It was as predictable as the sun rising each morning. A committee of the Macon-Bibb County consolidated government unanimously approved a measure sponsored by Commissioner Al Tillman to ask the General Assembly to lower the 20 percent budget reduction required by the bill to 10 percent. The full commission will take the necessary vote in December. Why predictable?
While there were some proponents of consolidation who stressed the included budget cuts, there were others who warned of its consequences. The brainchild of then-state Sen. Cecil Staton, the tax cut was supposed to add extra incentive for residents to vote for the consolidation proposal, but it was a loss-leader from the beginning and should have never been included.
Yes, there was a big loophole also placed in the bill that said a majority of the commission could override the requirement if it was to fund public safety. That loophole survived because lawmakers knew plans were on the table to construct three new fire stations -- two of which are now open for business, requiring additional firefighters.
Lawmakers also were aware that, at least in other government consolidations, the cost of government actually increases before it levels off. As far back as the 1990s, consultants from the University of Georgia warned that consolidation should not be viewed as a cost savings vehicle, but rather that consolidation would slow the growth of government.
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The government is just about to celebrate its first birthday, and this next budget cycle will be as trying as the last one. Commissioners will have to attempt to equalize salaries between the old city and county. That will cost an estimated $3.5 million. It should be understood that the cost of equalizing salaries is not a one-time expense but a recurring expense year after year. And there are other pressing, out-of-sight issues that no one really wants to deal with, such as closing the landfill. There will need to be other adjustments to the consolidation bill, such as what one legislator called a “drafting error.”
Commissioners need to be transparent. Taxpayers should understand that government costs money. Cleaning our streets and protecting our population and picking up garbage is not free. And while there is always the call to make government run more efficiently, there also is a law of diminishing returns. The city-county government will soon face what many private concerns already are dealing with: an older workforce nearing retirement. The days of attracting the brightest into government work because of the trade-off of lower pay for secure benefits are over.