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Cities, county open negotiatons over sales tax

Photo by Jim Massara
Consultant Douglas Eaves, representing Clayton County in negotiations over splitting sales-tax proceeds with the cities, makes a point in the Clayton County commission chambers Tuesday.

Photo by Jim Massara Consultant Douglas Eaves, representing Clayton County in negotiations over splitting sales-tax proceeds with the cities, makes a point in the Clayton County commission chambers Tuesday.

JONESBORO — Armed with handouts, slide shows and arguments pro and con, Clayton County and its seven cities finally started hashing out Tuesday who gets what share of the local-option sales tax, or LOST.

The opening meeting, held in the Clayton County Commission chambers, was for informational purposes only. And while no specific numbers were offered or rejected, both sides made their general positions clear.

“The current percentage allocation [of LOST] to the county should be reduced,” said College Park Mayor Jack Longino, speaking for the cities in a brief opening statement. “We are united in that.”

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Photo by Jim Massara Consultant Michael Brown, representing the cities, prepares to hand out a chart showing a timeline for negotiations.

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Photo by Jim Massara Douglas Eaves addresses city and county representatives at the opening session of LOST negotations in the Clayton County Commission chambers.

The cities — which include Forest Park, Jonesboro, Lake City, Lovejoy, Morrow and Riverdale as well as College Park — are also united in not wanting to bear the cost of services like public safety for unincorporated areas of the county, Longino said.

Clayton County, on the other hand, says it wants to keep enough of the tax money to pay for less obvious expenses that may appear unrelated to any one city but affect the entire county.

Douglas Eaves, representing Clayton County, walked the audience through a lengthy PowerPoint presentation that addressed factors such as each city’s general population versus its daytime population, when non-residents might be present.

Complicating matters further is the lack of agreement over which government entity will provide services and where. The previous agreement expired last year, and a new agreement is tied inextricably to LOST negotiations.

“There is a special condition here in Clayton County in that the service delivery agreement has expired, and that certainly has to be acknowledged as we go through these discussions,” said consultant Michael Brown during his presentation representing the cities.

“We're dealing with the fundamental differences between two political entities that are separate and distinct but occupy the same geography,” Eaves said. “And we're dealing with money, which is always stressful.”

Yet another stressor will be deadlines for working out an agreement. Starting on July 1, the county and cities have 60 days to settle their differences. If no agreement is reached by Aug. 31, the matter goes into mediation, and if mediation doesn’t work it may end up in court. Brown, in fact, suggested during his presentation finding a mediator now rather than waiting to find one late in August, if needed.

The two sides did agree on some things, among them the need for weekly meetings on neutral turf, possibly at Clayton State University. The specifics of a follow-up meeting had yet to be announced Tuesday morning.