Cities outline argument for ‘LOST’ cause

JONESBORO — Clayton County’s seven cities pushed back against county leaders in LOST negotiations Thursday by arguing their residents are paying for services primarily provided to people who live in unincorporated parts of the county.

The cities were given their chance to state their case for a greater share of sales tax funds in the second meeting between county officials and municipal leaders to negotiate new LOST and service delivery agreements.

Former Savannah City Manager Michael Brown, a consultant for the county’s cities, said although many cities provide services such as police, code enforcement and refuse control to their residents, those same residents are also paying for the county to provide these services. They pay for these services through the county-wide M&O property taxes.

Those county services, however, are primarily provided to the people who do not live in a municipality. Each city, for example, has its own police department. In essence, the cities argued their residents are paying for county services they do not receive.

“That will be a key to these discussions,” said Brown. “The law says you’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to fund them with revenues that come from that entity.”

The two sides are no closer to reaching an agreement on service delivery strategies of a new LOST agreement. The mayors are going to be in contact with each other over the next week to try to figure out how much of a share of LOST revenues they want to ask for.

The cities have already made clear that they want a greater share of the sales tax proceeds than the 29 percent of revenues they receive under the current LOST agreement, which expires at the end of the year. They could ask for as much as 42 percent of the proceeds, according to an information packet distributed at the meeting.

They may have an argument for at least some of that increase based on some of the figures Brown presented. He said residents of the cities make up one-third of the county’s property tax base. He also said 67 percent of business firms in the county are actually located in the cities. The information packet he distributed at the meeting also shows 50.47 percent of retail sales are made in the cities.

“Where are these business located at?” he said. “Predominantly they are located in the cities.”

Technically, Thursday’s presentation from Brown focused on LOST but the cities have agreed to tie service delivery and sales tax negotiations together. Brown said there are areas where the two issues overlap, particularly in determining who pays for what services, which means they can’t settle one without settling the other.