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Ask Mayor Miller: Crime, blight, beautification, spending and board of elections battle over new supervisor

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller answers the public’s questions for Ask Mayor Miller airing monthly on 13WMAZ

MACON, Ga. — Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller sat down with the Center for Collaborative Journalism late last month to answer questions submitted by the community.

The Center, in partnership with 13WMAZ, The Telegraph and Georgia Public Broadcasting, has met with Miller monthly since February of 2021 – his second month in office.

For June, Miller explained his spending priorities after the close of his first budget year and the launch of the Fiscal Year 2023 spending plan with nearly half of the $198 million budget going to public safety. You can watch the full interview here, on 13WMAZ’s “Central Georgia Focus” or on WMUB.

After Jeff Penland’s property taxes have tripled in the last 15 years, he questioned where his money is going since he has to routinely dodge potholes. Miller responded that there are 1,100 miles of road in Bibb County and it takes time to get to each street to repave. The county commission is currently brushing up on the county’s road repair selection process that uses a rating system to rank the worst, heavily-traveled roads to prioritize spending.

Increasing crime near Lake Wildwood was on the mind of Margie Sheffield. The mayor said gated communities can be a challenge but they have increased patrols reaching that area, but the sheriff struggles with staffing shortages. Miller says that although the county is working to get to the root causes of violence, they are also spending $40 million to retain public safety workers.

After the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections hired outside counsel to assist them in a rift with the mayor over who can select the next elections supervisor candidate, Miller said that entering into mediation over the interpretation of the law could prolong the selection process beyond the November election.

Miller also updated plans for county departments moving to Macon Mall and construction of the new amphitheater. Although the heavy equipment hasn’t moved in yet, there has been soil testing and stormwater studies going on. Miller hopes the amphitheater will be ready to for the finale of the city’s bicentennial celebration.

Cyrus Walton asked whether the mayor could enact a litter patrol crew to address the county’s cleanliness. Miller said there is already a strike force in place and the growing code enforcement operation also is tackling blight and public nuisance issues. The mayor also said the addition of Asha Ellen as executive director of the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Board has infused energy into the neighborhood cleanups that have been happening under the Clean Streets Matter initiative.

When it comes to rooming houses, Sheree Bell is worried they are breeding crime, increasing blight and not paying for multiple garbage cans. Miller responded that planning and zoning and code enforcement are getting more involved in regulating those homes. He also said that those houses are charged for each trash can, but he also encouraged neighbors to report suspicious activity so that it can be addressed.

“We really want to cut down on crime and those types of things, but at the same time we have to be mindful we’re short on housing and some of those folks who have not lived in that particular area, they need to behave. But they maybe living under a bridge, or in the woods somewhere or in a tent, until we get enough affordable housing. But we’re going to continue to be diligent in enforcing the law,” Miller said.

– To have your question answered in the next Ask Mayor Miller segment, email mercerccj@gmail.com. Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at fabian_lj@mercer.edu or 478-301-2976.

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