Ask Mayor Miller: Tax cut, anti-gang efforts, expanding amphitheater, homeless services and mental health

Send your questions for Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller to [email protected]


Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller answers the public’s questions each month on Ask Mayor Miller.

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller expects to roll back property taxes as least five mills in the upcoming budget for what could amount to a 10 mill reduction over three years.

Speaking during the taping of May’s Ask Mayor Miller program, the mayor said the projected decrease comes on the heels of last year’s two-mill reduction under the Other Local Option Sales Tax passed in 2021. (20 seconds into video)

This is a mandatory five-mill reduction,” Miller said. “Quite honestly, I think it may be a little bit more than that when it’s all said and done. That gives us seven mills in two years, which is about a 30-35% reduction in property taxes on the county side. We also, next year, we expect to have another reduction next year. So in about a three year total, we could get somewhere upwards of a ten mill reduction in our property taxes.”

The property tax reduction could incentivize investors and help them offset the inflated cost of building materials by building in Macon-Bibb County, he said.

Miller also discussed how last year’s record $6 million in hotel-motel tax collections will be funneled back into attractions that lure tourists. (7:15 on video)

As for his plans to leverage and promote the county’s property at Lake Tobesofkee for a future retreat or conference center, Miller wasn’t sharing details. (6:24 into video)

“We noticed around the state there’s several places on lakes that have retreats or conferences and things like that,” Miller said. “We always want to look how we can maximize our resources that we have, not only as a quality of life issue for our community, for our citizens, but also as a way to create new income streams from outside.”

Blight battle in Macon-Bibb

Miller explained why the county is investing $250,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds in the planned First Choice Primary Care facility on Houston Avenue. (2:05 into video)

“One of the things that we mentioned the last couple of years that we wanted to hit every part of our community,” Miller said. “Houston Avenue has been one of those communities that have struggled for a while, kind of been left behind. So we’ve been doing a lot of amazing work there with blight.”

His plan is to capitalize on the money the county is already spending on Cliffview Lake park to help revitalize that neighborhood.

“This will allow people to be able to go within walking district to get medical treatment they need maybe for their high blood pressure, or their diabetes,” Miller said. “For children to have a pharmacy right there on Houston Avenue is going to be something wonderful for the neighborhood that complements all the work that we’re doing up there.”

After the county recently marked the 500th nuisance property blight demolition during the Miller administration, a question submitted by Brian David asked what the mayor is doing to hold absentee landlords accountable for neglected property. (11:00 into video)

Miller said the county code enforcement officers track sales through the subsequent tax sale and follow up with buyers and outside investors to make sure they get permits for any work needed on the buildings.

Miller said the owners can be cited, be charged a blight tax that is up to seven times the normal amount, and the property can be put on a demolition list.

“Se, we’ve got a pretty good plan in process right now to make sure that people don’t buy things from outside and just leave them there in a dilapidated condition,” Miller said.

Center for Collaborative Journalism partner Grant Blankenship inquired about county plans under review from the Housing and Urban Development department to spend more than $700,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds on emergency housing for those without shelter.

While the mayor said it’s too early to say what that program will look like, he is trying to maximize the amount of funding the county receives after the local Salvation Army has decided to only house veterans and women with children.

“Our understanding is that we’re not getting all the dollars that we could possibly get,” Miller said. ” And Jake Hall with our Rethinking Homelessness Initiative is working on that.”

Curbing gangs

Miller admitted the county has “gang problems, like everyone else does,” but is moving forward with a focused deterrence program with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation moving the state’s Middle Georgia Anti-Gang Task Force to the county’s old transportation building on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (12:35 into video)

“I’d say over half the homicides that we have are some way related to gang activity, unfortunately. … We went through a period of time here in Macon-Bibb County where people basically said we don’t have any gangs, we don’t have any issues here, but certainly we know that’s not the truth,” he said.

Miller also said efforts to hire and retain law enforcement officers are showing results, according to Sheriff David Davis. (14:10 into video)

“Since about November, when we started these new initiatives on hiring, relaxed some of the requirements about working at the jail, paying some part-time officers that already had benefits, increasing the pay – that we’ve been able to attract 70. new deputies, both full- and part-time,” Miller said.

The mayor also expounded on a new program to train high school seniors to become firefighters upon graduation. (15:12 into video)

“Another way to get recruits, is get people directly out of high school,” he said. “So, they’re going to go through our training program while they’re in school… take a class over at the College and Career Academy and come right over to the training center that we just built, a very nice $3 million facility over there, and they will be able to receive on the job training.”

Minding mental health

Miller also plans to continue funding outreach programs as part of the administration’s Mental Health Matters campaign and urge state lawmakers to address mental health concerns. (17:25 into video)

“We really need to put our money where our mouth is, to do the job that we need to do. We don’t need to keep just putting people in prison. We don’t have Central State (mental hospital) anymore,” Miller said. “We’ve got to get some more mental health case workers into our school systems.”

He said he hopes the Bibb County School System would use part of its remaining $50 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for this initiative.

Attractions for east and west sides

During Miller’s State of the Community address last month, he mentioned the amphitheater under construction at Macon Mall will be bigger than originally planned. The facility is now expected to hold 12,013 people, up from 10,000 when the project was announced. (12:40 into video)

“That’s important for many reasons,” Miller said. “No. 1, we can attract a larger audience, which makes the numbers work from a financial standpoint. Another thing it does is to allow us to go after bigger acts, as well, that want a certain amount of money guaranteed.”

Miller was mum on who would be the opening act when the amphitheater is expected to open late this year.

“But I can tell you that we have a lot of interest in people that are playing at the national and international level that want to play in the amphitheater at the mall,” Miller said. “We’re also in conversation with some sponsors, so  I think you’ll see some sponsorships come in in droves. We have a lot of great local companies as well as national companies that want to put their stamp on the amphitheater here.”

The Fort Hill East Macon Community asked the mayor if he could bring a family fun entertainment center to the planned East Bank development across from the Coliseum on the old Bibb Mill site. (About 20:00 into video)

Miller said he didn’t think that would happen on those 21 acres that could be developed as a new entrance to the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, which is expected to become Georgia’s first national park.

He said east Macon has a lot to be thankful for since any East Bank development would be in a Tax Allocation District. The additional property tax revenue coming in from a proposed $350 million project would be reinvested in the area.

“We just have to get more residents there. We have to get the income level up there so we can attract these type of places that they so desperately need. There’s no reason that Old Times is the only sit-down restaurant that you have there. We should have people jumping in line to come over to that area and that’s what or goal is,” Miller said.

Calling out naysayers

Miller also responded to criticism received by calling out the “naysayers” in the last few minutes of what was a very positive, nearly 30-minute long State of the Community address. (22:20 into video)

“I think you have to address it at some point in time. You got to let people know that it’s not OK to get out there and just start bashing Macon every time,” he said. “If you want to criticize us for something we’re not doing, well, that’s fine. But just to wake up every morning and go on there and just be negative all the time… they’re hurting our community as a whole. And I think we really have to drown out that bad news.”

Send your questions for the next Ask Mayor Miller to [email protected]. Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.