Larry Stanford Editor
January 3, 2014
“…the parties shall strictly abide by the terms and conditions of the parties’ SDS (Service Delivery Strategy) Agreement until further Order of the Court.”
With that final statement, Senior Superior Court Judge Stephen Bosworth granted the City of Thomaston’s motion for declarative judgment and injunctive relief, and ordered Upson County to abide by the terms of the SDS Agreement approved by the two parties in August. Bosworth’s decision was filed at 11:38 a.m. Monday morning.
Attorneys for Upson County and Thomaston came before Judge Bosworth on Dec. 13 to argue for and against the city’s motion. A service delivery strategy agreement was signed by the two parties in August, but following an October ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court on the way LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) percentage negotiations were handled in arbitration in Turner County, the county claimed that the agreement, which was decided on at the same time as the LOST percentages were agreed upon, was null and void. The City of Thomaston then took legal action to force the county to abide by the agreement.
In his ruling, Judge Bosworth found that state law requires the county and city to have a service delivery strategy agreement in place, and that the county’s promise to continue providing services without the agreement was unpersuasive, and that the county was asking “this Court to authorize a clear violation of the laws of this State.”
The judge also ruled that because the SDS resolves issues of funding and ensures compliance with Georgia law, that it protects the county.
“Thus, instead of harming the County, a temporary injunction will actually prevent the County from acting in violation of Georgia law. The County will not suffer any harm if required to comply with the SDS Agreement because it has already negotiated and agreed to its terms.”
In regards to Upson County’s claim that the Supreme Court ruling nullified the SDS Agreement, Judge Bosworth stated that the ruling had nothing to do with service delivery.
“The County’s reliance on Turner County is entirely misplaced as that decision has nothing to do with service delivery strategy agreements. To the contrary, Turner County involved a court order directing how LOST proceeds would be divided between a county and the cities located within that county. Service delivery and LOST are governed by separate statutes. There is no mention of a service delivery strategy agreement anywhere in Turner County.”
Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold stated that while he was happy the judge ruled in the city’s favor, that it is time to move on.
“We want to get on down the road and get these things done the way they are supposed to be done, the way the judge agrees that the constitution says they should be done, and at the end of the day, hope that we work it all out in a way that people are good with it,” Arnold said Tuesday. “I think this is going to be a long stride taken, when it is all worked out. Working things out is not always easy. Sometimes there will be costs that we’ll have to incur, sometimes there will be costs that they’ll have to incur, but at the end of all of it, we just look for fairness. That’s all we want. That’s all we ever wanted, was tax equity and fairness.
“We want to be gracious in the win, but at the same time, hope that we will be able to move on down the road and get along and be able to have a spirit of some cooperation out of all this. Before it is all over, I think it is going to come to that. This may just be what it takes to force it.”