The Macon-Bibb County consolidated government is unlikely to see big savings in its first few months, a budget consultant told the Finance Committee of the merger task force Wednesday.
Paula Sanford from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government is working on how the new government’s budget will be structured. About 70 percent of current city and county budgets is used for personnel costs, she said. Officials anticipate the new government will at least start with the same number of employees. Many other costs such as fuel and utilities are relatively fixed as well, Sanford said.
“I don’t foresee an awful lot of cost savings,” she said. “The only place there might be is combining the City Council and County Commission budget.”
But the first six months of a new government — from its establishment in January 2014 until the June 30, 2014, end of the fiscal year — isn’t the time to look for line-by-line cuts, Sanford said.
The consolidation legislation requires the new mayor and commission to cut 20 percent from the current total city and county budgets over the next five years, but no cut is required the first year.
Sanford said her proposed budget design highlights changes rather than routine spending, especially the cost of combining city and county departments. The cost for moving offices around isn’t broken out in the current city and county budgets, she said. Since the new elected officials will have to decide when or whether to make those moves, it should be made clear that money for them will have to come from the existing fund balance or by making cuts elsewhere, Sanford said.
Mayor Robert Reichert noted that some offices will have to be moved before others, in order to free up room; so it might be a couple of years before all such moves need to be paid for.
Sanford said some officials are hoping for a revenue boost when city franchise fees go countywide, but those are based on negotiated agreements with various companies. Negotiating expanded agreements will take time, so she didn’t anticipate any such increases in planning the new government’s first six months.
In general, her proposed design for the budget leaves out details on routine line-item spending, focusing instead on changes from the current city and county budgets, Sanford said. That’s what the public will really be interested in, she said.
Bibb County Finance Director Deborah Martin said elected officials likely wouldn’t have time to review every detail, since they have to approve basic spending plans from the start. Macon Finance Director Megan McMahon agreed.
Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, however, said he doesn’t think giving fewer details — or making assumptions about what the public wants — will give people confidence in the new government.
“My sense is that it’s not a good idea to start off with less transparency than we’re accustomed to,” he said.
Martin said detailed line-items would still be publicly available online, but a printed compilation of the full city and county budgets could exceed 1,000 pages.