Macon approves $70 million general fund budget

Avoiding the last-minute wrangling of last year, the Macon City Council approved a budget Tuesday night for the upcoming fiscal year.

The fiscal 2013 budget passed 12-2, with councilmen Rick Hutto and Lonnie Miley voting against it and Councilman Charles Jones absent.

The general fund budget just tops $70 million, several million less than last year. Most of the savings comes from the impending transfer of several city departments to Bibb County, as required by the service delivery agreement that the city and county signed more than a year ago. Macon is seeing about $500,000 in net financial benefits from the departmental handover, much less than administration officials anticipated.

The budget includes a 0.1-mill property tax decrease and raises for about 350 city employees.

Transferring employees

The council ratified the handover of more than 80 employees and their associated departments as required by the service delivery deal, with one addition: tacking Filmore Thomas Recreation Area onto the list of properties being given to Bibb County.

Engineering, Traffic Engineering, Animal Control, Inspection & Fees and the recreation side of Parks & Recreation are going to the county.

The Filmore Thomas property has remained largely undeveloped for years, but the special purpose local option sales tax approved last November includes $1.5 million to develop it as a recreation area.

That money, however, is going to the county’s coffers; so the city also is handing that land over for the county to work on.

Council members Henry Ficklin and Elaine Lucas complained extensively that the service delivery agreement lacked details, then segued into a denunciation of the city-county consolidation bill that’s up for a public vote July 31.

Under a related item the council approved Tuesday, employees of those departments who have more than five years service will remain in the city pension system, while those with less than five years service will go into the county system with credit for their city seniority.

Fifty-seven of the 86 transferring employees will stay in the city plan, Human Resources Director Ben Hubbard has said.

Central City Park

The council approved another part of the service delivery agreement by ratifying a charter change allowing Central City Park -- along with about 30 other city recreation properties -- to be handed over to Bibb County on July 1. Mayor Robert Reichert wants to hand over all buildings in the park as well, but some council members said they’re not all used for recreation and should remain city property. The fate of the park buildings remains undecided.

Senior Assistant City Attorney Judd Drake has said if the county doesn’t use the buildings for recreation purposes, it must hand them back to the city.

The council approved the park hand-over 10-4, with Jones gone and council members Ficklin, Henry Gibson, Lucas and Miley opposed.

Central Services purchase

An attempt to win final approval for the city purchase of 1000 Seventh St. as a new home for the Central Services Department fell flat in a special Public Properties Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Before the meeting even started, Hutto complained loudly that he and other council members had only been handed a thick packet of documents moments earlier and were now being asked to vote on it.

Reichert proposed that the city buy the former Macon Transfer Co. for $672,500. The council agreed 10-5 on May 14 to buy the building contingent on the results of an independent appraisal, environmental and structural inspections and labor cost estimates.

Hutto said the documents were dated days earlier, so there had been plenty of time for the committee to be given copies. The resolution was swiftly tabled 5-0.

“I hope that will let the administration know not to keep doing this,” Hutto said.

Councilman Ed DeFore said he’s asked that the council get documents at least 48 hours before they’re to be voted on. He agreed that Reichert’s administration apparently sometimes withholds documents deliberately.

Tubman funding

The Tubman African American Museum took another step Tuesday toward getting $2.5 million in special purpose local option sales tax funds. The council agreed without dissent to approve an agreement for the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority to take ownership of the Tubman’s unfinished building. That handover will allow the use of SPLOST money to finish the building.

“It’s an agreement that is as minimally invasive to the Tubman’s operation as possible,” said Alex Morrison, executive director of the Urban Development Authority.

Andy Ambrose, executive director of the Tubman, said the agreement will trigger matching pledges from the Peyton Anderson Foundation and Robert Woodruff Foundation. With that money in hand, construction can start this year, with completion expected in 2014, Ambrose said. He said Monday he needed about $6.5 million to restart construction, which he would have with the $2.5 million from the city. Some other money will come after construction begins, he said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.