Politics & Government

Macon-Bibb officials still weighing blight options

Macon-Bibb County celebrated the demolition of the 100th blighted home of the year on Cynthia Avenue on April 3, 2015.
Macon-Bibb County celebrated the demolition of the 100th blighted home of the year on Cynthia Avenue on April 3, 2015. Georgia Public Broadcasting

While a Macon-Bibb County committee spends more time finding a blight consultant, nine commissioners will each be asked to pony up $50,000 for demolitions.

The County Commission’s ad hoc blight committee will present a resolution to the full commission Aug. 18 that would set aside a total of $450,000 from commissioners to pay for tearing down decaying buildings. The money would come from the $1 million each of the commissioners are getting to fight blight.

The ad hoc committee also decided Tuesday it will come up with more suggestions for a blight consultant. Several commissioners said the five firms they’ve interviewed had varying strengths, but none seemed capable of providing expertise in all the necessary areas.

The consultant would oversee various projects as well as the firms chosen to work in the areas of construction, demolition and community engagement.

“You need someone to sit next to you and sit through these blight concerns and offer a perspective,” Assistant County Manager Charles Coney said.

The request to have each commissioner set aside $50,000 came as a compromise with Commissioner Virgil Watkins, who presented plans Tuesday to demolish 20-plus homes in his district.

Watkins said he was pleased the committee recommended that some money could be used to begin demolitions.

Commissioner Elaine Lucas said officials must be transparent to residents. That includes waiting on big blight undertakings until a blight consultant is in place.

“We can’t spend money until we have a legitimate plan that says what we’ll do, who’ll provide the services and how it’s going to be done,” Lucas said.

While commissioners have $9 million split evenly among them for blight projects, another $1 million from a $10 million pot will be used on community engagement and waste disposal. Mayor Robert Reichert had proposed spending the $10 million on four projects, all near the Second Street Corridor, and using partners to create long-term viability.

The ad hoc blight committee was created after some commissioners wanted a committee that was separate from a blight task force appointed by Reichert.

Also Tuesday, a request to use blight money to tear down a Log Cabin Drive house was rejected. Instead, it will be paid for with money from a special purpose local option sales tax.

Members of the commission’s Economic and Community Development Committee said it would be better to use some of the $1.5 million in SPLOST money already available for the Log Cabin Road project in Commissioner Al Tillman’s district.

COUNTYWIDE MILLAGE RATE MOVES TO COMMISSION

The commission’s Operations and Finance Committee recommended Tuesday an ordinance that calls for the end of the Macon City Tax District and would have residents in the former Macon city limits paying the same rate of 14.65 mills as people who live in the former unincorporated Bibb County. The ordinance that would end double taxation of former city residents is expected to go to a vote by the full commission Aug. 18. For those living in the former city limits, the move would save them $194 on taxes on a $100,000 home with the 4.85-mill reduction, county officials said.

ANIMAL WELFARE DEPARTMENT MIGHT OUTSOURCE SOME SERVICES

The County Commission also will decide next week whether to outsource to a local animal organization some of its Animal Welfare Department services.

The full commission will vote on a contract with Saving Animals From Euthanasia -- also known as SAFE -- to allow the nonprofit group to provide spay/neuter and adoption services at the county’s animal shelter.

Macon-Bibb would pay SAFE $9,438 a month for the contract that runs until June 30.

The organization would maintain medical services and equipment, and would determine fees for adoptions and spaying/neutering.

“You are in essence eliminating some of the responsibility on the Animal Welfare (Department) side, and some of the expenses of adoption are being taken on by (SAFE),” Assistant County Attorney Crystal Jones said.

County officials and the nonprofit group would decide at the end of the fiscal year if outsourcing remained the best route going forward, Jones said.

“It would allow people to evaluate how the program works, how self-sufficient they are,” she said.

FIRE AND POLICE BENEFITS

The commission’s Operations and Finance Committee decided Tuesday to take more time to research whether some public safety employees would receive more benefits.

An ordinance proposed by Commissioner Mallory Jones would increase monthly supplemental benefits from $100 to $200 for 301 members of the Macon Fire and Police Retirement Employees System who were hired prior to July 1, 1985, and have at least 25 years of service.

Commissioners Gary Bechtel and Scotty Shepherd said they did not have enough time to review the proposed increased benefits before Tuesday’s meeting. It will likely be on the committee’s Aug. 25 agenda.

Jones described the effect on the pension system as “small potatoes,” with it costing about $361,000 a year. It’s money those employees put into the retirement system, he said.

“If we have a strong financial consultant group in place, then the pension fund would fund itself,” Jones said. “It’s the right thing to do for people who served the community.”

To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623.

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