Monroe County newspaper ad beckons Macon 'tax refugees'

“Welcome tax refugees,” a full-page advertisement in Wednesday’s edition of The Monroe County Reporter newspaper began. “Monroe County welcomes more Bibb County tax refugees fleeing higher taxes.”

The ad, issued by the newspaper itself, was planned to raise community pride in Monroe County and Forsyth. But it wound up raising some eyebrows in Macon.

The ad claims a $852 difference in property taxes on a $200,000 home in the two cities.

“This apparent savings would actually be the most expensive mistake you ever made,” Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said. “If you want to live out on a farm and have horses, that’s one thing. If they’re trying to make the case that you ought to move out to Monroe County for economic reasons, that’s false logic.”

Reichert said increased homeowner insurance costs because of less fire protection alone would make up the tax difference.

Will Davis, publisher and editor of The Monroe County Reporter, said he’d planned to run a similar ad years ago when Jack Ellis left the Macon mayor’s office. Many current Monroe County residents fled Macon then, he said, and more continue to leave because of perceived problems with schools and taxes.

“C. Jack Ellis may have been the best mayor Monroe County ever had,” he said.

Davis said he hoped the ad would stoke community pride, particularly among residents in the Bolingbroke area who may feel more connected to Macon than Monroe County or Forsyth.

“We’re always looking for something good to say about our hometown, Monroe County, and one way we come off looking really good to Bibb County is the taxes we pay,” he said.

Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said taxes are only part of the story, because taxes pay for services. Macon and Bibb County residents benefit from superior fire and water services that improve the quality of life and lower insurance costs, for example, though residents may be less satisfied with services from the schools.

Hart acknowledged that Monroe County schools have an excellent reputation.

Monroe County Commissioner Michael Bilderback, who is married to a school board member, found himself pondering the tradeoffs between services and taxes. Monroe County’s small population gets an oversized tax boost from a Georgia Power station, but the schools are still considering staffing cuts.

“Anybody can run a county or a school system in good times, but now we’re finding out who serves the public,” Bilderback said.

The tax calculations in the ad included a typo and the use of projected, rather than approved, tax rates. The ad cites Forsyth taxes on a $200,000 home at $2,330 and taxes on the Macon home at $3,182, a difference of $852. The Telegraph’s calculations show the Forsyth home, with a homestead exemption, would have a tax bill of about $1,981, $793 cheaper than the $2,774 bill in Macon.

Davis’ ad incorporates two complete stories from The Telegraph about tax increases by the Bibb County school board and the Macon City Council. One of the stories carries a different headline.

The closing text of the full-page color ad: “Thank you Macon and Bibb County officials for doing your part to help Monroe County continue to grow.”

Davis said the paper would have sold such an ad for about $973.

Reichert said gas costs from a commute also would more than offset the savings in taxes, and Macon offers special attractions and a different quality of life. Some people have tried Monroe County, then returned to Macon, he said.

“I’ve got friends who moved out to Monroe County and literally got so tired of driving back and forth, they moved back to town,” Reichert said.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.