Ashley Biles Associate Editor
October 19, 2013
During a special called meeting Tuesday evening, the Upson County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to re-submit the LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) agreement between the county and the City of Thomaston with the inclusion of a clause that the agreement would hold until June 30, 2014. At that time, the agreement will either be terminated and renegotiated, or extended to continue as is.
An agreement had to be re-filed with the Department of Revenue due to the fact that the Georgia Supreme Court ruled last week that the judicial arbitration portion of the law (when it comes to LOST proceedings) is unconstitutional. They came to this agreement after presiding over the case of Turner County vs. the City of Ashburn, in which the judges unanimously stated the “baseball arbitration” part of the negotiating process, in their opinion, violates the separation of powers clause in the Georgia Constitution. The county and the city entered into arbitration when they could not come to an agreement by the end of 2012; however, they were able to come to an agreement before a judge had to issue a ruling.
Commission Chairman Rusty Blackston stated the board had included the date in their agreement at the suggestion of their attorneys because it is uncertain of what the legislature will do about the issue when they reconvene in January. The agreement was to be signed and re-submitted to the Department of Revenue by 4:30 p.m. yesterday
Blackston noted Yatesville Mayor Cecil Moncrief had signed off on the agreement the county put forward, however as of press time the City of Thomaston had not agreed to the document. During their regular meeting Tuesday, the city council unanimously voted to deny the proposal made by the county, instead wanting to resubmit he document without the aforementioned expiration date. However, Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold issued a written statement on the matter late Wednesday evening.
“The advice we all received today was opposite that Mr. Blackston said he received from the same people last night,” said Arnold. “Even in the face of receiving advice from the offices of the Dept.of Reveue, ACCG, GMA, and the Attorney General, the county elected to not submit a CLEAN certificate. The city is following the advice of the above named experts in an effort to not lose the LOST funds. We can only hope the actions of the county don’t cause us to lose those funds.”
Blackston stated the county has confirmation from the Department of Revenue if they resubmit the document, they will continue to collect the revenue even without a signature from the City of Thomaston.
County Attorney Paschal English stated there are many components to the issue and the only thing he could say with certainty about the Supreme Court’s decision is that there is no certainty.
“This decision has thrown everything up in the air,” noted English, “and we are trying our best to work with the city…In our opinion based on what we have been advised by the ACCG and Department of Revenue, we are well advised to issue a certificate to the city in an effort to get us to a point where we will know what the General Assembly will do, if they do anything. We are not prepared, nor do we think it is a wise decision to enter into a long term agreement at this point. The county will do its best to work very diligently with the city in an effort to work out something that will benefit the residents of Upson County and its municipalities. But we are not prepared to do anything long term that we think is going to be the determent of this community. That is our opinion that is where we are. We are unified in our approach, we are determined in our approach, but we are also receptive to any meaningful discussions from the city.”
After the meeting, Blackston issued the following written statement.
“As you are aware, Upson County and the City of Thomaston were recently engaged in many months of arduous negotiations concerning our local option sales tax (LOST). Specifically, these negotiations were centered on how the LOST proceeds were to be divided between the county and city.
“These negotiations were mandated by Georgia law under which a procedure was in place whereby the county and qualified municipalities were required to negotiate the terms by which they jointly collected tax would be distributed between them. Upson County and Thomaston entered into these mandatory negotiations, but were unable to reach a resolution by the end of 2012, and thereby invoked the provisions of Georgia law, applicable at the time, providing for arbitration, assigned to a judge not in the circuit in which Upson County is located. Ultimately, the judge would enter an order reflecting how the LOST funds would be distributed between county and qualified municipalities.
“After the county and city asked for arbitration, an agreement was reached concerning the distribution of the LOST revenue.
“Just over a week ago, (October 7,2013) the Georgia Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision declared as unconstitutional that portion of the Georgia LOST law providing for judicial resolution (judicial arbirtration) as the remedy for settling the dispute between counties and qualified municipalities regarding LOST revenue distribution. The Court concluded that the imposition of “judicial arbitration” was a violation of the separation of powers doctrine of our state constitution.
“At jeopardy is the agreement entered into between Upson County and Thomaston concerning the distribution of LOST revenue.
“Since this opinion was received, we have been working through our attorneys with the office of the State Attorney General, Georgia Department of Revenue and Association of County Commissioners of Georgia in an attempt to assess the potential impact of this decision to Upson County and the City of Thomaston. Simultaneously, we are proactively engaged in discussions with the above entities to affect a timely plan to insure an uninterrupted distribution of the LOST funds.
“To engage at this time in speculation and conjecture concerning LOST distribution and the agreement entered into both the county and city would not be beneficial to this community. All affected entities are working diligently to find a solution to this situation. We will continue to work with the City of Thomaston in an effort which promotes the best interest and welfare of the outstanding citizens of this wonderful community. As we receive more information, we will disseminate it in a prompt fashion.”