Timley, Reichert squabble over proposed parking lot swap at council meeting

Macon City Council President Pro Tem James Timley sparred Monday with Macon Mayor Robert Reichert about the placement of a resolution on Tuesday’s City Council agenda.

The proposed resolution would allow the administration to execute a parking and development agreement involving the city and a group of physicians hoping to convert the Old Shrine building on Poplar Street into medical offices.

The deal would trade a 61-space parking lot off New Street owned by the city in exchange for two smaller lots adjacent to Rosa Parks Square and would allow a group of doctors to complete its purchase of the Old Shrine building.

The Public Properties Committee, which recommended that the resolution be approved, forwarded it to the council’s Ordinance and Resolutions Committee.

But Timley is angry because of a couple of points in the deal, namely that Reichert would use $12,000 of his contingency fund over two years to rent 20 spaces from the group of doctors, and that the city is giving away parking downtown.

Timley argued that the spaces could generate more than $19,000 in revenue, even though the city now uses the spaces for employee parking and hasn’t charged for them in several years.

“That’s money that could be coming to us,” he said.

But Reichert said the resolution merely allows for the contract already negotiated to be executed by putting forth a parking plan, thereby allowing the deal to go forward. Reichert said the city ultimately would benefit in the swap because acquiring those two lots would allow for more development of Rosa Parks Square, giving the city a large, central green space.

In addition, Reichert argued, once the Old Shrine building is refurbished into doctors’ offices, it would go back on the tax digest, giving the city added revenue.

“I think we have ample parking (for city employees),” Reichert told council members emphatically.

“Please, let me get this thing done. ... I’m this close to getting this done. If you approve the parking plan, at least we have the opportunity to look (at other options). Don’t let $12,000 derail this.”

Reichert addressed a point raised by Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, who argued that Reichert shouldn’t be using money from his fund for this project. Reichert pledged to seek additional funding from other sources to repay the money, mentioning the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority and the Peyton Anderson Foundation as entities with whom he would discuss the matter.

Councilman Charles Jones, chairman of the council’s Employee Development and Compensation Committee, argued that if city employees’ parking would change, his committee needed to approve the resolution. Reichert said the city would rent the spaces, to make sure employees could continue to park for the next two years while a new plan is put into place. Reichert said a second city lot on New Street, directly next to the lot the city wants to trade, also could accommodate employees or be used to generate revenue, whichever the council wanted.

Ultimately, the item was placed on Tuesday’s agenda, with Timley the lone dissenting vote.

Council members squabbled about several other items on the agenda, specifically about which committee has oversight of them. Near the end of the meeting, Councilwoman Lauren Benedict noted that instead of debating each item at the Ordinances and Resolutions Committee meetings, council members could hear the items at the proper committee, at which time they could ask questions.

Earlier Monday, during the council’s Appropriations Committee meeting, the committee approved a resolution by Councilman Tom Ellington to create a separate bank account for the city to begin setting aside funds to be used for closing the landfill. The resolution calls for the city to set aside $4.5 million. The city has $450,000 budgeted this year to be put toward that effort.

Though there’s no official date set for when the landfill will close — likely in the next seven years, Ellington said — the city needs to put aside money now to avoid scrambling for the money later, he said.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.