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Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

How Macon-Bibb is spending more than ever, but taxing less

Mayor Miller’s $211 million budget reduces millage rate, adds pay raises, targeted increases
Liz Fabian
A public hearing on the Fiscal Year 2025 budget is scheduled for 5 p.m. June 4 at Macon-Bibb City Hall.

When your Macon-Bibb County tax assessment arrives in the mail, expect your estimated tax to be higher than what you will have to pay. 

The calculations are based on last year’s millage rate but Mayor Lester Miller proposed dropping it to 9.9 in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 budget, which is less than half the rate of 20.31 from his first budget as mayor in FY 2021. 

Last year, the extra penny on the dollar collected through the Other Local Option Sales Tax, or OLOST, dropped the millage rate more than 7 points to 10.7 from 17.9 in FY2023.

“This is not because of the OLOST for this year,” Miller said in Tuesday’s budget presentation. “This is about good budget management. This is about making sure that we have growth in our community and that we’re attracting good businesses here.”

Not only has the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority generated about a billion dollars worth of economic development and 1,500 jobs in recent years, the mayor said, but Visit Macon’s tourism recruitment efforts are paying off and increasing tax revenue. 

Positive national and international news articles, awards and inclusion on lists such as Travel+Leisure’s “Best Places to Travel 2024” put Macon on the map for new visitors. 

Last year brought record-breaking hotel-motel tax collections and a 22% increase in visitor spending to nearly $450 million, according to Visit Macon’s annual report. 

Sporting events fueled some of that growth with more than $14 million of economic impact through 2023. Through the first quarter of 2024, sports made a $6.1 million impact, Visit Macon CEO Gary Wheat said. 

The Miller administration and Wheat’s team also are concentrating on capitalizing on the new amphitheater, pickleball courts and potential national park designation to generate more revenue.

Why a bond inducement?

With the 2018 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, (SPLOST), nearing its maximum collection level of $280 million, Macon-Bibb County is eying projects for a 2025 SPLOST referendum to go before voters next year. 

One of the most widely mentioned and most expensive options is a new jail.

Miller thinks property near the 253-acre closed landfill could be a good prospect for a law enforcement center, and even a new 911 Center and Emergency Management Agency headquarters.  

“At some point in time, we’re going to have to build a new facility, whether this SPLOST or the next one. We’ll see. Right now I’d rather go ahead, acquire the property so we don’t have to have people step up and say ‘not in my backyard,’” he said. “It’s also a safe environment, we believe as well. And it’s going to be enough off the road, where you really won’t even see the jail if it does get built there.”

In Tuesday’s Macon-Bibb County Committee of the Whole meeting, commissioners agreed to set aside up to $2 million in the general fund to purchase 17 acres on seven parcels around Lower Poplar Street.

Parcels highlighted in yellow indicate land Macon-Bibb County already owns. Orange parcels show property the county wants to purchase and the 12.44 acres on the southeast corner of the landfill that the Urban Development Authority will control. Interact here with the map created by Grant Blankenship of Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Combined with land already in the county’s control, it’s nearly 30 acres, including 12.44 acres off Walker Swamp Road the county transferred to the Urban Development Authority this week. 

“That’s a large potential site for us. We have our solid waste department down there now, but acquiring these properties gives us the flexibility to go in and exercise site control in case we ever want to build a correctional facility there,” Miller told reporters following his budget presentation.

That type of complex would likely be the big ticket item on the 2025 SPLOST, so the mayor wants to get a head start on site preparation to see what could be built and how much it would cost. 

He also secured commissioners’ approval for a bond inducement to allow the county to reimburse itself for the land purchase and other costs.

The county intends to finance up to the $42 million maximum allowed, but the resolution passed Tuesday would allow reimbursement of that money to the general fund from future SPLOST proceeds. 

Miller included other recent county-acquired or desired land purchases and projects: Middle Georgia Regional Airport improvements, new convention center, old Macon Hilton at 108 First St., 4687 Rivoli Drive, land at the corner of Walnut Street, old Macon Progressive Christian Academy/Macon Charter School at 151 Madison St., parcels near the Harrison Road Walmart, and a persistent illegal dumping site off Pine Avenue. 

“I want to make sure people know that we’re not obligating ourselves to do anything,” Miller said. “That $42 million is something that’s in every SPLOST, every year, where you can borrow the funds ahead of time, if you choose to, before you collect all the SPLOST.”

It is kind of like counting your pennies before they come in, with the promise that they will eventually come in. 

Pay raises, spending priorities

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller talks to reporters after presenting highlights of his Fiscal Year 2025 budget Tuesday morning at City Hall.

As promised in last month’s State of the Community, Miller included in his proposed budget a pay raise for all county workers, which will vary between 4-10% depending on where the employee is on the pay scale or other factors, he said. 

The increases began a couple of months ago, but others will see a pay hike on July 1.

“There are some people who are already kind of maxed out and they got about 4%. All your public safety is getting 6%. And other people that need to get caught up are getting close to 10%. All that’s in this budget,” he said.  

As is his custom when presenting his spending plan, Miller tracks the increases since he took office in 2021. 

Public safety again claims the largest piece of the pie with $91.5 million divided among the sheriff’s office, fire department and emergency management. That’s an increase of $15.7 million in four years.

Over $7 million is allotted to recreation, which is up $2.4 million from FY ‘21.

Economic development’s budget rose $4.5 million in the last four years to a proposed $6.7 million in Miller’s budget. 

The money will be spent to not only lure new businesses and industry, but to take care of existing companies and allow for future growth. 

The mayor pointed to recent expansions at Coca-Cola, Nichiha, Irving Tissue, YKK and others re-investing in Macon-Bibb County. 

“This economic development money allows us to clear off sites, get things ready for them, acquire land nearby where they’re at, to help them expand their business,” he said. “And I think you’re going to continue to see that and also to attract new businesses, look for new sites that we’re working on now, so we can continue to grow our economy here in Macon.”

Another major existing industry expansion could be pending as First Quality on Avondale Mill Road has applied for an air quality permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, which is taking public comments until June 7.

The diaper manufacturing plant is seeking permission to build eight new production lines and two reclamation lines. 

In the FY ‘25 budget, Miller also plans to continue beautification efforts to make the community more attractive to newcomers and residents by more than doubling FY ‘21 spending and allocating $4.6 million.

In FY ‘22, Miller created a line item for pedestrian safety with $100,000 in that budget and $500,000 allocated each year since. 

No other departments were featured in Tuesday’s budget presentation. 

Miller said the entire budget book will be available for commissioners and posted as soon as possible on the Macon-Bibb County website, which has been down since Saturday due to a cybersecurity incident investigation.

Two weeks before commissioners vote on the budget June 18 during the 6 p.m. meeting, the county will hold a public hearing at 5 p.m. June 4 at City Hall for the public to provide input and make suggestions concerning the budget.

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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