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Macon-Bibb to fund hospital, transit | News

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Macon-Bibb to fund hospital, transit

In a change of heart, eight of nine Macon-Bibb commissioners voted Thursday night to fund every outside agency that requested county money in fiscal year 2015 . Commissioners voted 5 to 4 Tuesday night to go back to the drawing board, instead of approving a budget that included a $500,000 cut to indigent care and $17,000 to the Paratransit.

The new budget includes $475,000 for indigent care at the Medical Center and restored funding to the Macon Transit Authority and Paratransit, which serves the elderly and disabled.

"Every dollar is critically important," former vice president of the Medical Center, Andrew Galloway, told 13WMAZ. "Without that money, we would've had to look at the services that we offer, the clinics that we man and the size of our workforce," says Galloway.

The revised budget also cuts funding to local museums like the Tubman from $250,000 each to $237,500.

"I think that sends a positive message to our community that we've looked at it hard, we've made tough choices, and hard decisions but we've come together and I feel very positive about the budget," Reichert said.

The changes also tack on an additional $667,865 to Mayor Robert Reichert's proposed $158.7 million budget.

Reichert says they hope additional revenue from sales taxes and additional franchise fees will help cover the cost.

If not, he says they'll have to use part of the expected $4.9 million in reserve funds to foot the bill.

He said the county will not raise property taxes.

The proposed budget cuts the former city's property taxes in half, while maintaining the county's rate.

Still, some commissioners remained unconvinced.

"Too often, many of our commissioners only think about spending money now and don't think about what the impact of that, what the unintended consequences are," Commissioner Gary Bechtel said.

Bechtel was the only commissioner who didn't vote.

He says dipping into county savings would be viewed negatively by credit agencies, and lower credit scores mean any money borrowed in the future would come with a higher interest rate.

Commissioner Larry Schlesinger says it's "bad business" to use county reserves.

"We just don't have that money," he said. "We've got it in reserve, but we ran into problems year ago when we dipped into reserves and came close to bankrupting the city. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that if a city or community is dipping into its reserves, it's not operating on a balanced budget," says Schlesinger.

Commissioner Scotty Shepherd said, "Tonight was a big compromise. I saw the votes that were taking place and I just got the feeling that we weren't going to be able to pass a budget if I didn't side with those who were making the amendments."

Mayor pro-tem Bert Bivins says compromise is key.

"This budget is going to be more closely watched than any other," Bivins said. "We need to show the community that we are working together and that we are working to be one," says Bivins.

At the beginning of Thursday's meeting, Mayor Reichert suspended the rules to require 6 votes instead of 5 to make any changes to the budget.

He said because six of the nine commissioners must give the nod of approval in order for the budget to be adopted, making any changes at the committee level should also require six votes.

He says the rules were also suspended Tuesday night when commissioners voted to send the budget back to the committee as a whole, instead of to the operations and finance committee, where it originated.

That argument didn't sit well with Commissioner Elaine Lucas.

"In this committee, we need to stay with what all of our documents say, and that is 5 votes," Lucas argued. "Somebody's trying to do something, if we change in here the number of votes needed to approve something."

The final vote is scheduled for Monday, June 30.

The fiscal year begins July 1.

Follow 13WMAZ's Anita Oh on Twitter @anita_ohand on Facebook at Anita Oh WMAZ.


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