Reichert, Macon council hold closed session on service delivery

Macon City Council closed a work session for about 30 minutes Tuesday as Macon Mayor Robert Reichert briefed council members on the negotiations for a new Service Delivery Strategy agreement with Bibb County.

The meeting was closed under a clause in the Georgia Open Meetings law that allows a government body to close a public meeting when discussing pending or potential litigation.

Macon City Attorney Pope Langstaff told council members prior to the work session that since either the city or Bibb County could bring litigation against the other party should the agreement not be resolved by Oct. 31, they were allowed to close the meeting.

Reichert told members that he, Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart and Payne City Mayor Sharon Mobley each received a letter for the state’s Department of Community Affairs, warning them that should an agreement not be reached or an extension filed by that date, each government would lose their qualified local government status.

That would mean none of the government entities would be eligible to receive grants, loans, financial assistance or permits from the state until the issue is resolved.

“We recommend that the county and the cities act expeditiously on this matter,” the letter read.

Macon and Bibb County have been locked in negotiations for months to renew the agreement. Most recently, both sides agreed to a tax equity study conducted by the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia. The results of the study have yet to be released.

“That tax equity study is a crucial piece of information,” Councilman Tom Ellington said. “It allows us to be confident that there’s been a fair assessment over what we are talking about. It’s an objective way to see what the facts really are.”

Some Macon city officials have expressed concerns that city residents are being doubly taxed by the city and county.

Officials declined to get into specifics Tuesday as to what the city’s strategy would be should an agreement not be reached by Oct. 31. The cities or the county could ask the state for another extension that would give the entities until Feb. 28 to come to an agreement.

Or, any of the parties could file litigation and invoke a dispute resolution process in court. Reichert said all of the governments could then ask the court to hold any punitive actions by the state in abeyance until the matter is resolved.

Councilman Rick Hutto joked that the process will last “ad infinitum.”

“All I can do is express my frustration,” he said.

In other business during Tuesday’s work session, Reichert informed council members he was in Washington, D.C., last week to learn more about federal plans for high-speed passenger rail service. He said Georgia has lagged far behind other states in the region such as Florida or North Carolina in obtaining federal Department of Transportation grants, known as TIGER II grants.

Reichert said the city is seeking three TIGER II grants: the first, in conjunction with the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, is for a $325,000 planning grant to study light rail options in Middle Georgia; the second, in conjunction with Georgians For Passenger Rail Service, is for $2.87 million to plan for rail service between Macon and Atlanta; and the third, in conjunction with the Piedmont Alliance For Quality Growth, is for $1.8 million to study rail service between the Atlanta-Charlotte, N.C., corridor.

Reichert told the council he hopes to hear about the grants in October.

Reichert also gave the council an update as to where the city is with payments to the pension fund for retired city police and fire workers. He told the members that the council would need to find money not set aside in the budget to meet a budget shortfall from the last audit of the fund.

Staff writer Jim Gaines contributed to this report.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.