Tax increase may be coming for Bibb, Hart warns

Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart warned members of three Rotary clubs Monday that a tax increase could be imminent.

He said the county government’s finances are generally sound. But with the end of sales-tax money that backed a lower property-tax rate, property tax rates could have to climb 2 mills. That would be about a 20-percent increase.

“Those funds have been expended, and we still have a revenue gap of approximately $8.8 million,” Hart said. “As we look at closing the gap, everything will be on the table, including those 2 mills.”

Hart’s talk was the most public yet of what other county commissioners have said in committee meetings or in interviews. The current-year budget calls for tapping $9.4 million in reserves, or about a third of the cash the county has.

In a speech before the Macon, Uptown and Downtown Rotary clubs at the Coliseum’s Monument Room, Hart said the county government’s “financial picture remains bright” despite difficult times. The county has seen its bond ratings with Moody’s improve, auditors gave a clean bill of health for a third year in a row, and its power bills have dropped more than $100,000 because of “green” initiatives.

But Hart said the county still has challenges. At the end of this month a fight about the location of the Bibb-Monroe county border is scheduled to go to court.

Bibb County also faces a Feb. 28 deadline -- its fourth deadline -- to come to an agreement with Macon’s government over how to share services.

Hart said no formal talks through a mediator have been scheduled, but informal discussions continue, and he said he remains hopeful a service delivery strategy can be signed.

“Litigation helps no one,” Hart said.

And while voters turned down a special-purpose local-option sales tax in July, Hart said problems that the SPLOST money would have addressed -- an unsafe courthouse, cramped Juvenile Court facilities, a troubled emergency radio system and more -- remain.

“For me, I still believe a SPLOST is the best answer, but that has to go to you” he said, referring to voters.

Hart said the county is also eyeing opportunities at Lake Tobesofkee, where master planners have proposed building a water park, cabins and other amenities. Commissioners plan to review the proposal in the coming months.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.