Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Ask Mayor Miller: Tax rollback, new speed cameras, courthouse changes

Mayor Lester Miller also responds to host of ‘The View’ calling Macon ‘one of the most racist places’ in aftermath of Jason Aldean song
Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller answers the public’s questions each month so send yours to [email protected]

Macon-Bibb County property taxes could roll back another two mills once the tax digest is complete. (0:25 seconds into video)

During taping of this month’s Ask Mayor Miller program, Mayor Lester Miller said he expects taxes to roll back a total of seven mills with the five-mill rollback already expected due to the Other Local Option Sales Tax.

Although the Bibb County School Board voted at their latest meeting to roll back the millage rate to compensate for increased property values, some difficult decisions lie ahead for the system to remain financially viable, Miller said.

They’re going to have that hard conversation about consolidation of schools and possibly rezoning to make things a little bit more easier on their budget,” said Miller a former school board president.

The school board had considered keeping some of the increased tax revenue from the larger tax digest, which would have been considered a tax increase and required public hearings.

But honestly, there’s some things that have to be done before you can go back and either set the millage rate or or even increase the millage rate,” he said. “So I think they haven’t done enough that’s necessary to convince taxpayers that they made all the cuts they need to before they go back to them.”

Miller expects to calculate the total amount of the county’s millage rate roll back once the tax digest is finalized this month.

When it comes to adjusting county worker salaries upward following this year’s minimum wage increase to $15 an hour, Miller said the threat of recession requires careful calculations to make sure the county can afford salary adjustments.

The mayor plans to be cautious in case an economic downturn is on the horizon. (3:20 into video)

We have looked at our salaries compared to the last salary scale we did,” Miller said. “There’s a wide ranges and we feel comfortable that everyone’s in those ranges and hopefully going to get them some upward mobility. What we said is we’re going to go back and visit those changes on the salaries in the mid-year adjustment.”

The mayor said public safety improvements will be coming using revenue generated with the school speed zone cameras, including four new locations coming online. (22:28)

The county plans to put up cameras near Stratford Academy, ACE, First Presbyterian Day School and Bernd Elementary. More are expected.

“The hope is to add them to a lot more of the public schools in the very near future, too, as soon as we get all the documentation signed, and get the signage, as well as the lights up,” he said.

New courthouse not likely

Macon-Bibb County is looking to renovate the courthouse rather than build a new one. (5:10)

Miller explained that although courthouse concerns were to be addressed through the 2018 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST, erecting a new building would likely cost about $100 million dollars in today’s economy, which is about double the amount included in the SPLOST.

The county has taken other steps to address crowding issues such as building a Juvenile Justice Center, two courtrooms at Macon Mall and shifting some offices.

I think with the remaining funds that we have, we’ll be able to use that value engineer that such a way to accomplish all the goals for security, for safety, for additional room there at the courthouse,” Miller said.

An architectural firm is putting together plans for a new entrance on Mulberry Street and expanded offices for the district attorney.

Miller said he has been pleased with the renovations underway in phases at the City Auditorium, which are being “value-engineered” to compensate for the higher cost of materials.

Work on the ceiling was completed last summer and this year workers are painting and replacing seats and carpet. The next phase includes building new bathrooms on the main floor.

When they set aside those funds back in 2017-18 when they passed the SPLOST they weren’t counting on prices increasing as much. So we have to do a lot more work with a little bit less money,” Miller said. “So we’ve been very good about doing that. You know, the concerts there have been awesome.”

Bicentennial Park and new amphitheater

Mayor Miller said that in the next couple of months, the county may be ready to reveal some of the first acts that will perform in the amphitheater at Macon Mall which is expected to be completed by next spring. (10:44)

Changes made to the original design will give concert goers one of the best vantage points in the country, he said.

It’s going to be one of the largest expanded areas that you have across the United States – 333 feet between column to column. That’s a large area. A football field can fit in between there,” Miller said. “It just shows you the technology that we have and the experience we have there with our designers. But also it means everywhere in the whole amphitheater you’ll have no obstructions to the stage, which is something that people look for all the time.”

Miller is not ready to announce the opening act for the amphitheater, but he did share his thoughts on the aftermath of Macon native Jason Aldean’s controversial music video “Try that in a small town.” (12:12)

On “The View,” Sunny Hostin said, “Macon was one of the most racist places in this country.”

While Miller said he didn’t really have any thoughts about the song itself, but defended his hometown.

We continue to have the most diverse community that I see around, and that’s our strength. And I think we’re going to continue to do that,” Miller said. “So, we’re proud of everybody that comes out of Macon. And certainly sometimes they’re going to have challenges, but it’s something we can overcome. And right now, I think Macon is in an upward trajectory, and we don’t let people in in New York and other places tell us what kind of people we are here in Macon.”

Boarding house issues and the unhoused

In response to a question about regulating boarding houses, Miller said the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission governs permits, but Code Enforcement also handles issues with property maintenance. (16:14)

“We get some conversation from time to time from people making complaints that live in these houses because they’re very poorly kept. The maintenance is not there, the AC is not there, the plumbing is not there. Sometimes the sewage is running out underneath the house,” he said. “We’ve got code enforcement involved in that. And they’ve been able to take these folks to court, prosecute some of them, some or receive fines. So I think got to reach out to both those departments. If you believe there’s an issue in the neighborhood.”

Miller said the county plans to get more involved in creating affordable housing as Macon becomes a more desirable place to live.

I think people are starting to realize that we have a low cost of living here,” Miller said. “We have a lot to do with our quality of life, and have a lot of jobs have been brought to our area and you can have some growing pains.

Miller was asked if the county should be doing more to care for those living on the streets when the heat index reaches deadly levels. (17:47)

He said there are over 30 places for people to get out of the elements and the county is working on a study of the unhoused to further develop a resource guide and app to assist with services.

“Our attempts to count those that are experiencing homelessness and the project we have going on with technology there, it’s going to do a great job about getting them all the available information they need through an app as well,” Miller said. “So, I do think we’re adequately taking care of the needs. And certainly you say you can always do better, but I think that we really have checked that box.”

Answering a complaint about litter on the streets, Miller said the Clean Streets Matter campaign is addressing that through Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful, but people need to take responsibility for their own litter. (19:15)

“We wouldn’t have this trash problem if we didn’t have people throwing trash, right? This is not the government running around throwing trash out there,” he said. “We’d rather use your tax dollars in another, more productive way than going out there every day and picking up trash. So, you know, people need to get the word out and we need to teach our kids not to throw trash out there.”

The county has hired contractors to help keep rights of way clear by mowing grass and trimming back bushes and branches. (20:40)

“We put a lot more money in the last couple of years in our budget to take care of those needs,” he said.

Money also has been allocated to fix potholes and Miller expects to attack that problem with the same enthusiasm the county used to tackle blight.

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.

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