Following a joint city/county meeting on July 10 to discuss procedures for the negotiation of the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST), meeting dates, times and locations were set. Representatives of the Upson County Board of Commissioners, the City of Thomaston and the City of Yatesville will begin meeting on Tuesday, July 24, at 5 p.m. in the basement of the Thomaston-Upson Archives. They will continue to meet every Tuesday at the same time and location until either the negotiations over the LOST are settled, or the 60-day deadline of August 28 is reached.
At the July 10 meeting, only the Board of Commissioners and Thomaston City Council met. Yatesville Mayor Cecil Moncrief said later he had a conflict with another meeting at the same time and was unable to be at the LOST meeting, but will be taking part in future meetings.
LOST is a one percent sales tax. The percentage of revenue collected from the tax is re-negotiated between counties and cities every 10 years based on the census, and can be determined by a variety of criteria, including population and delivery of services.
At the meeting, Thomaston City Attorney Joel Bentley and County Attorney Ed Trice urged the two boards to decide on a variety of issues, including how the negotiations will be decided if an agreement cannot be reached by the end of the 60-day deadline.
“Mr. Trice and I have discussed this informally, and I suggest to you first that you resolve that the negotiations be done in open meeting, that you resolve that you have someone take full minutes of those meetings,” said Bentley. “And you also need to discuss when you have meetings. It would appear that Tuesday evenings work well for the city. If that works well for the county, we have a 60-day timeframe, and we are almost two weeks into it. I would suggest weekly meetings on Tuesday, either beginning at 5 or 7, whatever works for the county, and use those times until we reach an agreement or the parties decide there is an impasse. I would ask that you consider whether or not, if the city and county reach an impasse over one or more issues, you would prefer to have it mediated or through non-binding arbitration, as especially outlined in the framework.”
“We’ve got 60 days to try to work it out among ourselves,” added Trice. “I’m fine with arbitration or mediation. We may have to educate ourselves as to what those two items mean and which way we’re going to go.”
Commission Chairman Maurice Raines expressed his opinion that the county and cities should be able to reach an agreement without getting the state involved.
“We, as elected officials, really don’t have to have the state tell us how to do this,” said Raines. “We can do this among ourselves. If we reach an impasse, we may realize there are other repercussions other than us not agreeing. I feel that both bodies at some point, are not going to allow that opportunity to come up on us and here we are still talking about it and miss the deadline. From my point of view and the Board of Commissioners point of view, we’re going to work to make this work.”
Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold agreed with Chairman Raines’ statement.
“We recognize and understand we have deadlines that we have been constrained to work under, and we will do so as a city working with the county, “ said Arnold. “We’ll meet those constraints.”
Both governing bodies agreed to use mediation if any issues were not resolved before the deadline.
Council member Wallace Rhodes, one of the few current elected officials who was in office the last time the LOST was negotiated, noted that the criteria for deciding the percentages received has changed.
“The last time we met and agreed, it was based strictly on population,” said Rhodes. “ I hear there are other criteria involved in making this decision now. I would like for the entire group to realize what these criteria are, and how are they administered to the overall concept.”
Chairman Raines replied that they are not bound by law to use all the criteria listed.
“We, as a group of leaders, don’t have to be governed by it,” said Raines. “Those are the basics of the law as to how to get where you need to go if you get to that point. I think as elected officials we ought to be able to figure out what works for our community. Yes, there are eight criteria that do govern this process, but at the end of the day, I would think we could work together. I’m not saying these issues are not important, but if you get to the point where you can’t agree, then that’s what you use.”
Trice noted that the percentages used in the LOST haven’t changed since they were first developed.
“Mr. Rhodes, in 1979, when this law was first passed, population was the criteria,” said Trice. “In fact, I looked back today. Upson County passed the first LOST in 1980. The first year of collection was 1981. The split that both bodies agreed on at that time was 55 percent for the county, 43 percent for the city, and two percent for the City of Yatesville. If that rings a bell, that is exactly the same split that we are using today, 31 years later. We have never changed that distribution percentage from the very first distribution allocation that we had to put into play. Of course, the criteria has changed drastically since then.”
Bentley agreed with Raines that the county and cities do not have to use the criteria set by the state, but added that if there are any disagreements past the 60-day deadline, the criteria will come into play.
“They are considerations. It specifically says that population is not the sole factor, but that all these are to be considered,” said Bentley. “Of course, as we have pointed out, what the city and county ultimately decide to do is up to the city and county. At impasse, these factors are what will be considered by the judge, along with the other factors. But these are the criteria the legislature has outlined for us to consider.”
Following further discussion, the Board of Commissioners and City Council decided that each will be represented by three members at the upcoming meetings. Chairman Raines, a Commissioner, and County Manager Kyle Hood will be the Commission representatives, while Mayor Arnold, a Council member, and City Manager Patrick Comiskey will be the Council representatives. Attorneys Bentley and Trice will also be present as advisors, and any other Commission or Council members are welcome to attend and contribute. Mayor Moncrief will represent the City of Yatesville. The meetings will be open to the public.