Before consolidation was approved in the state General Assembly, then state Sen. Cecil Staton loaded it with a poison pill. The bill required the new unified government of Macon-Bibb County to cut its budget by 20 percent in the first five years of its existence. There was many a “woe is me” lifted to the sky, including some coming from these very pages, but here we are in only the second budget of the new consolidated government (actually the third, but the first was just a mash-up of the combined city and county budgets) and the 20 percent goal is well within reach. If the proposed $147.6 million budget is adopted, the consolidated government will reach the 15 percent cut ahead of schedule and will be $11.4 million under last year’s budget.
Along the way, the mayor’s proposal will eliminate the property tax disparity where city residents paid more than unincorporated county residents, which simply means city residents’ millage rates will drop and county residents’ rates will remain unchanged. The budget also equalizes the pay between former city and county workers -- a real concern particularly among law enforcement personnel.
How did the mayor and staff do it? Is it hocus pocus with a lot of smoke and mirrors? There may have been some of that in the brainstorming sessions. You’ll remember the commission asked for relief from the 20 percent requirement -- and were refused -- by the area’s legislative delegation, so it had to get to work. The early retirement idea was rolled out in hopes of enticing up to 200 employees to take the early-out, and the budget installs a 5 percent across-the-board cut to all departments and agencies the county funds. In public safety, Sheriff David Davis said, there are no cuts in personnel or equipment.
All is not peaches and cream. There are challenges and most of them are of the non-sexy variety. We have to do something about our landfill that is again out of compliance with the Environmental Protection Division. Last time that happened it cost taxpayers $50,000. And whenever you eliminate positions there are unintended consequences. The county is to be commended for its work as a consolidated entity so far. And if this budget passes, Mayor Reichert and the rest of the commissioners will have something to crow about.