Politics & Government

Efforts to include Payne City with Macon-Bibb remain stalled

Nearly a year after Macon and Bibb County merged governments, the tiny town of Payne City is still in limbo.

Macon-Bibb Mayor Robert Reichert wants the former mill town, home to about 215 people, to join the larger government.

Most members of the Bibb County state legislative delegation say they’re willing to back legislation that would dissolve Payne City’s independent existence.

And Payne City Mayor Grace McCrimmons said the remaining holdout legislator, state Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon, has received a resolution from the Payne City Commission asking for the merger.

“We sent him a certified letter,” she said.

Last week, Beverly said he had been out of town a lot recently and hadn’t personally seen the letter. He knew of its existence, but that’s not enough, he said.

“Even if both mayors and councils say they want to abolish it, I’ve always maintained -- and still maintain -- that if a plurality of the voters say they want to abolish it, I’ll do that tomorrow,” Beverly said.

In the July 2012 referendum, Macon-Bibb County voters approved consolidation with 57 percent of the vote. It took effect 18 months later.

But in Payne City, home to about 215 people, just 16 people cast ballots – and they rejected consolidation by 9 votes to 7.

Payne City has fewer than 100 registered voters, who could be polled door to door, Beverly said. He understands that holding a new formal election in the area on that single question would be expensive, so he’d settle for a clear result from canvassing, he said.

McCrimmons said she’s been trying to talk to Beverly about the issue for some time. Beverly said he was looking forward to speaking with McCrimmons. By midday Friday, however, she said he hadn’t contacted her. McCrimmons said she hopes to hear from Beverly soon.

On Nov. 18, Reichert pressed members of the local delegation to add Payne City to the consolidated government -- but Beverly, the crucial member for that discussion, wasn’t present.

State Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, said Reichert was “preaching to the choir” among other delegation members, but he needed to get Beverly’s assent.

Payne City lies within Beverly’s state House district. Its senator is David Lucas, D-Macon, who said this week that he’s always favored Payne City’s inclusion in the consolidated government.

“I tried to get them to include it,” said Lucas, referring to legislators’ authorship of the consolidation charter. “Rep. Beverly was the one who stopped that.”

Reichert argues that Payne City residents will pay higher taxes as Payne City contracts with Macon-Bibb County for basic services, especially next year when the remaining half of Macon’s former city property tax is abolished. The first half of the Macon city tax was removed in the fiscal year that started July 1.

But there’s another reason: the controversial plan to build a medical-waste sterilization facility at 136 Rose Ave. in Payne City, about 100 yards from Macon-Bibb’s Freedom Park.

In 2011, Payne City officials denied a request to allow the “red bag” waste facility, which would dispose of used needles and similar items, according to its backers’ testimony.

Landowner Kenneth Taylor, partners N. Alan McKee, Vicky Hutchinson and MedSafe LLC later filed a petition in Bibb County Superior Court to make Payne City issue a letter approving the facility.

If Payne City were part of the Macon-Bibb County government, it would fall under zoning guidelines that might prevent the medical-waste facility from being built. Robert Melton, a lawyer for Payne City in the case, has said Macon-Bibb County’s objection to its placement near Freedom Park should carry weight.

But in September, Judge Verda Colvin said that though Payne City itself has a compelling argument, MedSafe does appear to have the law on its side.

The legal fight continues. Efforts to reach Melton and MedSafe lawyer Matthew Hall were unsuccessful last week.

Lucas noted that Payne City lacks the financial resources to mount a legal challenge for very long. The few tens of thousands of dollars it takes in annually, most of it from a surcharge for water service, is used to pay for basic services.

Chris Floore, Macon-Bibb government spokesman, said Reichert has heard directly from a number of Payne City residents. Those residents, Floore said by email, “would like to be part of the Macon-Bibb consolidated government.”

Floore said Reichert is asking the legislative delegation to help make that happen.

And while it’s not Beverly’s envisioned door-to-door poll, there has been an effort to gauge Payne City opinion since the consolidation referendum.

On Feb. 3, the Macon-Bibb mayor’s office sent a letter to Payne City’s registered voters -- 59 people. It received 11 replies, slightly fewer than the number of Payne City votes on consolidation.

A reply was requested by Feb. 20, with results to be sent to state legislators.

The letter asked residents to check one of three options: 1. Merging Payne City with Macon-Bibb County; 2. Merging, but designating Payne City as a historic district; or 3. Keeping Payne City independent.

“Of the 59 letters we sent, four people selected the first option and seven the second,” Floore said. “We didn’t receive any letters with the third option selected.”

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.