Ask Mayor Miller: Public safety spending priority, tax rollback, river hazards and road work

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller answers questions emailed each month to [email protected] through the Center for Collaborative Journalism 


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

As Bibb County property owners begin to review their 2023 tax assessments, Mayor Lester Miller is confident the millage rate will roll back at least five points. (0:30 into video)

During the taping of the June Ask Mayor Miller program at 13WMAZ, Miller explained how the Other Local Option Sales Tax, or OLOST, that was overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2021 will likely mean another tax rollback in the 2025 budget. 

Once again, the bulk of the fiscal year 2024 budget goes to public safety, which receives about $87 million of the nearly $204 million spending plan. 

“I think that’s going to continue to be the norm,” Miller said. “Our budget in the last three years has increased about $12 million for public safety because we said public safety is a top priority. We’re going to continue to fund that. So that’s going to be one of the biggest increases we have.”

Across the board, most departments have seen an increase in their budget as the minimum wage in Macon-Bibb County is now $15 per hour. 

Miller said that beautification efforts and pedestrian safety also have seen substantial budget allocations in his third year in office. 

The county has between 60 to 80 days worth of expenses in reserve, which is up from the 30-day reserve maintained in the past, he said. 

“But we changed our policy last year to increase the amount of money we have to have in our reserve, and we’ve got sufficient funds now for a rainy day if that happens,” he said. “But right now, we want to plan for the worst and hope for the best, and I think we’re in very good financial situation.”

The public hearing for the budget will be 5 p.m. on June 6 at City Hall, and the County Commission will vote on the proposal June 20. 

Water safety and Bloomfield pool problems

On the same day the body of 20-year-old Raymond Ellison Jr. was pulled from the Ocmulgee River at Amerson Water Park, Miller said he didn’t know what more the county could do to prevent people from drowning. (8:20 into video)

“I think that we’ve done as much as we can do to make sure that people know what they’re supposed to do,” Miller said. “We’ve had life jackets available for anyone there for free to use while they’re at the park. What a lot of people don’t understand is once they get in that water, we don’t have any control over it.”

In March, Macon-Bibb County commissioners made life jackets and adult supervision mandatory for anyone under 16 years of age going into the Ocmulgee River at Amerson. Georgia law requires there be a life jacket on a vessel for every person on board, but does not mandate that anyone at least 13 years old wear them while boating or on the water.

Miller said education and personal responsibility are key to saving lives. An innertube or float is not enough to keep you safe, he said. Ellison reportedly was floating on an innertube when he went into the water and drowned. 

“Whether you can swim or not, you still need to have a life vest on,” Miller said. “People that can swim at a good pace still die, they still drown. But unfortunately, those that don’t swim, that get out there and think the flotation device alone is going to save them, is not going to be the case.”

Water levels and currents fluctuate on the river and can be dangerous.

While the county paid $368,000 for Aquatic Management Services to hire, train and staff lifeguards at Lake Tobesofkee and county pools this season, the pool at Bloomfield Recreation Center will remain closed until a pump can be repaired. (10:45 into video)

“But even those folks at Bloomfield, unfortunately they don’t have a place close by they can go to, they can schedule a ride to go to one of the other pools free of charge, as far as the transportation,” Miller said. “Our staff is going to take care of those kids at those pools.”

Beginning June 5, a 10 a.m. shuttle will run from the Bloomfield-Gilead building to another pool where kids 17 years old and under can swim from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. before returning. 

There is a capacity for 40 kids each Monday and Friday through the summer. 

Parents can reserve a spot at the recreation center or call 478-219-2001, according to a county news release.

The mayor said the county is dealing with problems stemming from years of deferred maintenance. 

“In the last couple of years since we’ve arrived, we’re playing catch up on a lot of our facilities. We’re going to continue to try to get better,” he said. 

Although the county has funded major renovations at the Bloomfield-Gilead Recreation Center, “we’ve had some issues with vandalism over there and things that’s been damaged, as well,” Miller said. 

Road work and pothole repairs

In answering the public’s questions about transportation and road conditions, Mayor Miller said he expects the bulk of work on the interchange for Interstates 16 and 75 to be complete in 2026. (16:30 into video)

“There’s still some additional phases that go out in both directions. That’ll probably continue into 2028,” Miller said. 

As for a citizen complaint about traffic backing up along North Avenue near the I-16 entrance ramp and blocking vehicles trying to turn from Nottingham Drive at Gray Highway, Miller said traffic signal timing can be adjusted by Nigel Floyd, the county traffic engineer.

Any Issues with traffic lights can be reported through the SeeClickFix website, but the mayor said that sometimes the high volume of traffic through the interstate construction zone affects the ability of vehicles to clear the intersection.  

In response to another concern raised about the condition of Forest Hill Road, Miller said it might not make sense to repave it now because the long-awaited widening project could happen in the next couple of years. 

“Do you go out there and spend several million dollars paving it just to tear it up and widen it the next year or two?” he asked. “There’s some rough spots in there I think need to be taken care of.”

If you see a road that needs repair, Miller suggested using the SeeClickFix website to report potholes and other issues.

“Put that information in there, and we’ll get a ticket back to them and we’ll get it taken care of on a temporary basis,” he said. 

Road repair has been a priority for his administration, and Miller has committed property tax dollars to supplement SPLOST funds and Georgia Department of Transportation grants that have been used in the past. 

“Zero property tax dollars have gone to paving before,” Miller said. 

Macon-Bibb County is currently seeking to hire an outside company that has the equipment and skills to do a better job of fixing potholes. Acquiring asphalt for the job can also be a challenge, he said. 

“Sometimes, we’re at the mercy of the people that we get the asphalt from,” he said. 

Send your questions for July’s 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.