The Valdosta Daily Times
Even after Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) negotiations went sour last Wednesday in Hahira, city leaders are requesting another meeting with county officials.
“They didn’t accept our best offer and I’m not going back to that level, so I really don’t see why we’re going to sit down and negotiate,” said Lowndes County Commission Chairman Ashley Paulk. “I really don’t see a whole lot of sense in wasting county time and money going to the meeting.”
At the last meeting, city officials from Valdosta, Hahira, Lake Park, Remerton and Dasher presented criteria supporting their desire for more than 42 percent of the projected $180 to $250 million LOST revenues in the next 10-year cycle.
However, no figure was released by any of the city leaders at the May 2 meeting to detail how much of the LOST revenue they want.
On April 9, no presentation or offer was made by city leaders. After the seven-day deadline for the county’s first offer passed, city leaders still had not provided a counter-offer.
Paulk made an alternative offer of 28 percent of LOST revenues for the cities. He also said that upcoming Special Local Option Sales Tax VII negotiations would be handled before he retired at the end of the year.
In response to a letter sent from all the cities on May 4, Paulk reiterated his commitment to avoid meetings until a counter-offer of a proposed allocation has been made.
“The statute requires us to negotiate,” wrote Paulk in the letter to each city leader. “The county has attempted to negotiate. We, however, cannot negotiate if you will not make the offer you said on April 9 you were formulating and would be available soon. If you cannot agree among yourselves on a proposed allocation to the county to each of the cities, we will move on to mediation.”
Valdosta Mayor John Gayle said an offer will be made at the upcoming meeting but has yet to release a figure.
“We’re trying to be upfront with this and present the facts and that’s what we’ve been doing,” said Gayle. “These facts will lead up to our presentation to what we feel the cities’ share should be.”
Gayle said cities have grown significantly over the last decade and provide the majority of services to citizens.
“When you look at all the facts and figures, the cities are generating the tax revenue and are handling the majority of services. I just feel like we need a little boost,” said Gayle. “We don’t know what’s going to happen 10 years from now. We can’t just operate on the same split for 20 years.”
Although cities provide residential and commercial services in the form of water/sewer, road maintenance, etc., counties are legislatively mandated to provide an umbrella of services for all county citizens which include law enforcement, the Superior, Magistrate, Juvenile, Probate and State court systems, the jail, the public defender’s office, the county clerk and county treasurer, the board of elections office, the public library system, and animal welfare system.
The purpose of LOST, according to the Georgia Municipal Association, is to provide property tax relief for citizens. The one-cent sales tax was created to offset costs for government’s general operating budgets in lieu of raising taxes on homeowners.
The allocation of LOST proceeds must be renegotiated every 10 years, two years after the census results. The renegotiation procedure involves 60 days of negotiation; 60 days for mediation or non-binding arbitration and Superior Court “baseball arbitration,” where each party will present their best and final offers.
The meeting that the cities called for will be held 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 9, Lake Park Civic Center, 123 N. Essa Street, directly across from the Lake Park City Hall. The county is not expected to participate.
Paulk said until the cities provide the county with actual numbers or percentages of what they are requesting, there is no reason to continue to sit at meetings where no actual negotiation is taking place.
“The law doesn’t say we have to meet. The law says we have to negotiate. I can read a power point presentation; I don’t need to drive all the way to Hahira or Lake Park to have someone read one to me,” he said.
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