City and County avoid double taxes
What could have been a contentious negotiation instead went exceptionally smooth last week, as city and county reps reached an agreement that should help avoid double taxation for local residents.
“This is how government is supposed to happen,” said Attorney Dana B. Miles with Miles Hansford & Tallant, LLC, the firm that prepared the documents once negotiations were complete. “Everybody played nice in the sand box.”
City of Dahlonega and Lumpkin County officials first met in November last year to negotiate the ever important Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) agreement which is designed to prevent duplication of services that range from law enforcement to libraries.
The city signed off on it at its February City Council meeting earlier this month and the Lumpkin County Board of Commissioners have agreed to sign the document at its regular meeting Feb. 21.
This is the third time the SDS has come up for negotiation since its imposition by the state in 1999. The legislation’s objective was to avoid duplication of services, thus eliminating double taxation for the city/county residents.
By state law, the agreement must be renegotiated at a minimum of every 10 years. But no changes have been made since the original agreement was signed by former Mayor Haines Hill and Sole Commissioner Charlie Ridley—until this year.
“We knew it would be a compromise for both,” said County Commission Chairman Chris Dockery.
“The negotiations were business like and both sides were committed to the best interest of the community at large,” said Councilman Sam Norton, who was on the city’s negotiation team along with Mayor Gary McCullough, Councilman Michael Clemons and City Manager Bill Schmid.
Dockery, Commissioner Bob Pullen and County Manager Stan Kelley represented the county. But the entire commission and members of the budget staff worked on what the county wanted to propose to the city. Out of a list of 28 services the county chose three they felt were most important to see change, all dealing with fire/EMS and the sheriff’s office.
For the first time the city agreed to compensate the county for supplemental law enforcement expenses for occasions when off duty deputies are used by the city. The city has always compensated deputies for their work. However, now it will pay $8,000 annually to cover expenses incurred by the county, such as use of patrol cars, gasoline, equipment and training.
The city also agreed to pay liability insurance—the county’s main concern, Dockery said.
“There was nothing in writing, no contract, and we felt the county could be liable if something happened to a deputy while working in the city or possibly be sued for something a deputy might do,” he said.
The city also agreed to pay the county a 10 percent add-on fee, to be collected by the Municipal Court, for housing city inmates solely on sentences imposed by the Municipal Court. It will also pay for any medical costs of those inmates.
Charging for housing of those arrested for violations of city ordinances had been brought up before but rejected by the city, due in large part to the numbers presented to validate the argument. This time around, said Norton, the county presented “some realistic numbers, not over-exaggerated.”
From the county’s perspective, the most important part of the new agreement is that the city will be responsible for any medical costs of its inmates. That, Dockery said, could be a large expense.
Perhaps the biggest change is city’s commitment to pay $50,000 annually for the acquisition by the county of a ladder truck and supplementary fire services within the city limits. The supplementary services could be used for capital costs, maintenance or operation costs.
Included in the language is the acquisition of the ladder truck “as soon as reasonably possible,” the SDS agreement states.
“We’ve really come a long way in our relations with the city,” Dockery said.
In 2012, when city and county renegotiated the Local Option Sales Tax split, they ended up in litigation that cost the taxpayers of both the city and county thousands of dollars. That was the year before Dockery took office.
“We live in the same community and our constituents expect us to work through issues like this. This was an example of how local government can work together and I am excited about what this holds for the future,” Dockery said.
The agreement now goes to the Department of Community Affairs for approval.