Reichert sees more cuts on horizon for city of Macon

Over the past 10 years, Macon’s revenue streams from property taxes and sales taxes have swapped places, causing the city to depend more heavily on property taxes to pay its bills.

In 2000, the city collected about $14.5 million from property taxes and $23.7 million from sales taxes. In 2005, property taxes and sales taxes each brought in about $18.5 million.

In a letter to property owners that went out with tax bills last summer, the city anticipated about $18.6 million from sales taxes and $19.7 million from property taxes this year.

The economy has been so bad, however, that Finance Director Tom Barber said it looks like the city will only collect about $17.5 million from sales taxes, down from $19.8 million in 2008.

To make financial matters worse, the money the city collects from Georgia Power in franchise fees is down about $425,000 from last year.

The revenue decline in those areas, officials said, is what makes the proposed property tax increase so crucial. While the city made several cuts to its fiscal 2010 spending plan, such as reducing fuel costs and laying off 31 employees, the revenue shortfall has created a $2 million gap, with just less than four months left in the fiscal year.

Mayor Robert Reichert said the city can find more cuts in the fiscal 2011 budget, but without more revenue from property taxes, balancing the 2010 budget — required by state law — will be almost impossible.

Even with a tax increase, the mayor said, “I’m afraid we’ll have to do additional cutting.”

For now, he favors furloughing employees on the Memorial Day holiday, making it an unpaid holiday. But Reichert said there isn’t much else left for the city to cut.

Councilman Alveno Ross said the same: “We’re beyond the bone now.”

Looking to the fiscal 2011 budget year, which begins in July, Barber said, “Operational expenses are about as low as we can get them. Our costs are in personnel.”

Though budget negotiations haven’t begun yet, he said the city will explore a number of options.

Council members Nancy White and Erick Erickson said they want to revive the effort to end health-care coverage for city retirees, which they say could save millions. The measure never made it out of committee last year.

Barber said other changes may be coming to the city’s health-care plan, like charging employees more money if they smoke.

“We’ve got to have something we can afford,” Barber said.

He also thinks the city would benefit from investing in improvements at the Macon Coliseum, which has been losing about $1 million a year. Barber said walking from the new hotel through the recently upgraded convention center to the Coliseum is “like going from Buckhead to East Point.”

If improvements are made, Barber said, Coliseum management will be able to attract “tier one” performers who would could sell out shows and help end the city’s annual subsidy of the Coliseum.

“In your third or fourth year, if you book enough shows, you can make back your money, and after that, you’re making money,” he said.

Regardless, he said, the city will consider all options for saving money in the 2011 budget. Until then, he said, Macon needs the property tax increase to pay for 2010.

To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.

Related stories from Macon Telegraph