Commissioner phones in to cast vote that passes Macon-Bibb budget

Here’s how each Macon-Bibb County commissioner voted on the property tax increase

The Macon-Bibb County Commission passed a 20.652-mill property tax rate for fiscal 2019, which is a 3-mill hike over last year. Here's how each commissioner voted Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018.
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The Macon-Bibb County Commission passed a 20.652-mill property tax rate for fiscal 2019, which is a 3-mill hike over last year. Here's how each commissioner voted Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018.

A Macon-Bibb County budget was approved Tuesday after a commissioner had to phone in to cast the final vote to pass it.

A second vote had to be taken Tuesday for the amended $161 million general fund budget after it failed to get six votes the first time. But after a motion to reconsider the vote was approved, Commissioner Scotty Shepherd was able to join the meeting on his phone and cast the necessary sixth vote.

Commissioners Valerie Wynn, Joe Allen and Mallory Jones voted against the amended budget that incorporates a 3 mill tax increase.

Joining Shepherd to approve the budget were Commissioners Bert Bivins, Al Tillman, Elaine Lucas, Larry Schlesinger and Virgil Watkins.

“The fact that we have not done (anything) to add money back to reserves concerns me,” Wynn said about the fiscal 2019 budget. “The amount we reduced the outside agencies by is a start in the right direction.”

Twenty-one external agencies will receive a combined $8.5 million from the county after commissioners approved more budget amendments on Tuesday night, roughly a 15 percent cut from the previous adjustments.

In order to fund them the county will use $12.3 million coming from the tax increase and another $4 million that would have went into the county’s reserve fund. The Macon-Bibb County Recreation and Parks and Beautification Departments and Bowden Golf Course will receive $7.5 million of that money.

Without any tax increase, the County Commission would have been forced to make enough cuts to continue funding recreation and parks, libraries, bus system and health department or face the risk of them shutting down.

Tillman said the County Commission held a series of budget meetings this year to be more transparent after relying on figures that turned out to be inaccurate from the mayor’s former county manager.

Tillman said commissioners should not fold under pressure after hearing the anger from some residents about the county’s financial problems. Tuesday was an opportunity to do what’s best for the county, he said.

“We have to take care of the people’s business right now,” Tillman said.

Outside agency

Over the last two years, the Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority’s budget will have been reduced by $1.2 million due to county reductions and missing out on the federal matching funds, said transit board chairman Frank Tompkins.

The amended county budget features a 13 percent, or $300,000, cut to the transit system.

“The buses and livelihoods of many citizens in our city will be adversely affected,” Tompkins said prior to Tuesday’s vote.

The budget process began in early May when Mayor Robert Reichert presented a $164 million budget that proposed a 3.7 mill tax hike.

County commissioners then went through more than a dozen budget proposals before passing a last-minute $149 million budget that included no tax hike. The problem? It eliminated funding for all outside agencies and the recreation and parks departments.

The following week commissioners restored funding for those agencies but were faced with another dilemma of getting enough votes to increase the millage rate in order to pay for them.

The commission then had to make more budget changes, which resulted in Tuesday’s budget, after approving the 3 mill hike last week.

The outside agency list includes several museums, nonprofits such as Meals on Wheels, and governmental agencies such as the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission and Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority.

Throughout the fiscal year the County Commission will be tasked with finding other ways to either increase revenue or save money, as it deals with a likely difficult budget situation next year.

That’s when the county will have to find $8 million to pay for the other post-employment benefit fund.