LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) revenues should be used to reduce property taxes, not provide additional revenue to local governments. That was the gist of comments made by Upson County resident Drew Hayes to the Board of Commissioners at their called meeting last Friday.
Hayes stated he has reviewed several years of historical data not only for the county, but for the cities of Thomaston and Yatesville as well, and has concerns about both the process of taxation and the actual numbers involved.
“The Official Code of Georgia makes it clear, and quite simple, that LOST revenues are to be used as an offset revenue source to reduce property tax levies,” said Hayes. “This original intent was not meant to enrich any governmental body to a level above that which would normally be provided by the property tax levy.”
Hayes went on to suggest that everyone review the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) 48-9-91 to determine how LOST revenue is to be used, but attempted to put the explanation in “layman’s terms.”
“The governing bodies tell the taxpayers what they will need to operate at the beginning of the process and this is a firm number,” said Hayes. “The year rolls along and LOST revenues come in to help defray the costs of running the government. If the LOST revenues are insufficient to defray the government’s obligations during the year, the taxpayer makes up the difference with their property tax payments. If the LOST revenues were sufficient during the year to fund the government, there will be no property tax bills that year.
“If you consider what is required by the OCGA and the varying natures of the LOST revenues and assessed property values, one realizes that the odds of the final property tax levy millage rate being consistent from year to year are astronomical at best,” he added. “It just cannot happen randomly.”
Hayes also made reference to the current LOST negotiations between the county, Thomaston and Yatesville, stating all governments should follow the state law as it was intended and correct the process they have been using.
“This process correction should occur prior to any negotiations of LOST distribution percentages,” Hayes stated. “It is a disservice to the taxpayer to use the political ploy of keeping the taxpayers’ millage rates the same, historically, as an appeasement. At least the resulting process with varied millage rates would be easier to follow and more transparent to the taxpayer.”
Commission Chairman Maurice Raines responded to Hayes’ comments, stating that the LOST is for offsetting taxes to the local taxpayer, and that the more the county receives in LOST revenue, the more the tax payer gets back.
“You’re right, that’s what it was designed for,” said Raines. “In layman’s terms, the tax payers pay for the services that are provided to the people - whether they own property or not. To offset that, any person who does not own property can be a ‘tax payer’ by helping with the LOST, which in turn helps the local tax payer. I concur with your due diligence and research that the LOST is actually designed to help relieve some of the tax burden off the local tax payers. I do take your comments under advisement and you are absolutely right, that is what it is designed for.”