21 things to look for in 2021 – Part 3

Bibb+County+Sheriff+David+Davis+hopes+a+new+Outreach+Center+will+help+curb+violent+crime+after+a+record+number+of+homicides+in+2020.

Liz Fabian

Bibb County Sheriff David Davis hopes a new Outreach Center will help curb violent crime after a record number of homicides in 2020.

The Center for Collaborative Journalism’s “4 The People” division monitors more than four dozen government commissions, boards and authorities through its Civic Reporting Senior Fellow and Civic Ambassador program. We gathered 21 items of local interest for Macon-Bibb County as we embark on 2021. 

15.  ‘Normalcy’ sought after record homicides

After the record number of homicides eclipsed 50 in 2020, Bibb County Sheriff David Davis is looking forward to the new year.

“Some of those underlying conditions – COVID, lockdowns and uneasiness created kind of a tragic situation here locally but we hope to get normalcy back,” Davis said. “We’re seeing strange behaviors all across the country.”

Shortly after the first of the year, Davis will announce promotions for his staff which he said has been “doing a good job” with the resources and manpower available.

The sheriff’s new Outreach Center likely will be opening in the old Rescue Mission facility on Hazel Street behind the jail.

“COVID kind of slowed us up a bit. We’re probably about three months behind,” Davis said. “I look forward to getting the community together and putting together programs for the youth.”

16.  Some retirees could see benefit boost in pension recalculations

Retirees of the old city of Macon, Bibb County and the consolidated government could be receiving checks in 2021 to compensate for several years of suspected pension miscalculations.

For most of 2020, the county has been trying to determine who is affected and how much is owed after an audit discovered the wrong actuarial factors likely were used to calculate some benefits.

Chuck Carr of Southern Actuarial Services told the Macon-Bibb County Fire and Police Retirement System at its December meeting that he was present when new software for benefit calculations was installed, but apparently it was never used.

“Those were the factors that were supposed to be used for retirees from that point forward,” Carr said. “I don’t understand the logistics of why it wasn’t being used.”

The IT employee he worked with at the time is no longer with the county, Carr said.

To further complicate matters, computers have been upgraded since the original software was installed and records are not computerized which means files need to be digitally scanned.

Pension board representatives for all three retirement funds hired Buck Consultants to assess how much is owed to retirees.

Senior Assistant County Attorney Michael McNeill estimated it could cost up to $85,000 to scan all files in a comprehensive review to determine what might be owed to former police officers and firefighters, alone.

“It’s going to be a lot of money, I agree,” retirement system chairman Danny Angelo said. “But I also agree that if somebody’s calculation has been done wrong… we need to fix it.”

Similar costs are expected for the two other plans.

The auditor estimated up to 10 percent of retirees might have been affected but it will take at least two months to do even a random check of the files. It’s suspected that those workers choosing non-standard beneficiary options are the ones affected.

The pension boards agreed to an initial inspection of 100 retirees in each plan and should have findings by spring.

A comprehensive review of all files could take half the year.

In that scenario, Buck Consultants will make sure the county has the pertinent information for each retiree to either prove they are not owed additional money or to determine how much the former workers are due.

17.  Taking steps toward safer streets

Advocates for greater safety on Macon-Bibb County streets will spend 2021 implementing their Vision Zero Action Plan to work toward eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries by the year 2040.

The Macon-Bibb County Commission signed off in November on the plan that has been compiled after more than a year of meetings and public input.

The review board will be distributing lighted wristbands on some of the county’s most dangerous roads such as Pio Nono Avenue and Gray Highway.

The board will team up with the Bibb County School System on the Walking School Bus program where crossing monitors will walk to school with groups of children.

Once the pandemic subsides, youngsters will have the opportunity to get additional exercise as they share the sidewalk with others in a healthy alternative to buses or car pool.

18.  Vaccines and vacating old Health Department

The beginning of 2021 brings the Macon-Bibb County Health Department’s continued efforts to combat the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

Workers will be coordinating Middle Georgia vaccine distribution with the North Central Health District.

Coronavirus not only strapped resources in the public health sector but it delayed contractors working on the new Macon-Bibb County Health Department, which initially was set to open late 2020.

As early as spring, the services provided at the current offices on Emery Highway will be shifted to the old orthopedic offices at 1600 Forsyth St., just off Interstate 75.

Materials were hard to come by after the summer spike in the cases of COVID-19, which delayed construction.

Macon-Bibb also will likely have a new health administrator as efforts are underway to hire someone to oversee the public health services delivered in the county.

The UGA Cooperative Extension is expected to move into the old Robert S. Train Memorial Recreation Center that is being renovated by Macon-Bibb County. (Liz Fabian)

19.  On track with Train Recreation Center

By the end of summer 2021, the Robert S. Train Memorial Recreation Center is expected to be the new home of the Macon-Bibb County UGA Cooperative Extension Offices.

Commissioners recently approved spending $1.1 million dollars in 2018 SPLOST proceeds to renovate the building that had become an eyesore at the corner of Oglethorpe and First streets.

“The building was in really bad shape… in danger of collapsing on itself,” Blight czar Cass Hatcher said in a Dec. 8 presentation to the mayor and commission.

Earlier this year, commissioners allocated more than $900,000 to stabilize the walls and roof before work could be done on the interior at 715 Oglethorpe St.

In 1966, the Bibb Manufacturing Company deeded over the 11,000-square-foot building and 1.28 acres of land to the city of Macon with the stipulation it be used by the government or a nonprofit organization for the public good.

As part of the renovation, extension agent Karol Kelly plans a teaching kitchen to be used for nutrition classes, an outdoor garden and an event space. She expects people from all over the county to take advantages of the new opportunities the building will bring.

20.  Cash to cultivate Macon Cultural Plan

After struggling through the pandemic economic downturn and loss of local hotel-motel tax revenues, the Macon Arts Alliance is receiving a major grant from the Knight Foundation.

A quarter of a million dollars will assist with building a sustainable arts infrastructure and implementing the Macon Cultural Plan unveiled in 2020.

“We’re ready to get started in January implementing this plan,” Arts Alliance executive  director Julie Wilkerson told board members in November.

Knight also provided $200,000 for the Otis Redding Foundation to plan a new state of the art facility to train future professional musicians.

Look for the arts enthusiasts to partner with the Urban Development Authority in 2021 to continue to foster the Mill Hill East Macon Arts Village off Coliseum Drive where refurbished homes are marketed to artists.

An artists’ workshop is in the works that will include a tour of the homes for sale in the enclave near Main Street and the side entrance to the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park.

The Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful board selected a new logo at its November meeting.

21.  Keep Macon Bibb Beautiful

Keep Macon Bibb Beautiful not only has a new executive director but the beautification organization has a new logo for the fresh start in tackling the community’s litter problem.

The board approved the updated look at their November meeting.

The design features a blue circle representing the globe, a brown stylized “M” that serves as a tree trunk for a canopy of leaves in shades of green.

“Our mission is to create a greener and cleaner Macon-Bibb County,” executive director Caroline Childs said as she presented designs for consideration.

“In the industry, people are taking a really abstract approach and this brings us into the game from a branding perspective,” Childs said.

Keep Macon Bibb Beautiful kicks of the new year on Jan. 9 with “Bring one for the Chipper,” the annual Christmas Tree recycling program.

Undecorated trees will be chipped into mulch at 815 Riverside Drive and can be dropped off earlier at Kroger locations on Hartley Bridge, Zebulon and Forsyth roads and Tom Hill Sr. Blvd.

The organization also will help host celebrations for Arbor Day on Feb. 19 and Earth Day on April 22 and bring volunteers together for the Great American Cleanup in the spring.

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or [email protected]