Unless a last minute deal can be worked out, the issue of how the one percent Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) will be split between Upson County, the City of Thomaston, and the City of Yatesville, will go to mediation.
At the LOST meeting on August 21, neither Upson County nor Thomaston was willing to budge from their respective positions. Upson County is willing to keep the LOST percentages the same as they have been for the last 31 years if Thomaston will agree to pay more for services delivered by the county. Thomaston is also willing to keep the LOST percentages the same, and is willing to agree to negotiate on the service delivery, but is not willing to sign an agreement stating it will pay more for service delivery.
“For us to, in fact, and I will borrow this from Mr. Hudson, it would be a ‘pig in a poke’ if we were to just simply say that we’ll agree to whatever the county says we should be paying,” said Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold. “I think we should have some form of agreement between the two bodies. We agree that there are certain things that if we, in fact, do need to pay more, we will pay more. And if the county needs to pay more, the county pays more. That is all part of the tax equity and that’s the direction we would like to see this thing go. I think that we would be willing to work with the county on the agreement we thought we had, which was to leave the split as is, and we will move forward with negotiations on the service delivery.”
“Let me clarify something, Mayor, that may be confusing,” replied Upson County Commission Chairman Maurice Raines. “We can’t agree on leaving the percentages the same until we go through the service delivery. We’re not in position to go ahead and say we’re going to leave the split the same and not go through service delivery first. That will be our position.”
City Attorney Joel Bentley stated that service delivery negotiations will be much more than just tax equity studies. He said it should include three areas – a special taxing district for all joint projects, how the joint projects will be run, and tax equity between the city and county. Bentley added that he believes LOST, service delivery, and SPLOST, are all intertwined and should be discussed together, but that the city is not prepared to discuss service delivery at this moment because it has not been able to do its tax equity study due to the county not providing all the documents the city requested.
Raines stated the county is willing to sit down with the city and discuss each service separately.
“We hear your position as to what your position is on that service,” said Raines. “You hear ours, we present to you, you present to us, and both bodies decide what is in the best interest of the entire community, providing a service for everybody in the community.”
“I believe I understand what you’re saying,” Arnold responded, “but I also understand what Mr. Bentley is saying. I don’t think there is going to be a way to accommodate that in the timeframe that we have. Once again, as Mr. Bentley has explained, we have not had an opportunity to get all the information and data that pertains to all service delivery issues, that we would need to be able to negotiate with the county at this point in time. We would be at an extreme disadvantage to do that at this point and I think that should be understood.”
“I understand and respect the city’s position that mediation is where we are headed, and I respect that,” replied Raines. “I will say the road has been bumpy, and we will get through the bumps, but if we have to have someone else help us get to where we need to be, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Yatesville Mayor Cecil Moncrief, who has been present but quiet at all the LOST meetings, also spoke his mind on the issue.
“I hate to see this thing go to a mediation, and I wish there was someway we could work all this stuff out ahead of time,” Moncrief said. “I have a personal opinion about this, and you’re not going to like what I’m going to say, but I think we just need to lock ourselves in a room, butt heads, and come out. A lot of the comments I’m hearing are not good on the city or the county. I’ve never been in a position to have to go to mediation. I wish we would all get it together and both sides come to some kind of agreement. If we have to go to mediation, we have to go to mediation, but we just need to work together and see what comes out.”