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Finally! City, County Reach Agreement

There’s nothing like waiting until the midnight hour to complete a task, or in the case of the City of Hazlehurst and Jeff Davis County the noonday hour to come to an amicable agreement on the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) distribution.
During last Friday’s called meeting of the Hazlehurst City Council, which was at 11 a.m., and then another called meeting of the Board of Commissioners at noon on the same day, both sides finally agreed to a 60/40 percentage split of LOST revenue, with the county receiving the lion’s share.
“Please understand all things were done for the best of the people of the city and county,” Ward 1 Councilman Dywane Johnson explained of accepting the county’s proposal. “The City of Hazlehurst has aggressively tried to grow. I want Hazlehurst to grow, to have something for our children to come back to and want to come home to. If we don’t do something to improve, we will eventually die … This council has tried to improve Hazlehurst, tried to improve our working community to get jobs and tried to keep down taxes.”
As explained by the Georgia Municipal Association, LOST is a 1% sales tax activated by local referendum and imposed on the purchase, sale, rental, storage, use or consumption of tangible personal property and related services. In Hazlehurst and Jeff Davis County, those latest figures are 60% to the county, or about $1.3 million, and 40% to the city, which totaled about $900,000. That 60/40 split has been in effect since LOST was voted in, but this year the city asked for the tax to be evenly divided at 50/50.
LOST must be renegotiated every 10 years between the city and county, and this year’s strict deadline to come to an agreement and file certificates with the Georgia Department of Revenue was last Friday, Dec. 30. If no agreement had been reached, LOST would have expired and ceased to be collected. Both governments would have lost the entire 1%, which would have been a devastating blow to their budgets.
For this year’s negotiations with the county, the city designated Mayor Bayne Stone and Johnson to hash out a deal with Commissioners Vann Wooten and Brad Crews, who represented the county. Both Stone and Johnson were visibly disappointed when the motion was passed to accept the 60/40 split, as both had aggressively argued over the past few months for the 50/50 split.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Actually, Mayor Stone initially asked for a 70-30 split with the city getting 70% and the county 30%. Later, Stone and Johnson argued for a 60-40 split, with the city getting 60% and the county 40%. It wasn’t until mid-December that the city began arguing for a 50-50 split.]
Ward 2 Councilman John Ramay echoed Johnson, adding, “Our job is, has been and will be to represent the people of the City of Hazlehurst for the betterment of our city. I have to support our people who have done the negotiations that we elected to represent our council. That does not mean that I would agree with everything. Saying that, that closes what I need to say.”
The entire council, including Stone, Ward 3’s Diane Leggett and Ward 4’s John Bloodworth, was present and voted unanimously to accept the 60/40 split. Commissioners Ricky Crosby, Brad Crews and Vann Wooten attended the county’s called meeting, with the three of them voting unanimously to split LOST to the county’s good at 60/40. Commissioners James Benjamin and Hank Hobbs were not at the meeting.

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