Mayor Miller’s plans for crime, blight, homelessness, economic development

Mayor+Miller%27s+plans+for+crime%2C+blight%2C+homelessness%2C+economic+development

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller sat down with the Center for Collaborative Journalism to answer questions about his plans to combat major issues affecting the community.

Miller has agreed to monthly interviews to discuss items of local interest raised by local citizens and compiled by the journalists working at the CCJ, Georgia Public Broadcasting, The Telegraph and 13WMAZ. Submit your questions to the Macon Newsroom for our March interview at [email protected].

Here’s a short synopsis of topics raised and Miller’s answers from our first Ask Mayor Miller segment that was recorded Feb. 18 in his office at the Macon-Bibb County Government Center. You can fast forward to the mayor’s comments on a particular issue by using the time codes included in parentheses for the attached video.

Public Safety

CCJ: (:30) Public safety was a big issue in the campaign. When will law enforcement see new officers on the street and recruits in training?

Miller: We have 20 new deputies, we believe, who have been approved since the pay scale came out. Sheriff’s office has been down about 150 deputies. Our ultimate goal is to make sure we don’t need those 150 officers to keep Macon-Bibb County safe.

CCJ: (1:10) During the campaign, you had a plan to get retirees to fill some of these slots. Has there been any progression toward that?

Miller: Yes. I talked to the sheriff about using retirees to screen the new school zone safety camera footage to determine whether citations are warranted. Talked with the new DA and public defender about looking at ways to reduce jail population with a new work-release program. We believe that’s going to decrease the number of officers needed at the jail and we’ll have more of them out on patrol. Also asked the Georgia State Patrol to assist us on our interstates and by increasing their presence we can reduce the number of deputies we need.

Homeless 

CCJ: (2:4) Longterm, what role will the country play in funding a permanent warming center or dealing with the homeless?

Miller: We won’t be closing the Brookdale Warming Center April 1. We will need a 365 day a year facility. “We’ve made too great of an impact on our community and the lives of those people there, which is sometimes up to 150 people, to come in someday and say it’s over.”  We’re developing a longterm strategy with the community and believe we have some money in the budget for that.

Blight

CCJ: (5:55) Can you tell us about the Clean Streets initiative and how people can get involved?

Miller: We convened all the right parties. “Forming a broad coalition of supporters like that is something I’ve really looked forward to.” In about month, 90 illegal dumps have been cleared compared to 25 all last year. We’re getting information out to the community about See, Click, Fix. We have 18 to 20 cleanups already scheduled. On April 10, everybody is going to pick up trash that day. We’ll make sure they have grabbers and trash bags. “People need to have a clean environment in which to work and also the crime certainly affects all those areas.”

CCJ: (8:00) Why don’t we see prison details cleaning up along the highway anymore?

Miller: The Bibb Law Enforcement Center is not a prison. Most people are waiting for court. We can’t use them. State prison inmates can be hired at a cost but due to COVID they put a complete halt on that.

CCJ: (9:20) What should people do if they see an illegal dump site?

Miller: See, Click, Fix. It helps us provide better service fo our community.

CCJ: (10:10) Can you explain what your convenience centers will entail?

Miller: A mini-transfer station on a five-acre tract with places for recycling, tires, cardboard, glass, four or five large bins for sofa, mattresses and other debris. We’ll open these probably four days a week, 10 hours a day. “This is not a dump. If it’s near you, you would appreciate it. There’s no smells. There’s no household garbage there because that’s picked up at your house.

CCJ: (11:40) What is your timetable for these new convenience centers?

Miller:  We want the first one open within 90 days at the old Animal Welfare location. We’re going to close the Walker Road Landfill so we have a place for that to go. We’re actually going to roll out two or three of these one right after the other. Commissioners and consultants are looking at locations.

Hunting near homes

CCJ: (12:45) What should someone do if there are hunters near their homes?

Miller: Hunters have rights, too. Homeowners should find out what their rights are under the law and if there are violations occurring, contact the sheriff’s office or a ranger, if it’s close to public lands.

Violent Crime

CCJ: (13:30) What are your plans to address the heart of some of those issues that affect crime?

Miller: We’re rolling out a mental health initiative, Macon Health Matters. We follow the data. We have several communities who need more assistance than others. They’re more challenged from a financial standpoint or a crime standpoint.  We’re going to have a mental health team targeting mainly youth and youth parents. We’ll offer anger management, conflict resolution, mental health counseling, parenting, mental health treatment one-on-one at no cost. We think we can make an impact.

COVID-19 pandemic

CCJ: (15:15) What do you see as the chief COVID-19 challenges in getting Macon-Bibb County back to normal?

Miller: We can’t be complacent. We need to stay vigilant, wear a mask and social distance. We need to be smart about large gatherings, but I do see light at the end of the day. The executive order is in place until March 7. We’re looking forward to having a safe Cherry Blossom. I think our tourism will flourish as soon as this is over, but we have to do it in a smart way.

Business development

CCJ: (16:45) We still have about a quarter of downtown stores vacant. Do you have any plans for economic development in this area?

Miller: What I can say without releasing too much information is that we have substantial interest from outside investors in downtown Macon. We’ve been working with NewTown, so things are already underway. The new hotel across from the auditorium, which will be renovated, will help. Museums are continuing to do great things and the Coliseum is starting to pick up with sporting events. You’re going to see increased traffic and that brings business. I think things are still on the horizon. We just had a minor hiccup with COVID.

CCJ: (18:20) What is the next step in pushing economic growth outside of downtown?

Miller:  Downtown does bring in a lot of tax revenue but we have to look at all spokes of the wheel. We have initiatives on Houston Avenue. We started with mental health and blight in that area. You’re going to see some building in that area. You’re going to see some removing of some blighted structures. You’re going to see new businesses. I’m hopeful of that. We have major plans we’re going to announce this year for Bloomfield. Pleasant Hill is starting to have some growth. Ocmulgee Mounds will bring traffic and expansion. Our administration is going to be focused on the entire community. I’m really big on community resource centers. I like the business incubators. Do those in more parts of the community. I think there’s good things on the horizon for each of those areas.

Food desert

CCJ: (20:20) Is there a role government can play in making sure there are adequate grocery stores?

Miller: The government certainly has to play a role. Some of these other things we’re doing, eliminating blight, will have an effect. Businesses will come where there are people at, where there are houses. If we take care of the trash, have a rebuilding program, businesses will come. Commissioners are putting together incentive practices. Other areas need a good healthy choice. We all need good, healthy choices in our neighborhood. I expect in the next 30-90 days to have discussions about incentives to jump start things with the food desert.

Housing

CCJ: (22:00) Do you have any plans to work with outside agencies for reduced mortgages? Does anything like that currently exist?

Miller: Some small programs. The office of Economic and Community Development has some grants. One of the things we want to do, when we tear down these blighted structures is to build them back up. Set aside money for low-interest loans, do revolving loans for people to build or rebuild. Three-percent loans to help them get the housing they need. We’re looking forward to putting something together.

Potholes

CCJ: (23:20) What is the mechanism in place for fixing potholes and can the city be liable for damage to a vehicle?

Miller: The city cannot be liable but we do try to address them as we see them. The transfer of stormwater management should help. A lot of these potholes are created because water gets underneath there. The drains are not clear. The infrastructure change is going to help with the potholes. We’re constantly working but time, money and the weather has a lot to do with that. We get calls on a daily basis. Use See, Click, Fix. Also we have to look at why these are being created so we have fewer in the future.

CCJ: (25:00) How do you determine which roads to pave first?

Miller: A company does an analysis of roads to figure out the most dangerous conditions, how much traffic; is it a main gateway? If it’s your district it’s the most important in the world. They want it paved but paving is a lot of money. It’s one of the biggest expenses we have. May cost $1 million. They are ranked as far as need. We try to be equitable. Infrastructure hasn’t been funded over the last 40 years.

Future plans

CCJ: (26:40) What’s down the road you’d like your constituents to know about?

Miller: We have many things down the road but mainly we ask the community to engage so we can see what they want. The transition team had 50 items and we’re clicking those off. We ask them to be patient. It takes a while. We’re going to touch every area in Macon-Bibb County. This is very data driven and we’ll take the most serious issues first. We have to do it in a strategic manner, make sure we have funding for it. It’s one thing to envision something and it’s another thing to find the money to pay for it. We’ve done a lot.

CCJ: (28:30) Anything on the horizon with an Other Local Options Sales Tax?

Miller: Before March 4, we have to have that bill ready. I’m hoping to have a June election. I’m very encouraged the county commissioners voted 9-0 and we may have unanimous support from the local legislative delegation.

Send your questions for Mayor Miller to [email protected]