Losing LOST Would Be Devastating For The City — By Tommy Purser
When I sat down to write this column, I hesitated to bring up the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) negotiations for the third straight week. But the impending elimination of the LOST is a serious matter. And there are only two days left to reach an agreement before the Dec. 30 deadline arrives.
The 60-40 split (60% for the county and 40% for the city) is more than fair. There is no question in my mind that the city’s service delivery responsibility is nowhere close to the county’s.
But because the city’s central business district is important to the county as a whole, the city and county agreed years ago that the city should get more than 15% …. 20% …. 30%. So they agreed on 40%. I was there when the two governments discussed the split initially. I listened to the discussion and I believed then, and believe now, that the 60-40 split was a generous concession by the county commissioners. In fact, I was surprised at the time that the commissioners agreed to give up so much.
According to the law covering the renegotiation process, where the sales tax is collected should be a consideration in determining the distribution. But it’s not the ONLY consideration. And it seems the mayor and council are putting an exorbitant value on that aspect of the negotiations.
There are a lot of other considerations they are required by law to look at. The No. 1 consideration is service delivery responsibilities.
All Georgia counties and municipalities are periodically required to create a Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) and submit that strategy to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA). The DCA keeps SDAs from all 159 counties and they can be easily accessed on the DCA web site.
There are three strategies for Jeff Davis County, Hazlehurst and Denton on file with the DCA. The first was developed in 1999, the second in 2005 and the latest in 2016. The 2016 strategy was signed off on by then-County Commission Chair Wayne Hall, Denton Mayor Matt McCall and Hazlehurst Mayor Bayne Stone.
The 2016 SDS included the responsibilities of the hospital authority, airport authority, housing authority, joint development authority, Southeast Georgia Regional Development Authority (Appling, Bacon and Jeff Davis in 2016, later joined by Pierce County), the Joint Development Authority of Telfair County, Hazlehurst and Lumber City (now dissolved), and the Hazlehurst Downtown Development Authority (now inactive).
Since the last renegotiation process in 2002, the city’s service delivery responsibility has decreased as the Joint Development Authority of Telfair County, Hazlehurst and Lumber City was dissolved and the Hazlehurst Downtown Development Authority was abandoned. Yet, now, the city wants a bigger share, at one time asking for 70% (although the mayor and council have suddenly been stricken with amnesia on that FACT), then dropped to 60% and their latest offer is 50%.
I disagree with the statement made at the last city council meeting that a 50-50 split is “nothing but fair.” I would counter with “the 60-40 split is generous to the city and should have been accepted.”
An opinion was offered to me last week that the county’s budget is large enough that they can absorb the elimination of their share of LOST. But the impending loss of the city’s share would bankrupt the city.
Indeed. The city’s financial situation is not good. And losing LOST would be frighteningly disruptive.