County, cities lay out service delivery plans

JONESBORO — Clayton County officials hope to begin working with representatives of the county’s seven cities Thursday to hammer out a “conceptual” plan for a new service delivery agreement, according to the county’s interim attorney.

The county has not had an agreement with its cities for the providing of services to residents since last October, and much of the last 11 months have been spent in a deadlock. Since the two sides have not been able to make much traction on getting an agreement in place, they began a 30-day mediation period Monday.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to come up with a conceptual agreement that we will be comfortable with recommending to the Board of Commissioners,” said Interim County Attorney Jack Hancock.

Under state law, the county and the cities have 30 days to work out their differences over the service delivery issue through mediation, the court-appointed mediator, John Stell, told county and city officials. He explained that deadline will arrive on Oct. 26.

“The purpose of mediation is to facilitate an agreement to benefit the citizens of Clayton County,” said Stell. He explained the service delivery agreement should spell out who provides which services to residents, and sets up a “general mechanism” to pay for those services.

There are other factors which tie into the service delivery issue. The first is the fact that — under state law — neither the county or cities can apply for new state grants, and they cannot renew state-issued permits, without a service delivery agreement in place. The second factor is the cities decision to tie service delivery negotiations to their ongoing local option sales tax, or LOST, dispute with the county.

Last week, several city leaders said county officials had walked out on separate mediation to resolve the LOST issue, claiming the two sides were too far apart to reach an agreement.

The first service delivery mediation session proved to be more of a meeting to set up how an agreement can be reached than anything else. County commissioners and the mayors and city council members from College Park, Forest Park, Jonesboro, Lake City, Lovejoy, Morrow and Riverdale attended the meeting, but neither side laid out what it wanted to see included in an agreement.

Several mayors, including Morrow’s Joseph “J.B.” Burke and Jonesboro’s Joy Day, said they were happy to see some movement made toward getting a deal worked out.

“I’m glad we got a framework clearly defined so we can expedite this process and get an agreement in place,” said Burke.