Bibb chairman, Macon mayor push consolidation, T-SPLOST

Although they were largely preaching to the choir, that didn’t stop Macon Mayor Robert Reichert and Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart from singing the praises Tuesday of city-county consolidation and an additional one-percent sales tax to pay for transportation projects.

“Think community,” Hart said in urging people to support both measures, up for a vote July 31. He touted the transportation local option sales tax, or T-SPLOST, as vital for the area’s development and prosperity.

Hart and Reichert acknowledged that the Macon-Bibb County consolidation proposal has flaws, but they said waiting for a better chance would waste precious time.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Reichert said.

The two men spoke Tuesday morning to a crowd of business and civic leaders that nearly filled the main floor of the Douglass Theatre in downtown Macon. The annual event, dubbed “Good Morning Macon and Bibb County!” was hosted by the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce and was sponsored by Central Georgia Health System and GEC Geotechnical and Environmental Consultants.

Hart said he, Reichert and a similar group gathered at the Douglass about the same time last year to talk about promoting the special purpose local option sales tax, which voters approved Nov. 8.

“You certainly helped get it passed,” Hart said. Even ardent supporters of the tax didn’t dream that 73 percent of city and county voters would vote for it, he said.

Several of the major SPLOST projects are already under way; now, Hart said, T-SPLOST project funding is vital for continued development, such as lengthening the Middle Georgia Regional Airport runway to accommodate fully loaded cargo planes.

Likewise, he said government consolidation should be supported to show potential business investors that the area is “getting its act together,” despite the unification proposal’s flaws.

“I’m not totally happy with it, but it’s what we’ve got going,” Hart said. “I don’t think the leadership of this community can afford to be divided any longer.”

Reichert added that he and Hart work well as a team and that cooperation has shown considerable benefits.

“But we’re temporary,” Reichert said. The next mayor and commission chairman might be at odds, as others have been in the past, he said.

Hustling through a chamber of commerce PowerPoint presentation on the T-SPLOST, Reichert said Georgia is still growing quickly but has “pitiful” highway investment -- not just compared to the national average, but even compared to adjacent states.

If approved by voters, the T-SPLOST for the 11-county region centered on Macon-Bibb County is expected to bring in $750 million over 10 years.

Three-quarters of that -- about $561 million -- would go to the projects on the official T-SPLOST list. The remainder would be divided among the region’s governments, to be spent on whatever local transportation projects those cities and counties deem necessary.

T-SPLOST projects were chosen to take maximum advantage of federal matching funds, so the $561 million would draw another $500 million in federal dollars, Reichert said. Without the T-SPLOST, there would be no other funding source for those transportation projects, he said.

Answering questions after he and Reichert spoke, Hart said he wasn’t sure if project bonds could be sold to start work before actual T-SPLOST revenue came in, but they probably could at the discretion of each affected county.

Reichert urged a strong voter turnout, especially in Bibb, the most populous county in the local T-SPLOST region; the measure can pass overall with a simple majority of votes cast in the region, so a strong win in Bibb County could offset losses in other counties in the region.

To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.