Reichert wants county to delay SPLOST vote

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert is asking Bibb County officials to consider moving a sales tax vote from July to November so the city and county can complete a new service delivery strategy first.

He said he also hopes the county will agree to having an impartial mediator expedite negotiations for the service delivery strategy, which looks at issues such as services and double taxation.

The mayor met Wednesday evening with City Council to discuss the talks that took place earlier in the day between county officials and Buddy Welch, the Atlanta attorney hired by Macon to handle negotiations with the county for a new service delivery strategy.

For the past couple of weeks, the city and county have debated whether it’s essential to complete negotiations for a new service delivery strategy before finalizing an agreement that details how to spend money from a proposed special purpose local option sales tax. The tax would pay for a variety of city and county needs, chiefly a new courthouse.

After Wednesday’s talks with Welch, Bibb County Attorney Virgil Adams agreed to draft a plan and timeline for service delivery strategy negotiations. That plan could come after Tuesday’s commission meeting, but he said fruitful talks can’t happen before the April 30 deadline to finalize the SPLOST ballot.

Adams said commissioners earlier indicated the talks really can’t start up again until July, because the county first needs to work on its budget and finalize paperwork for the SPLOST election. He also repeated the county’s position that the SPLOST and service delivery strategy agreement, while both important, have no connection.

“As a practical matter, this can’t get done in time for the SPLOST deadlines. As a practical matter, it just won’t happen,” Adams said. “And these are totally two separate issues.”

Later in the day, Welch told council members he’s disappointed that county officials are not prepared to discuss the service delivery strategy in detail.

“You may have cause for potential litigation on your hands,” Welch told the council before their meeting was closed.

After the meeting, Reichert said, “the threat of litigation is there, but we’re nowhere close to that right now. We’re all family here.”

Welch, who represents 15 cities in Gwinnett County in a lawsuit against Gwinnett County over service delivery strategy negotiations, was not forthcoming with details about the potential for litigation either.

Instead, he said, “We’re going to work real hard with the county and put in the time and effort to get this resolved.”

Claiming consensus by city officials on the matter, Reichert said delaying the SPLOST vote until November would give the city and the county time to complete talks for the service delivery strategy. That agreement, he said, is “necessary” before asking residents to vote to give officials $183 million in SPLOST money.

Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said he was surprised to hear about the request to delay the SPLOST vote.

He said he thought city and county officials already had agreed to work from the plan the county promised to deliver. The request, however, doesn’t change his mind about when the SPLOST vote should be held.

“I still think the best time is now, to just get it done with,” Hart said.

He said doesn’t want the SPLOST on the same ballot as statewide races in November.

He said he didn’t want it to be confusing and didn’t want voters to “get mixed up with what they’re voting on.”

He said, however, he is open to continued talks.

“We’re still going to do the best thing for the community, and that may be it,” he said, referring to delaying the SPLOST vote. “But I’m not ready to give up on it just yet.”

To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.