Facing a shortfall of perhaps $10 million in the upcoming annual budget, Macon-Bibb County commissioners heard several options Tuesday for making the numbers work.
They included possible tax increases to partially offset the promised removal of the remaining Macon property tax. Specifically, Mayor Robert Reichert said a resolution to dedicate an additional mill of property tax to health care, economic development, museums and arts programs and paratransit will be presented to commissioners soon.
And though the former city property tax will go away entirely, the government could still create an “urban services district” that doesn’t necessarily follow the old city limits, Reichert said. An extra mill or two of tax from that might come close to filling the budget gap, he said.
One mill of property tax brings in about $2 million. Reichert said 1 mill would be an extra $40 annual tax on a $100,000 house.
Just about all revenue sources are down or flat, said Julie Moore, assistant to the county manager for budget and strategic planning.
Before raising taxes, commissioners are looking at options to encourage retirements and make other cuts. There are 360 Macon-Bibb employees eligible for retirement out of the roughly 2,000 people the government employs, Moore said. Surely all of those won’t retire, and the government couldn’t afford incentives for them all right now, she said.
Reichert said the least harmful option, in his opinion, is to urge people to retire through various incentives. Even so, Commissioner Mallory Jones said retirements wouldn’t save nearly enough money to meet the shortfall.
Moore said possible incentives could include paying retirees’ health insurance premiums for one year, a separation bonus or a one-time payment for years of service.
County Manager Dale Walker said some proposed incentives could be offered by the separately managed pension funds, keeping the cost off the city’s books.
Another possibility, already floated, is laying off some Macon-Bibb workers. Other possibilities could include increasing employee contributions for benefits, Moore said.
“None of them sound like fabulous options,” she said.
Eighty percent of government expenses are payroll and benefits. The budget target for the coming year’s general fund is $153 million, Moore said. Once all required expenses are removed, the various departments would only have $36.2 million to work with, she said. In the current fiscal year, departments are running on about $45 million.
Commissioners and Reichert made no decisions at Tuesday’s nonvoting work session, but the mayor asked commissioners to tell budget staff their preferences as the budget proposal is assembled.
Reichert said he knew none of the choices was good, but he hopes commissioners will give input on what they saw as the “least bad of the worst options.”
The mayor said he wants commissioners to vote unanimously for the final budget as an expression of commitment to consolidation.
The annual budget must be approved by the end of June. The new fiscal year starts July 1.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.