The budget cuts required by Macon-Bibb County consolidation are likely to result in a property tax cut within the next five years.
That’s according to consultants from the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government who spoke Wednesday to the Finance Committee of the task force working on consolidation.
The consolidation charter doesn’t require a cut in the combined city-county government during the next year, but it mandates a 5 percent cut in each of the four fiscal years after that. By the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2018, that will mean cutting about $28.5 million from the government’s general operating budget, according to a report from Christopher Pike, the city of Dunwoody’s finance director who was brought in by the Carl Vinson Institute to make a revenue projection for the new government.
The $28.5 million cut is more than all non-tax sources of revenue the government has, Pike said.
“There won’t be a way to achieve that (cut) without affecting the taxes, primarily the property taxes,” he told the committee.
Pike estimated that government revenue likely will grow by about 2 percent per year, but he figured a 2.5 percent inflation rate. And while it’s hoped that consolidation will lead to a new era of growth for Macon-Bibb, if too many people move into the area, that will actually make it harder to make ends meet, Pike found. Those residents will need basic services, but the new government is legally limited on how much it can spend, so some services would have to be cut.
“It looks like it’s going to be an extremely challenging five years,” said Dale Walker, Macon’s interim chief administrative officer.
Some cost savings may come from a future look at the city-county capital improvement plans, said T.J. Sigler, the Carl Vinson Institute’s fiscal analyst. He took a look at the existing five-year plans for each government. Macon planned to build a $19 million new police headquarters in 2017, but city police are merging with the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, Sigler said. The sheriff’s office recently bought an additional building downtown and plans to revamp some existing offices, so the new police headquarters — the biggest single project in the city capital plan — may not be needed, he said.
But Sigler cautioned that budget-balancing in the past few years has led both city and county to withhold full funding from many capital requests, so there may be a backlog of needs to replace big-ticket, old equipment.
“I think you all have a real big challenge ahead of you,” committee Chairwoman Pearlie Toliver said to Walker, county CAO Steve Layson and other city and county staff.