Politics & Government

Macon-Bibb asks for budget relief, even after being told no

Macon-Bibb County commissioners voted 8-0 Tuesday night to ask the local legislative delegation for something they’ve already been told they won’t get.

The resolution asks the Macon-Bibb legislative delegation to reduce the budget cut mandated in the consolidation charter from 20 percent to 10 percent. It passed with no opposition. Commissioner Virgil Watkins was absent.

But Tuesday morning commissioners received a letter from state Rep. Bubber Epps, a Dry Branch Republican who is chairman of the Macon-Bibb delegation, saying the delegation won’t act on the request because commissioners can get around the budget cut themselves with a 6-3 vote.

Epps quoted the city-county charter, which says commissioners can exceed the budget limit by up to 25 percent if there are public safety needs or “extreme economic circumstances.”

The budget reduction is to be spread over four years, with no cut required in this first year. But this year’s budget is already below the previous combined city-county government budget, due largely to the removal of half the former city property tax. The other half is to come off next year, further reducing the budget.

Tuesday night, Commissioner Al Tillman said passing the resolution anyway was an important gesture.

“I think the public should know that the delegation mandated these cuts, and they should be the ones to take the heat,” he said. Former state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, at whose behest the budget cut was included in the charter, should be asked to come and explain its justification to commissioners, Tillman said.

Epps’ letter rejected a second budget-related request, but he said a third likely will be approved in the upcoming legislative session.

Authorization for a property tax referendum, sought by Mayor Robert Reichert, is “not the appropriate path to take,” Epps wrote. Such a referendum would have asked whether another 1 mill of property tax should be imposed to fund arts, medical care, economic development and paratransit service. Those were all controversial items in the budget debate in June.

“In our opinion, to allow dedicated funding sources for selective areas was not the choice of the citizens of Macon-Bibb County in the consolidation of the two governments,” Epps wrote.

Reichert, however, spun it differently during the morning committee meeting: “Basically my reading of this is that they think it’s our decision to make, whether to impose that mill or not,” he said.

Separately, legislators did unanimously endorse setting last year’s larger budget as the baseline for cuts, instead of this year’s budget, Epps said. That will give commissioners about $5.4 million more to work with, according to documents.

TRASH CANS

Commissioners voted 8-0 to buy 1,300 more garbage carts and 199 recycling bins from Toter Inc. of Statesville, North Carolina, for $84,989.89. They will only go to residents inside the former city limits, whose trash is collected by Macon-Bibb Solid Waste employees. Residents outside the former city limits are served by Advanced Disposal, a private firm.

The purchase should cover all current requests for new carts and bins, Solid Waste Director Kevin Barkley said.

OCMULGEE TRAIL

Commissioners voted 8-0 to approve a $100,000 grant application to the Georgia Recreational Trails Program. If received, the grant would be used to build part of a trail connecting Amerson River Park with the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.

ARTS VILLAGE

Commissioners voted 8-0 to endorse the Macon Arts Alliance’s search for funding of a new “arts village” in east Macon. It would provide space for artists to live, display and sell their work.

It would start with the renovation of a small existing auditorium in the area, between Coliseum Drive and the Ocmulgee National Monument, Jan Beeland, the arts alliance’s executive director, has told commissioners. The Mill Hill East Macon Arts Village would be just northeast of Clinton Street, which is to be reworked as a new Ocmulgee National Monument entrance.

The alliance is seeking $100,000 to $200,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts. If received, it would require an equal local match, Beeland said.

CHRISTMAS SCHEDULE

Macon-Bibb employees will have to work Christmas Eve this year, which falls on Wednesday but instead will get Friday off, giving them a four-day weekend. Commissioners approved the holiday schedule change 8-0.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.

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