Macon-Bibb commission adopts budget with tax-rate hike

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert
Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert bcabell@macon.com

The Macon-Bibb County Commission adopted a new budget Tuesday that includes a property tax hike.

The $149.9 million general fund budget approved in a 6-3 vote includes a 3-mill increase. The additional property tax revenue will cover increased expenses in public safety, recreation and other areas, as well as prevent the county from further dipping into the reserves, Mayor Robert Reichert has said.

A final public hearing and vote is needed later this month to finalize the millage rate increase.

Commissioners Larry Schlesinger, Scotty Shepherd, Al Tillman, Virgil Watkins, Gary Bechtel and Elaine Lucas voted in favor of the budget. Commissioners Bert Bivins, Mallory Jones and Joe Allen opposed the budget.

The new millage rate, not including the Bibb school district rate, would go to 17.652 mills. A 3-mill increase means about $99 more this year for property valued at $100,000.

In the fiscal 2017 budget, the county was able to meet a 20 percent reduction required for the consolidation of Macon and Bibb County in 2014. Bivins said a resolution asking state legislators to reduce the mandated amount should have gained more traction.

“I think we could have done some things that could have put us in a different place where even if we needed to raise taxes, it would have been by a less amount,” he said.

An amendment to remove $451,000 of the budget dedicated to indigent care for Navicent Health failed to get approval at Tuesday’s meeting. Jones advocated using the money to instead fund nine Macon-Bibb positions in departments he said are understaffed.

The $451,000 represents about 3 percent of the $15 million in indigent care Navicent provided over the last year.

Bechtel was the only commissioner to join Jones in supporting the measure.

Jones said with Navicent being exempt from paying taxes on property, along with hundreds of millions in reserves, taxypayers’ money for indigent care could be better spent.

“We have a critical need to hire employees,” Jones said.

Allen and Tillman spoke about the level of service they have received during hospital stays at Navicent facilities and the important care the Medical Center provides for the community.

“Are we going to start taxing other nonprofits?” Allen said. “We go after those we least need to go after.”

The need for the property tax increase comes after Macon-Bibb faced budget deficits in recent years, causing the county to reach into the reserve fund for more than $15 million.

The county will also increase its pension fund contributions by more than $1 million in the new budget.

The 2018 budget includes pay raises for firefighters and sheriff’s deputies plus additional staffing in some departments.

Also, the animal control portion of the Animal Welfare Department will move under the umbrella of the sheriff’s office.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Baseball agreement

Commissioners also agreed Tuesday to a letter of intent for a summer collegiate baseball team to play in Macon.

The agreement with team owner SRO Partners moves Macon-Bibb closer to a Coastal Plain League team playing at historic Luther Williams Field. The county could also spend up to $2.5 million for upgrades to the ball field, which was approved in a separate ordinance Tuesday.

The improvements to Luther Williams will have to be voted on by commissioners once the designs are completed.

The letter of intent says SRO Partners will pay Macon-Bibb $50,000-$55,000 annually over a 10 year period for use of the Central City Park stadium.

The inaugural season would start in the summer of 2018.

Several lower-tiered baseball teams— Macon Peaches, Macon Music and Macon Pinetoppers — have had brief runs playing at Luther Williams since the departure of an Atlanta Braves affiliate in 2002.

In other business Tuesday, commissioners also approved:

▪  A $2.23 million construction agreement with Warren Associates Inc. to build a new senior citizens center in Central City Park. The funding will come from 2012 special purpose local option sales tax proceeds and the sale of the current senior center Adams Street property.

▪  Using $750,000 of 2017 SPLOST bond funds for a new multipurpose sports complex that would be built at Hartley Elementary School, 2230 Anthony Road.

▪  $2.9 million to purchase equipment and for engineering services in preparation for the closure of the main landfill. The funding comes from SPLOST bond funds.

▪  A $1 million agreement with contractor Sam Hall and Sons for an extension to the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail. The county will use SPLOST bond funds and a grant from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

▪  A denial of the renewal of an alcohol licenses at Super Gas convenience store, also known as M&M Grocery. Sheriff’s deputies have responded to more than 140 calls at the 2760 Montpelier Ave. store since 2016.

Stanley Dunlap: 478-744-4623, @stan_telegraph