Sept. 20--The magnitude of merging Macon, Payne City and Bibb County governments became more apparent Wednesday as the consolidation task force held its second meeting.
City and county department heads described what it will take to merge their operations, with special attention to avoid putting the cart before the horse. Some tasks will have to be done before others, such as deciding what new departments there will be in order to know how much space each will need.
And within a few minutes, a potential big snag emerged in meeting the consolidation legislation's budget goals. The goals forbid the new government's budget from exceeding the combined city and county budgets, excluding those costs spun off as special revenue funds, said Bibb County Finance Director Deborah Martin. But some of the functions now classed as special revenue funds won't qualify for that status in the new government, she said.
"Those expenses are going to roll into the General Fund and increase your budget," Martin said.
The task force met in a packed conference room at the Middle Georgia Regional Commission office. Laura Mathis, the regional commission's deputy director, asked whether the group's 15 members wanted to hash out most of the details of a new government themselves, or rely on city and county staff to collaborate on specific proposals that the task force could then accept or reject.
The quick consensus was for the latter, with the added acknowledgement that some of the work will require hiring outside help.
Under the consolidation legislation that voters approved July 31, the existing Macon and Bibb governments must cover the cost of any needed consultants or professional services.
County Chief Administrative Officer Steve Layson noted that the county outsources some services the city provides, and vice versa. He raised the possibility that current government departments might be asked to assemble formal proposals and "bid for their jobs" against private companies.
Seconds later, Layson said it's vitally important for current city and county employees to be kept informed of the task force's plans.
"They're scared to death in all this process," he said. "Are they going to have a job? You can't answer all of those questions right now."
It could take a long time for all departments to meet all legal requirements, so some could run parallel even after the new government takes office in January 2014, Layson said.
Pearlie Toliver, retired vice president of BB&T, said she had been through a private-company merger and knows employees will need psychological counseling.
"Trust me, all these people are in fear right now and have no idea what this is going to be," she said. "And they're going to have to function in this new government."
Macon Human Resources Director Ben Hubbard said the city and county already have programs for that and will publicize them.
Hubbard said he and county HR Director Dwight Baker need to know first what new departments will exist and what functions will be outsourced. Then they can develop individual job descriptions, then a pay plan, and finally a new benefits structure.
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said he hopes the city and county can settle on the same health insurance provider within the next year, so employees can move seamlessly into a new government with the same company.
"I'm glad to hear the mayor say that, because this is a drum that I've been beating a little bit," Macon Councilman Tom Ellington said.
Reichert said he knows there's "huge amounts of anxiety" among city and county pension plan participants, and they need to be reassured quickly. That may involve starting a new pension system and closing the old ones to new members -- not terminating the plans, but only sending new hires into a new system while the old keeps paying out full benefits, he emphasized.
To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.
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