With consolidation’s passage, real work on Macon-Bibb merger now begins

Bibb County officials are beginning to figure out how to implement voters’ demand for a consolidated Macon-Bibb County government.

In a lengthy news conference Wednesday, Macon Mayor Robert Reichert and Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said a consolidation transition panel will have plenty of work to do before the consolidated government is formed in January 2014.

The two focused much of their talk on how government employees would be handled.

“We don’t have answers yet, and it’s going to be a year and a half approximately as these answers come about,” Reichert said.

Reichert repeatedly referred to a section of the bill that launched consolidation. The bill states legislators’ intent is to preserve employees’ jobs, pay and benefits, but they aren’t guaranteed. Reichert said it’s far too early to say whether there would be layoffs.

“The bill itself speaks to the intent that nobody loses a job that doesn’t want to,” Reichert said.

Other government questions may be easier to resolve.

Macon and Bibb County were supposed to negotiate how they’d split an existing local option sales tax, or LOST. Only LOST revenues for 2013 would be at stake before the consolidated government takes over.

“It would be my recommendation that we seriously consider leaving it just like it is,” Reichert said as Hart nodded. “When we’re a unified government, no more arguing about the division of the local option sales tax.”

Reichert said other contentious issues, such as service delivery strategy negotiations, also become a moot point when a single government is formed.

Consolidation will require a huge range of decisions: picking a single financial software package, deciding where the new seat of government should be, debating whether police cars should be repainted and figuring out how to merge disparate pay scales.

The consolidation initiative approved by voters Tuesday includes a transition team slated to be in place Sept. 1, just a month away. Five of the 15 positions are supposed to be appointed by Bibb County’s legislative delegation, whose members are in question.

“The whole Senate portion of the delegation is in flux right now,” state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, said late Tuesday.

In unofficial results, state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, took 50.5 percent of the vote against Spencer Price, but that race is close enough for a recount. The other current senator, Miriam Paris, is forced into a runoff with challenger David Lucas, who nearly won outright with 49.2 percent of the vote. Senate District 25, which under reapportionment will represent part of Bibb County, just experienced the ouster of state Sen. Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, who drew 47.3 percent of the vote.

Peake said one question for the delegation would be whether newly elected legislators should help make appointments to the transition committee, or whether those decisions should stay with people who still hold office.

Efforts to reach the legislative delegation’s chairwoman, state Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, for comment have been unsuccessful.

The new government already has drawn at least two candidates. Former Mayor C. Jack Ellis and perennial mayoral candidate David Cousino have announced their plans to seek the mayoral post, with elections in November 2013.

Reichert said Wednesday he hadn’t decided whether he will run for a consolidated government, while Hart said he’s focused only on his November election to the county commission. Because of term limits, Reichert would have been ineligible to run again for Macon mayor, but he can run for Macon-Bibb County mayor.

Because of elections, the transition team that begins in September will certainly be different than next year’s team. The transition team includes spots for Bibb County’s sheriff and the chairman of Bibb County’s finance committee, a job currently held by Commissioner Elmo Richardson. Sheriff Jerry Modena and Richardson are retiring.

Other members of the transition team include:

The delegation’s chairperson, Randall;

The delegation’s vice chairman, Staton, who faces a possible recount;

The County Commission’s chairman, Sam Hart, who faces a November challenge;

The chairman of Macon’s Appropriations Committee, led by Councilman Tom Ellington, a consolidation opponent;

Macon’s mayor, Reichert;

Macon’s City Council president, James Timley;

The president of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, now led by Mike Dyer;

Macon’s police chief, Mike Burns.

Writers Liz Fabian and Jim Gaines contributed to this report.

Related stories from Macon Telegraph