With Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold calling it an historic and positive step forward for the city and county, the Upson County Board of Commissioners and Thomaston City Council both unanimously approved the new 10-year Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) split and the joint projects agreement. The action came during a called joint meeting Tuesday night. The City of Yatesville also took part in the meeting, as the LOST split affects them as well.
“I think this is an outstanding moment in, quite frankly, modern history between our city and county governments,” Mayor Arnold said after the votes were taken. “It has been a giant step that has been taken tonight on the part of our elected bodies, and I think that both elected bodies, as well as these attorneys who have diligently worked for these five months need to congratulate each other. I know personally, I look forward to now hoping that we will be able to get along together here like we should be able to, and I think we will. I think this is the dawning, frankly, of a new day for us in our community. I think the message that has been sent out to the public is positive, which is how all of us want to be, and I think it is just a wonderful event and a wonderful thing that has taken place tonight.”
Since the LOST began in 1981, the revenue collected has been split between Upson County (55 percent), the City of Thomaston (43 percent) and the City of Yatesville (2 percent). At the meeting Tuesday, the same LOST percentages were approved for the next 10 years. LOST is renegotiated every 10 years according to Georgia law.
The county has been in negotiations with Thomaston for the LOST and joint projects agreement since July 2012, with the joint projects agreement holding up the process. After the two governing bodies failed to come to an agreement on their own, state law mandated a mediator be brought in to attempt to reach an agreement, however that failed as well. The final step in the process was for the decision to be made by a Superior Court judge from a different judicial circuit than the county and Senior Judge Stephen Boswell was chosen. He was to have begun dividing up the LOST revenue in April of this year, but both bodies decided to try one more time to come up with an agreement with the attorneys for each side handling the negotiations.
At the meeting Tuesday, city attorney Joel Bentley and county attorney Ed Trice presented the draft proposal, which both, along with attorney Robin Webb, worked on for five months. The proposal sets up who will pay for what services, and also includes a formula for the two governments to use in renegotiating future joint project agreements. The joint projects include the airport, landfill, archives, library, recreation, Gilmore Center, Emergency Management Agency (EMA), Industiral Development Authority ( IDA), Senior Center, E-911, and Emergency Medical Service (EMS).
Payments for the joint projects will be determined by the percentage share of the net ad valorem tax digest for Upson County for the previous year. For example, the current digest for the county is 63.362 percent and for the city is $36.56 percent. Those will be the percentages each government will use in paying for joint projects this year. If the digest changes next year, the percentages paid will also change.
Trice said they will need to comply with the state law by each government setting up a special taxing district. The city will set up its own taxing district, and the county will set up a taxing district for the unincorporated portions and Yatesville. Each governing body will then levy a mill for general operations and levy tax for the joint projects.
The only hangup in the two parties agreeing immediately was the BOC’s concerns about the contracts with the EMS, E-911, and EMA. Chairman Rusty Blackston said with their budget coming up for a vote soon, he was concerned if there will be time to work out the concerns. Bentley, Webb and Trice said they will start working on amending the contracts immediately, with Trice stating he believes they can be done in 30 days.
Following further discussion and a plea from Mayor Arnold to get the issue settled so everyone can move ahead and present a positive statement for the community and developers looking at the area, both sides voted unanimously to accept the joint projects agreement and accept the LOST distribution certificate.