“People need, they deserve, they’re entitled to an open, honest, ethical governmental operation,” said Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold Tuesday night at the City Council meeting. Arnold was responding to questions posed by Drew Hayes concerning taxes and the service delivery strategy act.
Hayes presented his list of 7 questions during the Public Comment portion of the meeting. He noted that he understood that the council does not normally answer questions during Public Comment and said the answers could be provided at a later date. Hayes added that he asked the Upson County Board of Commissioners the same questions at their October 23 meeting, and said he wanted the city to answer the questions as well so he could compare the answers.
Hayes’ questions were:
1. Who provides the funds to offset the homestead exemption offered on state, county and school M&O, but not the city property taxes?
2. What tools are at the discretion of local governments to retain Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) overages from fiscal year to fiscal year instead of providing a full property tax rollback?
3. Please explain budget carryovers.
4. Please explain reserve funds of counties and municipalities and offer your opinion as to whether reserve funds should be permanent.
5. If our tax burden will increase with a service delivery strategy in place, and we are currently receiving those services without a strategy, why not leave everything status quo to save the taxpayers from undue financial burden?
6. Why do all parties involved consistently state that these LOST negotiations can only be renegotiated in a time frame consistent with the national census?
7. Lately, I have seen graphs provided by the city where the county is spending, but the city is saving. If these graphs are true reflections of governmental action, can you explain why the millage rate for both the city and county remained the same for many of the graphed years?
Mayor Arnold thanked him for the questions and said they would defer answering the first four till later. However, the mayor and City Attorney Joel Bentley did answer Questions 5, 6, and 7.
Arnold stated for Question 6 that the City of Thomaston has never said they could not negotiate in a less than 10-year period. He said that the city has been negotiating with the county every 10 years since 1981.
For Question 7, the mayor said the most probably reason for the millage rate not changing is the tax digest.
“The City of Thomaston is operating on almost the same amount of money that we have been able to receive out of the revenue from the tax digest as we were since 1999,” said Arnold. “So maintaining the same millage rate and having the same amount of revenue is the answer to that.”
Bentley stated that for Question 5, the Service Delivery Act should be read in conjunction with the state’s Supplemental Powers Clause. Bentley said the city’s position is that the way the services are being provided is “outside of the manner in which they are to be provided,” under both the Service Delivery Strategy Act and the Supplemental Powers Clause. He said that is a major issue for the city.
Bentley also noted that if the city and county do not come to an agreement on the Service Delivery Strategy Act, it could affect both of them greatly, as the state could withhold grants until agreements are reached.
“While when you read it, it would not appear that the penalties are severe or extreme. They can, in fact, do great harm to both the city and the county,” said Bentley. “That’s one of the reasons this is such a serious issue between the city and the county, and it needs to be resolved.”