The Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) provides to city governments across the state a publication entitled “Renegotiating Local Option Sales Tax (LOST).” It is full of useful information about the negotiation process and how to properly approach the matter.
One of the points made in the document is that the negotiating parties should, at the outset of negotiations, promise “not to hold the LOST hostage by waiting until the last possible moment to agree on a distribution.” Waiting until two weeks before the Dec. 30 deadline to address the issue in a meeting of the Hazlehurst City Council, it seems to me, is tantamount to holding the LOST hostage.
I listened carefully to a video of last week’s city council meeting, especially an impassioned plea by Ward 1 Commissioner Dywane Johnson that the division of proceeds from the LOST be shared 50-50 by the city and county. More than once, he said such a split was “nothing but fair.”
I also listened carefully as Mayor Bayne Stone seemed to lay the blame for November’s costly and unsuccessful mediation efforts at the feet of the county commission.
And I also listened carefully as Ward 2 Commissioner John Ramay, with a comment of support from Ward 3 Commissioner Diane Leggett, accused me of spreading “false or incorrect information” in my Dec. 14 column.
And, finally, I listened carefully to Ward 4 Commissioner John Bloodworth’s claim that the State Constitution provides that LOST negotiations can be renegotiated at any point.
Wow! That’s a lot to unpack here.
But what intrigued me the most about the discussion was what was NOT said.
Not once did anyone mention “service delivery” responsibility, a phrase repeated a half dozen times in the above-mentioned GMA publication. No one talked about what services are provided by the city, and what services are provided by the county. No one talked about how much tax money goes into operating both governments.
The services provided by each government — and by inference the costs to each government to provide those services — MUST be considered when negotiating the distribution of LOST proceeds. That’s the law. The council didn’t even mention service delivery in last week’s meeting.
Had the council members done a bare minimum of research on the matter, devoted a small amount of time to look at that GMA publication, conducted what I consider an obligatory reading of O.C.G.A § 48-8-89, or just sat down and seriously thought about the matter, there wouldn’t have been so much “false or incorrect information” flying around the council meeting room with such dizzying frequency it made my head swim.
I don’t have the space here to address everything that disturbed me about the council meeting. So, let me be concise:
No, Dywane, a 50-50 split is not “nothing but fair.”
No, Mayor, the mediation was not instigated by the county — it is required by law.
No, John Ramay and Diane, I did not spread false or incorrect information.
And no, John Bloodworth, the State Constitution does not address Georgia’s L.O.S.T. law.
In my opinion, neither the city nor the county did its obligatory homework before entering into the LOST negotiations. And here we are, nine days from the deadline to reach an agreement, and there don’t seem to be any adults in the negotiation room and we, the citizens, will pay the price for the intransigence.