JONESBORO — The seven cities of Clayton County are suing county government for money they say is rightfully theirs.
Mayors and city managers of Forest Park, Riverdale, Morrow, Lovejoy, Jonesboro, Lake City and College Park were given 90 days to come to an agreement with the county of how Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) funds should be distributed, and how Service Delivery Strategies should be utilized, according to Forest Park City Attorney Robert Mack.
The mayors and city managers were in Clayton County Superior Court Wednesday, petitioning the court about the distribution of tax collected in the cities by the county.
“We want to make sure that the cities and the county are not duplicating efforts and expenditures,” Mack said. “We are going to devise a strategy on how those services are to be provided to both incorporated areas and unincorporated areas of the county. We are here to continue the hearing until further notice, pending ongoing negotiations on the LOST and Service Delivery Strategy. They were being negotiated separately until today.”
The mayor of Lovejoy, Bobby Cartwright, said the major issue is how much money will be distributed between the cites and the county.
“We would like an increase of our share,” Cartwright said.
County attorney Jack Hancock and the cities’ attorney, Steve M. Fincher, met privately in the judges’ chamber with retired Bibb County Superior Court Chief Judge Martha Christian, who issued the 90-day extension.
Representatives for the cities said their concerns are that city residents pay both city taxes and county taxes.
The cities’ have obtained an expert in the field of government taxation, Michael Brown of Brown Pelican Consulting. Brown recently successfully assisted in the Henry County cities in LOST negotiations with the county.
“I represent the cities as their advocate,” Brown said. “I assisted them in preparing their analysis and then they used that to determine their final position.”
Brown said every 10 years, after the census is completed, it triggers the tax collection distribution debate.
“However, the statute says you shouldn’t just base it on population,” Brown said. “You should consider eight other factors.”
According to Brown, daytime population (people traveling to and from work); conventions and trade shows; debt obligation and intergovernmental agreement of service deliveries are just examples of a few things that need to be taken into consideration.
“We presented reports on ‘best and final offer,’ ” Brown said.
“Currently, we collect approximately $45 million to $50 million per year on LOST,” said Clayton County Manager Wade Starr. “Right now, the county’s portion of that is 74.85 percent and the cities get 25.15 percent. But, it is important to note the county’s portion has to be shared with all of the citizens both incorporated areas and unincorporated areas.”
When asked if he thinks city residents are being double taxed, Starr responded. “The residents of the cities get a double benefit, because they get a benefit of the county’s and the cities’ revenue.”
The negotiations between city and county officials began in June. They met again in July and in August as well as on Sept. 13, which turned out to be their last meeting.
Fincher sent a letter to Clayton County Chairman Eldrin Bell on Sept. 18, which stated, “Clayton County Cities were notified on Sept. 17, by the county representative Jack Hancock, that the county would not continue participation in the mediation phase. That notification was given prior to the planned separate meeting of county elected officials with the mediator.”
The seven cities filed a lawsuit against the county on Sept. 24, calling for a renegotiation to increase the amount of money they receive from the distribution of the LOST collection.
“I am happy to see the negotiations moving forward,” said Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon. “The mayors and city managers together are a force to be reckoned with.”
In 2007, LOST funds were disbursed to Forest Park, at a rate of 9.8 percent; Riverdale received 5.6 percent; Morrow received 3.4 percent; Jonesboro received 2.1 percent; Lake City received 2.1 percent; College Park received 1.0 percent; Lovejoy received 1.15 percent and Clayton County received 74.85 percent.
“We agreed to execute a temporary extension of the LOST certificate for 90 days,” Hancock said. “In the meantime, we will continue to work to reach an agreement on SDS. ... I’d like to see us reach an agreement on both of them.”
“The reason for the postponements is to give an opportunity to work on the level of services provided,” Starr said. He added that the extension would help the county “make a better determination as to the revenue needed to fund those services and that information would help our LOST negotiations.”