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MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Election day is now less than two weeks away. 41NBC News is introducing voters to candidates for Macon-Bibb Commission.
Decision 2020: Meet Bill Howell, Macon-Bibb Commission Candidate for District 7
Candidate name: Bill Howell
Running for: District 7
Occupation: Retired Contractor
Campaign Facebook: Elect Bill Howell District 7
Q.Bill Howell, you are running for District 7. Tell me more about your ideas and plans for your area and particularly all of Macon-Bibb and how you plan on getting commissioners on board.
A. First, thanks for asking me to be on here and doing this interview. I know that this is a trying time and it’s been hard on us campaigners too trying to meet with people. Two part question that you asked, county wide, I am very concerned about first responders’ pay and first responders’ numbers that we have right now. We have to fix that. Before we fix anything else we have to fix that. We have to get more deputies, we need more firemen, and we have to get paid competitive so that we can hire those people and keep those people. So, number one on my list, absolutely has to be fixed, that has to be fixed first. Before we spend any money on any other projects or anything else that has to be fixed.As far as District 7 goes, we have some serious drain issues in District 7, things that have over the years progressed and nobody’s really looked after. There are several subdivisions out here. The County used to clean their ditches. For whatever reason, they just don’t clean them anymore. The ditches have gotten stopped up. Every time it rains now those areas flood, and it’s just getting worse because nobody’s looking after the drainage or the lack of drainage that we don’t have. So that’s the main focus on District 7 problems that I feel like has to be addressed, and they’ll be number one on my priority out here.
Q. With the pay increases that you see for first responders, is there going to be room in the budget, or how will you make room in the budget, to make sure that we can enforce these pay increases that commissioners currently, the administration currently, have set forth on doing?
A. I have been watching budget meetings today, committee meetings today, and the talk is about the new pay scale. They did a big study and they’re just now getting the numbers in, I think it’s just a rough draft that they’re working with now, but they’re talking about anywhere from a $3 million to $8 million across the board budget pay increase for all employees. And all employees deserve decent pay for a decent day’s work. However, the current administration is talking about kicking this can down the road until January 1, which is when the new commission will take effect and they don’t have anything in the budget right now for this pay increase, and that’s going to cause a huge problem on top of COVID-19 for all of us new guys that are elected. The first day we take a seat, we’re going to be looking at anywhere–if it’s only half a year because our budget year starts July 1. So January 1, even if they approve now and put the payroll in effect January 1, we’re still looking at half of either $3 million to $8 million depending on what pay scale they go with. So, yeah, we’re looking at pretty serious deficit walking in and there’s two ways that you raise a budget, you cut some other stuff out or you raise taxes. I’m absolutely against any more taxes. We absolutely cannot afford higher property taxes in Bibb County. So, that said, there’s going to have to be some trimming of other line items in the budget, because I know that commission has worked so hard to build up our reserve fund and I would hate for economic downfall to really impact that.
Q: So, with those trimmings, where are you anticipating seeing those potential cuts because of all these pandemic issues? How can we pull out on top?
A. Well, let’s go back to what you’re just talking about there. To balance the budget, right now, the current administration is saying that we’re going to take $10 million out of our reserves, which is I think $27 million. They’re going to take $10 million out of that just to make up the deficit for the last couple months with COVID-19. Their only answer to the pay raise is taking more money out of reserves. So you’re right, we’re going to cut our reserves in half in a six-month period here if we’re not careful. So we have to sit down and line by line look at every department, probably start with a zero budget, and instead of just whatever we had last year, adding a little to it, we have to look at every line item in every budget in every department and just form some stuff. And that’s not an easy task. You’re not going to be popular cutting people’s money, but we have to. I just absolutely don’t think that our answer to every problem we have in Bibb County is cutting employees or not giving them a raise. You can’t do that. Everything has to take a moderate cut if we’re going to make this work.
Q. How do you plan on supporting the sheriff’s efforts to combat crime and address citizens concerns as well?
A. Well, crime is the number one problem in Bibb County and it all goes back to we don’t have enough boots on the ground. The sheriff cannot be proactive right now when he’s 150, and I think that’s a moderate number. If he’s 150 to 200 deputies short there’s absolutely no way he can be proactive in policing. We have certain areas in town where the most of the murder, the homicides, all that stuff is going on. It’s pretty much confined to certain areas, but I think you need a task force to go in there and clean the streets. These criminals need to know that they’re not welcome. They need to find a new zip code. But to fix that, we’ve got to fix the pay first so that we can hire deputies, we have people that want to come to work, and we have enough deputies in place to do the job.
Q. How do you plan on tackling blight in our community?
A. I’ve heard the word blight and I’ve heard them talk about blight, and solving blight and how they’re going to fix blight and the problems that it causes. There’s money in that program for blight. Honestly, I’m not a commissioner yet and it’s hard to dig in. It’s just really hard to get the information to find out exactly where those dollars are being spent. I do know that there’s money there for it. I hear the commission talking all the time about it. We’re going to have to take a hard look at where that money is spent and how we’re spending it to solve the blight problem. In my opinion, blight and crime is kind of like the chicken and the egg. I think they both feed off of each other. I don’t think that cleaning up all the abandoned houses in Macon is going to solve our crime problem, but it certainly will stop the haven for folks that want to involve criminal activity.
Q. What would you say is one of Macon-Bibb’s finest qualities compared to the rest of middle Georgia?
A. Well, I grew up in Macon. I was born here, raised here. Macon’s home. We’re the crossroads of middle Georgia. We’ve got Interstate 75, Interstate 16. There are so many things that we could do. For a time, I’ve lived in a tourism town. So tourism I think is an untouched income source that we have here. We do have the Cherry Blossom Festival and I remember 30 years ago when that was a huge thing and now it’s just kind of a sideline, “Oh yeah, we’ve got the cherry blossoms.” But if you’ve ever gone downtown and just looked at the beauty there of the cherry blossoms, those things like that. We have the river, it would be so nice to see the riverfront down there actually used. I think about places like Austin, Texas where they have the river walk. There are so many things, so much potential we have, but we just can’t seem to focus on bringing out our great points. And it’s time for a change.