It was a simple question, really: “Do the people realize what’s happening here?”
I did a quick mental review of past articles we had published in the paper concerning the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST)negotiations going on between the City of Hazlehurst and the Jeff Davis County Commission.
My memory was a bit fuzzy on it so I sat down at my computer and did a review. My review indicated that I had failed to do due diligence on the matter. It was mentioned in a July, 2022, article and again in an article written in October, 2022, but, indeed, that information wasn’t enough to sufficiently inform the public about “what’s happening here.” So, let me try to help “the people realize what’s happening here.”
Years ago, the LOST was approved by local voters to collect a 1% tax on sales in Jeff Davis County and, since its inception, the county each year has received 60% of the proceeds from the LOST and the city has received 40%. State law requires that, every 10 years, the city and county negotiate that 60-40 split and agree on continuing that split or changing it. Every 10 years, the two governments have agreed to continue the 60-40 split — until this year. According to the county commission, Mayor Bayne Stone has insisted that the split should to be 30-70, with the county getting 30% and the city 70%.
Ten years ago, the last time LOST negotiations came up, I was a city council member and I and the other council members were happy with the 60-40 split and, so, it continued that way.
But this year, the Mayor has his heels dug in on his unreasonable request. He is so determined that the matter had to go to a costly arbitration. The first arbitration session was held Nov. 3 and got nowhere. I’m not sure what that session cost but the arbitrator’s fee was $200 per hour, per government, plus expenses so it was a costly day for taxpayers with nothing accomplished. The Mayor wouldn’t budge.
But here’s the important part: the city and county have until Dec. 31 to reach an agreement. If no agreement is reached, and it appears it won’t be, both the city and county will lose the LOST. And the city and county have set their budgets based on receiving those LOST funds. So, if the LOST goes away, they will both have tremendous budget shortfalls. The city is already fiscally destitute. Losing LOST proceeds will only exacerbate the situation.
I got a call a while back from a council member who was livid about the Mayor’s gleeful insistence that the matter go to arbitration. He considered it a foolhardy gamble — a gamble that could result in the city getting even less than the current 40% . Or worse, it could result in the city and county losing LOST altogether.
Hopefully, in the next 2 weeks the Mayor will come to his senses and avoid a disaster for taxpayers. I’m not holding my breath.