still needed and will have to be funded in next year’s budget, which starts in July.

Bibb County schools are raising taxes this fiscal year by 1 mill, or about $33 on a $100,000 house.

Macon has proposed a 13.51-percent tax increase, with a final hearing set for 3 p.m. Tuesday.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.