A new Macon-Bibb County commissioner could play a pivotal role in whether people pay more property taxes this year.
Three candidates are vying for the seat left vacant by Gary Bechtel, who is running for state legislature. And a new commissioner’s single vote could be the deciding factor for a budget that now proposes increasing the millage rate by 3.7 mills. That would mean a home with a value of $100,000 would cost the property owner an additional $122 if approved.
Each of the candidates for County Commission District 1, which covers a part of north Macon, said they do not support a property tax increase. Instead, they said they're in favor of changes to employee pension plans and healthcare, both areas that have exacerbated the financial challenges, and more tactful spending to solve the budget woes.
"We can't keep putting the burden on our property owners to carry the financial problems of the city," candidate Valerie Wynn said. "We need to look at other ways to do it."
Her two opponents in the Tuesday special election, C.L. Neville and Lynn Wood, also say there are some tough decisions that need to be made since the county is on track for another deficit.
This would mark the fourth consecutive year there is a multi-million dollar shortfall for the county, now leaving Macon-Bibb with about $4 million in its rainy day fund.
The dilemma commissioners are dealing with in the coming weeks is making budget reductions or other changes to make up the $15 million in extra revenue the 3.7 mill increase is projected to bring in.
"When we consolidated obviously the whole idea was to to have less staff and less duplication," Wood said. "Certainly we have done that to a degree, but I don’t’ think we started early enough. We have too many employees left out there from city of Macon and Bibb County days that can be cut or ... go to part time. "
A couple of ideas Neville said he would like to investigate are reducing the number of employees at the Tax Commissioner's Office outside of property tax season and only allowing sheriff's deputies to drive county vehicles to their homes.
"I don't know of any other employees who should be driving home on a daily basis," said Neville, a retiree of the Air Force National Guard.
Wynn and Wood also say more cuts in funding should be made to some of the agencies the county provides money to on an annual basis. Mayor Robert Reichert's proposed budget calls for a total of $9.4 million going to agencies such as Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful and several museums.
That would be down from $10.7 million in the current budget.
Wynn said she prefers to see funding to most of the partnering agencies cut by 50 percent in the upcoming budget. The county can't afford at this time to be funding outside agencies, she said.
"They need to find their own ways to be self-sufficient," Wynn said. "And they can do it. They just need to think outside of the box."
A Macon-Bibb committee has been tasked with making recommendations for changes to healthcare and pension plans. A County Commission ordinance is being drafted that would have employees contribute 4 percent to the pension, which would save about $2 million over 12 months. Employees don't currently contribute to the pension.
Wynn, Wood and Neville said the county's pension system needs to change to a 401K. Wood says he would like to see that contribution moved to 6 or 7 percent.
"Right now if they come work for Macon-Bibb County and enter the pension system, if they were to quit, get fired, or move away after three years of working, they get no pension," Wood said. "Whereas if they are contributing into the system, they walk away with part of their pension."
Neville said county leaders need to get a better grasp on spending in the future, so it doesn't hit Macon residents in the pocketbooks come tax time.
"I definitely will not support the (tax increase)," he said. "I think we've been overtaxed, especially the last two years."