How long will it be before the Local Option Sale Tax (LOST) and service delivery agreement between Upson County, the City of Thomaston, and the City of Locust Grove is finalized? That is the question that was on the minds of the Yatesville City Council at their meeting November 11. Yatesville currently receives 2 percent of the LOST and under an agreement signed by both cities and the county in August, Yatesville would retain that same 2 percent.
But on October 7, 2013, the Georgia Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case of Turner County vs. the City of Ashburn that the “baseball arbitration” portion of the LOST negotiation process was unconstitutional because it violated the separation of powers clause in the Georgia Constitution. Under “baseball arbitration,” if county and city governing bodies failed to come to an agreement on LOST, one or the other of the governing bodies could petition for a Superior Court judge to step in and make the final decision on the split of the LOST. Upson County and the City of Thomaston had reached that point, but at the last minute asked the judge for more time to come to an agreement. The judge allowed that and in August the two sides, plus Yatesville, signed an agreement for the LOST percentages and for some of the service delivery agreements between the county and Thomaston. The judge then signed off on the agreement.
When the Supreme Court decision first came down, the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), which handles the LOST, suggested the county and cities re-sign a new agreement without making any changes to it, and send it in. Thomaston and Yatesville signed the new agreement, but the Upson County Board of Commissioners made a change to the agreement, adding a 12-month expiration date on the agreement. Upson County and Yatesville signed the amended agreement, but the City of Thomaston refused. After discussion with the county attorney, the Board of Commissioners then stated that based on the Supreme Court decision, they declared that the original agreement signed in August was null and void, and that they would wait to see what the General Assembly does to rectify the negotiating process before beginning negotiations again.
District 3 County Commissioner Ralph Ellington was visiting the Yatesville Council meeting Monday night and explained what is going on.
“It probably won’t be settled until after the Legislature goes back into session after the first of the year. Everybody is kind of waiting to see what the Legislature does, if they do anything about this Supreme Court ruling that came out that says that the ones that were arbitrated and signed off by a judge were illegal. But we have been assured that the funds will keep coming in as we’ve got them split,” Ellington assured the council.
“I was in a meeting down in Dublin the week before last, and I talked with one of the lawyers from ACCG,” Ellington added. “He said that the splits – you know we signed the 10-year contract – he said that, according to the information that he had – that part of it would be binding. But the joint projects and stuff like that people couldn’t agree on that the judge signed off on, that’s going to be primarily what the legislature looks at – the legality involved with the service delivery agreements.”