Politics & Government

Macon-Bibb committee OKs even split of blight money ahead of final vote

The majority of Macon-Bibb County commissioners on Tuesday supported each commission district receiving $1 million to fight blight, leading to a likely final face-off next week.

The city-county commission’s Committee of the Whole voted 7-2 Tuesday to split $9 million evenly and use the remaining $1 million from a $10 million pot on community engagement and waste disposal.

That goes against Mayor Robert Reichert’s proposal to spend the $10 million on four projects, all near the Second Street Corridor. Commissioners are likely to vote on the ordinance in a regular session July 21 before the decision would become official.

The vote Tuesday drew applause from many of the roughly 40 residents in attendance at the meeting.

Reichert’s proposal is to use $10 million in areas contiguous to downtown. They were identified as Coliseum Heights, Pleasant Hill North, Montpelier Heights and South Second Street.

Commissioner Al Tillman, who said $10 million is only a start to fixing blight, said it would take at least $40 million to “tackle blight in our community.”

Commissioner Bert Bivins said his main concern is that blight gets attacked in each district.

Commissioner Elaine Lucas echoed his sentiments and said she has a couple of ideas such as improving the Kings Park neighborhood in east Macon.

She cited the work of an ad hoc blight committee, which came up with recommendation to spend $1 million in each district.

“It’s time to get something done,” Lucas said.

Opponents of giving each district $1 million -- Commissioners Mallory Jones and Gary Bechtel -- attempted to either hold off on a vote or propose that each district receive a smaller share.

Bechtel said he was not satisfied with either proposal. He said commissioners did not have enough input on the four projects the mayor proposed.

“What I would suggest is we delay any action on the allocation of the money at this point and we have more study, more discussion about maybe a hybrid of the two,” he said.

Jones proposed giving $200,000 to each district and using the remaining money on two or three larger projects.

Commissioner Larry Schlesinger said his head tells him that spending the money on the four projects is right. He said economic development experts say redevelopment starts downtown and expands to other areas.

“On the other hand, my heart tells me there are neighborhoods in this community that consider themselves forgotten,” Schlesinger said. “That’s why I would vote to divide equally.”

Reichert and a blight task force have said it would be better to spend money where agencies are willing to partner, areas that are more ripe for reinvestment.

The task force put together by Reichert’s administration was told during trips to Detroit and Flint, Michigan, that spreading money too thinly was the biggest mistake to avoid, according to the mayor’s office.

Macon-Bibb has $14 million in bond funds to be used to combat blight. Commissioners have approved $4 million of that for projects in Beall’s Hill and Wise Avenue.

Information from the Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623.