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Late-night property tax discussion ends without solution as deadline looms

Property tax rate put on hold after attempts to increase taxes fail

Macon-Bibb commissioners failed to pass a millage rate increase Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018. Commissioners voted to table the discussion after rejecting the proposed 4.3-mill increase and two other increases.
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Macon-Bibb commissioners failed to pass a millage rate increase Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018. Commissioners voted to table the discussion after rejecting the proposed 4.3-mill increase and two other increases.

The Macon-Bibb County Commission still has to set a new millage rate this month after failing to approve a property tax hike on Tuesday.

Commissioners rejected a proposed 4.36-mill increase, which would have meant property owners with a home valued at $125,000 would pay $187 or $218 more in taxes depending on if the property has a homestead exemption.

That measure narrowly failed to get the five votes necessary to pass. Voting in favor of the 21.85-mill tax rate were Commissioners Al Tillman, Bert Bivins, Elaine Lucas and Virgil Watkins. Commissioners Valerie Wynn, Mallory Jones, Joe Allen, Scotty Shepherd and Larry Schlesinger voted against it.

The commission now has several weeks to set a new millage rate in time for property tax bills to be sent out by the current deadline.

Lucas called out commissioners for considering a 2.7-mill increase proposed by Jones after the other measure did not pass.

“We need to go ahead and realize that there are certain things that need to be provided in this community,” she said. “You can sit here and vote for (2.7 mills), but we are doing a disservice to every single citizen in this community.”

The three-month-long discussion over the fiscal 2019 budget became contentious at times as commissioners and sometimes the public argued over how much funding some external agencies should receive and what’s led to the county’s financial problems.

Macon resident Peter Taylor, who was among several dozen people who spoke at the Tuesday meeting, said the financial problems since the consolidation of Macon and Bibb County in 2014 have only worsened in the last several years.

“Since consolidation, we have seen the ditch get a little deeper in the way the finances have been run in this city, and we felt like the taxpayers should not be hijacked in this situation,” he said.

The commission’s first budget eliminated $10 million for outside agencies, but a series of budget amendments restored funding for the majority of those services, including several museums, transit and the library.

“I have no confidence with this budget that a 4.3 millage increase is actually going to be a balanced budget,” Schlesinger said. “The reason I do that is our track record. Every budget presented to us since consolidation was presented was a balanced budget, and it ended up a year later being a deficit budget.”

This year Macon-Bibb’s general fund faces additional expenses related to pay raises for sheriff’s deputies and firefighters, recreation costs, and $4 million required for some post-employment benefits.

Macon resident George Muhammad said he understands why it is difficult for county officials to consider a tax increase, but they must think about the impact cuts would have on residents, especially on children.

“They deserve all of the benefits of museums, of schools, of libraries. The elders deserve the services. People deserve the transportation,” he said.

Mayor Robert Reichert presented a budget on May 9 that called for a 3.7 mill increase that includes three unpaid holidays, some reductions to outside agencies and other changes.

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