Politics & Government

Bibb officials brace for new budget season. Will it be an easier process this year?

Public outcry over Macon-Bibb proposed tax hike

A packed hearing listened to public comments on the proposed Macon-Bibb County budget for 2019. Residents spoke out against property tax increase. Employees didn't like hearing furlough days and having to contribute to pensions.
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A packed hearing listened to public comments on the proposed Macon-Bibb County budget for 2019. Residents spoke out against property tax increase. Employees didn't like hearing furlough days and having to contribute to pensions.

Macon-Bibb County officials will begin combing over the mayor’s proposed budget in May.

Among the most pressing questions: Will be a property tax increase for the third year in a row? And will there be any changes to how much funding outside agencies receive from the county?

Several commissioners say they think there’s a way to avoid the messy situation from last year, although some disagreements over county spending may crop up again.

Last summer, officials approved an emergency budget that cut funding for external agencies and two county departments before narrowly approving an amended budget and 3 mill property tax increase.

The fiscal 2019 budget numbers through February show Macon-Bibb is in better financial shape than this time last year — so much so that the county’s financial director has told commissioners there may be money left over at the end of June that could be put into reserves.

“If we want to make a budget that’s no mill rate increase, no salary increase, I think we have that option,” Commissioner Virgil Watkins said about the fiscal 2020 budget. “We’ve managed the budget fairly well. Whether if people want to talk about some new innovations, I don’t know.”

The County Commission is expected to host a series of budget meetings after Mayor Robert Reichert presents his budget in early May.

One of the biggest debates last year centered around funding for 21 external agencies, such as Navicent Health, the library and transit systems, several museums and Meals on Wheels.

Commissioner Joe Allen said he would not vote for any millage rate increase this year and that outsides agencies shouldn’t receive any more funding than they do now.

Commissioner Valerie Wynn said that another millage rate hike must be avoided “at all costs.”

She said the county must fund the Macon-Bibb Transit Authority, the Middle Georgia Regional Library and Bibb County Health Department, but other agencies should focus on fundraising and other avenues.

“Over the past many years, either Bibb County or Macon had funds to offer to these agencies,” Wynn wrote in an email. “Those days are gone and we are no longer in the financial position to continue doing that.”

Commissioner Elaine Lucas, however, says that the county should maintain the current level of funding to those agencies, which is $8.5 million.

The biggest challenge continues to be rebuilding reserves by increasing revenue and stabilizing expenses, she said.

“If funds are available, we have to rehire in critical areas and support a salary boost for our lowest-paid employees,” Lucas wrote in an email. “The budget is about as lean as it can be without further cuts.”

Looking out for county employees by making sure they’re able to maintain their jobs will continue to be a priority, said Mayor Pro Tem Ail Tillman.

Tillman says in the future he wants changes made to how hotel-motel tax revenue is divided up. That could lessen the amount of general fund money going toward some museums.

“I think everyone can work within the budget we had last year and I think we’ll be fine,” he said. “That’s what I’ll be pushing the mayor to do.”

Another challenge in the next budget will be finding enough money to cover the Other-Post Employment Benefit fund, which covers some benefits such as health care, for retirees.

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