Posted: Monday, July 23rd 2012 at 12:23pm
Hall LOST renegotiations begin
By Marc Eggers Staff
FLOWERY BRANCH – How local option sales taxes (LOST) will be divided between the municipalities of Hall County and the county itself promises to be a lively debate, but at Monday morning’s initial meeting between the 31 representatives from the cities and the county things got off to an amicable start.
Every decade Georgia law requires local governments within a county to renegotiate the distribution of LOST revenues sent out by the state.
Ten years ago the economy was much more robust and tax digests were on the rise; financial constraints were not as severe; not so this go-around. Add to that the fact that these negotiations are a first-time experience for many of the city and county leaders, things could be interesting.
Recently rumors had been circulating that these meetings would be closed to the public. Not so, according to Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz. “If we have a quorum here it is open to the public,” Lutz explained. “It’s not our intention going forward that these meetings be closed.”
"This is tax dollars we are talking about. There are going to be severe implications to people’s property tax, because that is what LOST is, a property tax offset," Lutz continued. "People need to understand what is happening with their tax dollars."
That next meeting has been scheduled for three weeks following today’s meeting: August 13th at 10 AM in the Court House Annex in Gainesville, and is open to the public.
Today’s meeting lasted 30-minutes. Future meetings will probably be longer and more impassioned as each government entity tries to secure the portion of the revenue they feel will be needed for their bailiwicks over the next ten years.
Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown made the proposal that the meetings be co-chaired by County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver and Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan.
Brown also recommended that the city managers of each municipality act as a group and determine a single strategy on behalf of the all the municipalities rather than allow Gainesville, Lula, Clermont, Oakwood, Flowery Branch, Buford, Gillsville, and Braselton to present individual proposals. "I feel like it will be a smoother flow for how the process should move forward."
The city managers do meet on a regular basis according to Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett.
Brown added, "I think what you’ll find at the next meeting (August 13) is that both the cities and the county will have proposals."
How close those proposals are to one another will determine the amount of wrangling necessary to reach an agreement.
Under current law a 60-day time clock began as Chairman Oliver gaveled today’s meeting into session. If no agreement is reached at the end of the 60 days, a new 60-day period of nonbinding mediation or arbitration will immediately begin.
If at the end of those 60 days an agreement is still lacking the matter goes to the county’s Superior Court where a judge will dictate the ratios of LOST dispersal. The judge’s decision will be binding and remain in effect for the ensuing ten year period.
"If this stage were to be ever engaged by us, we are essentially putting this process in the hands of a judge," Hall County Manager Randy Knighton said. "And I don’t think any of us want to reach that stage."
"The process has changed completely," Sutton said. "Last time around we had to…come to an agreement or we would lose LOST."
"This time there is a more time regulated process: sixty day to negotiate, sixty days to mediate…then you can go on to have a judge review the facts and make a decision…this 'baseball arbitration' is a brand new process. It changes everything," Sutton added.
"My experience is that the revenue is very important…and it directly relates to property tax," Sutton said. "The more LOST you get the more you can reduce property tax."
How much longer the cities and the county "hold hands around the campfire and sing Kumbayah" - to quote one of those present today who preferred to remain anonymous - will be discovered when they present their respective proposals at the August 13th meeting.
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