Politics & Government

Macon-Mercer land swap final; Payne City permits on hold

Macon-Bibb County commissioners voted 8-0 Tuesday night to formally ratify a land swap with Mercer University, clearing the way for construction of a curving connector road that will link the downtown portion of Second Street to Little Richard Penniman Boulevard.

Commissioner Bert Bivins was absent for Tuesday’s vote. Mayor Robert Reichert, confident the land swap would pass, held a groundbreaking for the road project last Friday on a Mercer athletic field that was one of the swapped parcels.

Macon-Bibb is giving Mercer the current senior citizens center at 1283 Adams St., though the government can retain control of it for up to three years while a new senior center is prepared. Commissioners have approved turning the existing Bloomfield recreation center into a new senior center, improving it with $2 million from the 2011 special purpose local option sales tax. The land swap deal includes a requirement to add $712,000 -- the appraised value of the Adams Street center -- to the new senior center’s construction budget.

Commissioner Elaine Lucas said Tuesday night that she and some other commissioners favor finding yet another $300,000 to add to the new senior center.

In exchange for the current senior center, which probably will become university office space, Mercer is giving up six parcels of land totaling 3.14 acres. Those are appraised altogether at $723,300, and lie along the route of the planned connector road. To make it an even swap, Macon-Bibb is giving Mercer $11,300 in cash.

PAYNE CITY

Commissioners voted 8-0 for a last-minute addition to the agenda, putting a moratorium of up to six months on issuing building permits in what used to be Payne City.

The halt is so the Planning & Zoning Commission can look at current land uses in the several-block area and set up building regulations to suit, Reichert said. The moratorium could end in fewer than six months if new rules are ready before then, he said.

The tiny independent city, home to fewer than 200 people, voted in 2012 against joining the consolidated Macon-Bibb government by a 9-7 voted. Following extensive lobbying and agreement from Payne City officials, the state approved in March the dissolution of Payne City.

One open question is whether the moratorium will halt permitting of a controversial medical waste treatment plant, Reichert said.

“We don’t know about that; we’re just going to have to figure it out,” he said.

FILMORE THOMAS RECREATION AREA

The design for the long-awaited Filmore Thomas Recreation Area, on Log Cabin Drive in the Bellevue neighborhood, won 8-0 approval.

To be built with $1.5 million in SPLOST money, the project will feature a splash pad, two basketball courts, parking, general athletic fields and trails curving around a creek. Commissioner Al Tillman, whose district includes the area, has said work should be well underway before year’s end.

Several residents of Bellevue and descendents of Thomas, a longtime community leader in Bellevue, urged speedy action on the project.

Tillman asked that a bench be added to the plan bearing the names of six other Bellevue advocates who have worked for years to get the recreation area approved: Charlie Brundage, Merritt Johnson Jr., Juanita Lee, Ronnie Mays Sr., Glorious Nixon and Emma Wilson.

CENTREPLEX

Macon-Bibb will look into leasing out naming rights on the Macon Coliseum and City Auditorium. Commissioners voted 8-0 to look into the suggestion from Tillman. A subsequent vote to give the coliseum and auditorium -- which together with the Wilson Convention Center are called the Macon Centreplex -- $377,000 passed 7-1, opposed by Commissioner Virgil Watkins.

Each year the city subsidizes the Centreplex, and for the past several years that amount has totaled between $1 million and $1.5 million. In the current budget, Noble Investments Group, which manages the Centreplex, asked for a little more than $1 million but received $800,000. Now that has been spent, while nearly three months remain in the fiscal year.

SENIOR FEES

Two recommendations by Lucas will cut fees for senior citizens at the senior center and Bowden Golf Course. Halving the annual activities fee at the Adams Street center to $10 passed 7-1, with Commissioner Mallory Jones voting against.

Cutting seniors’ golf cart rental fees by $4 passed, but by 6-2. It was opposed by Commissioners Gary Bechtel and Jones. Bechtel said that should wait until a new golf manager is in place, while Jones said the cart fee is already relatively low.

PENSION BOARD

A move to rescind creation of a seven-member board to manage the county’s active pension plan has been sent back to a committee of the whole for more discussion.

Commissioners voted months ago to create the board. For now, the commission itself remains as the plan’s overseer. Recently, Reichert nominated members for the board, which would include two commissioners but also current and retired employees. That was opposed by Commissioners Bechtel and Larry Schlesinger, who want to keep the commission in charge so they can revisit the months-old choice of Independent Portfolio Consultants as the fund’s investment manager.

A debate on IPC, probably including a closed session, is scheduled for April 14. Sending the pension plan’s management back for discussion passed 5-3, opposed by Bechtel, Schlesinger and Watkins, who wanted to vote it up or down outright.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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