“Notice of Mediation
“Upson County, City of Thomaston and the City of Yatesville, having failed to reach an agreement as to the distribution for LOST after 60 days of negotiation, hereby acknowledge that they are at an impasse in the negotiations and agree this date to submit their dispute to nonbinding mediation or other such means of resolving conflicts in a manner which attempts to reach a resolution of their dispute.
“Not withstanding the requirement for mediation, the undersigned parties pledge to continue working together to find a resolution to the distribution of LOST for the benefit of all our communities.
“This the 26th day of August, 2012”
Upson County Commission Chairman Maurice Raines, Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold, and Yatesville Mayor Cecil Moncrief all signed the “Notice of Mediation” before the LOST meeting on August 28. At the recommendation of County Attorney Ed Trice, the three governments will begin mediation on the split of the one percent Local Option Sales Tax (LOST), with the assistance of South Georgia Mediation Services.
If the three sides cannot come to an agreement within the next 60 days, or if one of the three is dissatisfied with the agreement, the issue could go to “baseball arbitration,” with each of the three governments presenting their case to a Superior Court judge located outside the Griffin Judicial Circuit, and the judge making the final decision on how the tax revenue will be divided.
At the LOST meeting last Tuesday, City Manager Patrick Comiskey and City Attorney Joel Bentley made a presentation on possible solutions to the service delivery negotiations, which has been the sticking point in the discussions dealing with LOST.
“One of the things the mayor and council wanted to see done was this equity study, in part, to be able to look at the issue of double taxation,” said Comiskey. “What is double taxation? Basically, it is two guys going into a restaurant. One guy pays for a meal, and the other guy pays for two meals. That is what we’re talking about with double taxation. You have individuals in the city paying a property tax to the city for some services, and they are also paying a property tax in the county for the same service, but they are not getting that service. We are hoping to discuss, through this service delivery strategy, is to eliminate double taxation by coming up with solutions to this problem.”
Bentley discussed the agreements the city and county originally had through its comprehensive plan and joint projects, the majority of which the county ended by March 2010. Bentley noted that state law has certain requirements that qualified cities and counties must meet in order to avoid double taxation for services.
“If you are going to provide joint services with a municipality in the county, you are going to do it by written agreement, and you are going to provide the services for that joint service with a special tax district,” Bentley said. “That would, in the city’s stand, be the baseline for where we look at service delivery.”
Bentley went on to say that the city would like address all of the service contracts to see which could be operated jointly, which the county could run, and which the city could run.
Mayor Arnold stated the city was making the presentation in an effort to move forward in the discussions. He suggested having the county and city attorneys work together, with input from all three governments, to see if the negotiations could not be worked out.
Chairman Raines asked Bentley if the county is still funding the former joint projects today.
Bentley replied that they were, but without input from the city.
Raines said that he appreciated the city’s presentation and that the county had no problem discussing the service delivery agreements. Commissioner Steve Hudson agreed.
Trice noted that the county and cities’ deadline for coming to an agreement before mediation was August 26, and presented the Notice of Mediation signed by the three mayors on Aug. 26. Trice presented two proposals for mediators – the Carl Vinson Institute at UGA, which would charge about $5,000, and South Georgia Mediation Services, which would charge $150 a hour. Bentley added that by law, the mediation is exempt from the Open Meetings Act.
After agreeing to consult with South Georgia Mediation Services,, the representatives also agreed to continue to meet in open session on their own on the negotiations, with the hopes of coming to a resolution and agreement on their own.