EDITORIAL: With blight, money is only part of the answer

It seems so easy -- just ask the Urban Development Authority and the Industrial Authority to issue $28.3 million in bonds. It’s hardly noticed by the general public. Would the taxpaying resident pay more attention if it was stated that the Macon-Bibb County government was headed to the bank to ask for a $28.3 million loan? We get caught in a cycle that’s neither all good or all bad, but our friends to the south, Houston County, carry no debt -- none. While $14.3 million of this proposed bond issue will be used to pay off older loans because today’s terms are better, we’ll still be in debt.

There are things the county wants to do that can only be financed through bonds and special purpose local option sales tax initiatives. For elected officials, bonds are easier to propose because, generally, taxpayers aren’t paying attention, and they have no idea how much debt the government might be in. It’s only when a new SPLOST is proposed and part of the proceeds are to be used to pay off some or all of the debt is there a clue.

Most of the rest of the proceeds ($10 million) will go to the battle against blight. Actually, the beginning of the battle. An additional $2 million will go to the Beall’s Hill neighborhood, a collaboration that has been ongoing for more than a decade. Another $2 million will purchase and clear properties on Wise Avenue, just off Riverside, that will make room for athletic fields for Bibb County’s newest charter school, Macon Charter Academy, that will open in August.

Once the bonds are approved, it’s up to residents to make sure they stay engaged with the process. Blight can befuddle. There is no real roadmap or how-to guide. Each community, even section of town, is different. And while $10 million seems like a lot of money, it can quickly disappear if the right initiatives, with the right care, are not employed.

The first order of business will be a systematic way of discovering just how many blighted properties we have in Bibb County. That data can be used not only to address current blight but prevent future blight. And there are a number of methods to mitigate dilapidated homes and empty lots. Some of those ideas will work in some sections of town and not so well in others. And what roles can Habitat and Rebuilding Macon, two organizations that have been on the front lines of housing, play in the efforts? All good questions that need to be answered before too much of the money is spent chasing our blighted tails.