With a little more than a month before a new millage rate is set, there are still some questions about how much — or if — Macon-Bibb County's property taxes will go up for the second year in a row.
On Tuesday, the County Commission voted to restore $16 million to various Macon-Bibb departments and outside agencies, meaning an additional 4.1 mills in property taxes would be needed to cover the costs. That leaves commissioners with about five weeks before they have to set the new property tax rate on a now $165 million budget.
But will enough votes be cast by commissioners for that much of an increase?
The 4.1-mills would cost about $135 more in taxes this year for a property valued at $100,000.
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The $16 million will be used to keep the the county's recreation and parks departments and golf course from shutting down, as well as the transit system and libraries from closing. Among the agencies also receiving some of that funding were several local museums and entities such as Meals on Wheels and the county's health department.
That decision came as Macon-Bibb officials dealt with public blowback over the over the state of the county's finances.
But even with the money restored this week, Commissioner Larry Schlesinger says his plan to prevent the millage rate from increasing should remain an option for commissioners if an agreement on new millage rate can't be reached.
He has proposed 20-percent budget cuts spread among outside agencies and the majority of Macon-Bibb departments. A budget official said earlier this week that a 20-percent reduction could lead to about 200 employees being laid off.
Schlesinger said there's some uncertainty about what will happen with the budget in coming weeks. He, along with Commissioner Valerie Wynn, have said they will not vote for any tax increase this year.
"At this point, I'm not confident that there are five votes to pass the 4.1-millage increase and that needs to be determined sooner rather than later," Schlesinger said.
There are also some complications with how certain smaller departments would be impacted by such a large decrease in their budgets, Commissioner Virgil Watkins said.
Some commissioners have stated that the millage rate will have to go up this year, although since May there have been debates about how much that would be.
"I'm not overly optimistic that anybody has a great solution," said Watkins, who serves as chairman of the county's operations and finance committee.
He added: "My suggestion would be to pass the budget as it stands. If we realize cost savings in healthcare, that goes into our fund balances, which is something we need to replenish."
One commissioner who says he's opposed to supporting a 4.1-mill hike is Joe Allen.
He said he's upset about the level of involvement some commissioners have had since Mayor Robert Reichert presented the first budget on May 8.
That budget was based on a 3.7-mill increase.
Allen said Friday that it's tough to predict how the rest of the budget process will play out before the millage rate vote.
"You've got so many personalities there and then have a mayor that can come back and line through it what wants to," he said. "I've made myself perfectly clear: I'm not in favor of an increase right now. I don't think we’ve done the best we can do."
Reichert has said the decision to fund the outside agencies and departments would become void if commissioners do not approve a new millage rate with enough revenue to support them.
Those amendments restored funding to the county's Parks and Recreation and Parks and Beautification departments as well as Bowden Golf Course, each of which would have shut down at the end of July without the funding. There was also $2.3 million that the transit system will receive and another $2.8 million for the Middle Georgia Regional Library System.
Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority buses will continue running on a limited schedule until the county's funding comes in after will the millage rate is approved, according to a news release.
And the Washington Memorial Library remains open while other Macon branches remain indefinitely closed.
Watkins said there are still some residents bothered by Tuesday's budget changes.
"There are quite a few folks upset about the raising of taxes," he said. "It’s very vocal Facebook community. They don't care what has to happen as long as they don’t have to pay more taxes."
The county's reserve coffers have taken a major hit since consolidation, going from $33 million in 2014 to about $4 million by the end of June.
One problem, an auditor has stated, has been the over-projection of revenues since Macon and Bibb consolidated in 2014.
The last budget shortfall came in part due to rising healthcare costs. And the county’s financial obligations are expanding in the new budget, including having to cover a full year of raises for deputies and firefighters and a depleted retirement-benefits fund.