On July 31st residents of Macon and Bibb County will vote whether to merge their governments. The consolidation effort dates back 90 years. A bill allowing the vote finally passed the legislature this year.
In a large room at the Macon Centreplex members of the Bibb County Legislative delegation are seated on the dais in front of nearly 200 people. The event is billed as an appreciation breakfast for the politicians for passing a consolidation bill including Legislative Delegation Chair Nikki Randall.
“We have a measure that will be before the people that will be before the people that is fair to city and county residents, and it will eliminate some of the inefficiencies that we see when dealing with two separate governments.”
Randall says a change in the delegation’s makeup made the bill possible.
Macon City Councilwoman Elaine Lucas was not invited to the breakfast. She opposes consolidation. She worries it will hurt government employees with mandatory layoffs. The bill requires a 20-percent budget cut.
“The only way you can reach a 20-percent reduction is to reduce in the area where your largest amounts of money go, and that is personnel and benefits.”
Lucas, could also be out of her city council seat. Under newly drawn districts she would have to run against at least two fellow council members as the combined governments shrink elected officials from 21 to 10. The new government would include a mayor and nine county commissioners. Lucas also argues that combining black democratic voters with white republicans in Bibb County dilutes black voting strength.
Community activist Al Tillman, supports consolidation. He says opponents need to quit worrying about turf.
“Elected officials talking about…well you know it’s going to dilute the vote…and I’m not going to have a job. It’s not about you having a job. It’s about us moving the community forward as one group and one organization.”
An analysis of the plan by supporters says the new Commission would still have a 5-4 Democratic majority. The map of the new districts would also be subject to federal voting rights act approval.
Calder Pinkston is co-chair of Macon-Bibb Wins Again, the group pushing consolidation. He says Columbus, Augusta, and Athens are all consolidated, making them more attractive to new businesses.
“We have perfect location, infrastructure, higher education and medical complex. We’ve got tremendous excess water and sewage capacity which is critical for economic development. So, we make the short list, but then we get stricken off.”
And Pinkston says a major reason for that is the structure of government. Depending on where a business is located, rules and regulations can be different. He says combining will increase efficiency and stop duplication of services.
Consolidation will also boost population from under 100-thousand to over 160, on paper making the area eligible for grants and fees set aside for larger cities.
But Elaine Lucas says she believes the pro consolidation movement is strong on slogans but weak on substance.
“People don’t need to be fooled by this stuff. Oh we need a better Macon, We need to speak with one voice. What does that mean, speaking with one voice?”
Rep. Nikki Randall says it means a better future for Macon and Bibb County.
“I think it’s a great place to live and raise a family, and we’ve just got to make ourselves more attractive. Maybe we’ve got to put on a little bit more lipstick.”
If voters approve consolidation the two governments will combine in January of 2014.