What appeared to be a meeting in which the LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) negotiations would be concluded with an agreement suddenly ended Tuesday night with the agreement being called “a pig in a poke”* by Commissioner Steve Hudson, and with questions of whether an agreement can be reached at all without outside assistance.
At stake is how the one percent LOST will be divided between Upson County, the City of Thomaston, and the City of Yatesville for the next 10 years. Currently the percentages are 55 percent for the county, 43 percent for Thomaston, and two percent for Yatesville.
In the first meeting three weeks ago, Upson County Commission Chairman Maurice Raines appeared to make a proposal that the county would agree to keep the percentages the same, if the City of Thomaston would agree to consider paying more for the delivery services provided by the county. In the second meeting last week, Raines said his proposal was misunderstood and that it was to keep the percentages the same if Thomaston would be willing to enter into negotiations over the amount being paid for services provided by the county.
At that meeting, County Attorney Ed Trice and City Attorney Joel Bentley suggested they be allowed to draw up a draft agreement on the LOST percentages for the governing bodies to look at next Tuesday. Raines, Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold, and Yatesville Mayor Cecil Moncrief agreed to allow them to do so.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Bentley acknowledged he had received the draft agreement from Trice and read it into the record:
“The following proposal is a proposal to be considered by the Mayor and Council of the City of Thomaston, Mayor and Council of the City of Yatesville, and the Board of Commissioners of Upson County as a means of resolving the LOST negotiations for 2012:
“The three governments would agree to leave the division of LOST funds as it is currently, that being Upson County 55 percent, City of Thomaston 43 percent, and City of Yatesville 2 percent; and
“The Mayor and Council of the City of Thomaston and Mayor and Council of the City of Yatesville agree to negotiate in good faith with the Board of Commissioners of Upson County to delineate the responsibility of each government for service delivery in Upson County and how those services will be funded.”
Bentley then stated that the draft agreement was acceptable to the city.
“In other words, we are willing to leave LOST as is, we are willing to agree to negotiate with the county in good faith on all issues as to service delivery under the service delivery strategy act. It is pretty straight forward,” said Bentley.
But Trice cautioned that the agreement still had to go before the Board of Commissioners.
“I just typed up whatever was expressed at the last meeting, and that’s what I sent to you,” said Trice. “Now, whether that is in agreement with the commissioners as a whole, I’m not sure about that.”
“The Board of Commissioners is in agreement to leave the LOST as is, the percentages as is,” stated Raines,” if the city and count y, and the City of Yatesville, can work together to come up with an agreeable amount on the service delivery, since we do provide services to this community.”
“I guess the question that we’ve asked ourselves, is the city willing to present us a proposal as to what they are willing to do towards those service delivery strategies going forward,” he added. “And if there is a proposal we’ll accept it, and if there is not, then the board will submit one to you.”
Arnold responded that the city would be willing to address service delivery.
“We will be happy to acknowledge that we will accept a split on the LOST as it was,” said Arnold, “and that we would most definitely be addressing service delivery issues at the appropriate time.”
However, Hudson then cast doubt on whether the Commissioners will approve the agreement as is.
“This is something we are going to have to go back to the board with,” said Hudson. “I feel like we’re in this meeting to approve a pig in a poke, and we’ll have to get a consensus on that.”
Raines stated that his board will discuss the issue and get back to the city.
“What we’ll do is, the Board of Commissioners will discuss this prior to Tuesday,” said Raines, “and the mayor and council will hear the Board of Commissioners’ position on that, and we’ll move forward.
Arnold, who chaired Tuesday night’s meeting, closed the meeting by thanking Raines for his comments and stating that while he hoped they will be able to move forward in their discussions, that thec ity is willing to bring in outside mediation or arbitration if the county wishes to do.
“I would close my remarks just simply saying that having heard Mr. Hudson, I understand,” said Arnold. “The city understands the county’s positions. I hope you understand ours. We are willing, at this point in time to, in fact, agree to leave the split as it was. If the county decides that it is in the best interest of the county to pursue mediation and/or arbitration at a point, we certainly would be willing to do that. We’ll move right on with whatever the next phase is. But we did want to let you know that again, in this spirit of cooperation and reaching out, that we wanted to at least offer to maintain the split as it was and go ahead and get this segment of our discussions over, so we could then move into a whole other phase of the discussion.”
The next meeting on LOST negotiations is scheduled for Tuesday, August 14, at 5 p.m., in the basement meeting room of the Thomaston-Upson Archives.