LOST, service delivery differences settled

County and cities reach 10-year agreements

— Clayton County and its seven cities have reached an agreement to end a nearly three-year stalemate over tax revenues and distribution of services.

The county Commission voted 3-2 this week to approve new LOST and Service Delivery Strategy agreements with the cities of College Park, Forest Park, Jonesboro, Lake City, Lovejoy, Morrow and Riverdale. Commissioners Sonna Singleton and Gail Hambrick voted against the agreements.

Representatives from each city were present for the commission's action and many of them expressed their pleasure to have the issue behind them.

The last service delivery agreement expired a year and a half ago. City officials had complained about a lack of cooperation from the county during years of negotiations, but talks picked up once new Commission Chairman Jeff Turner took office in January.

“We accomplished more in the last two and a half months than we did in the year and a half that preceded it,” Morrow City Manager Jeff Eady said.

The agreement will go into effect July 1 if it is approved by the councils in each city. Both agreements will last 10 years. By reaching an agreement, the county and the cities avoided a difficult situation where the two sides would have fought it out in court.

Talks had already deteriorated to the point where court-ordered mediators had to be brought in to handle arbitration.

County officials had tried to approach each city individually to reach an agreement but the cities had agreed to stick together and hold out until they were all satisfied with any proposed resolution to the stand-off.

“I think with new blood and a new look and us staying together, it’s all paid off,” said College Park Mayor Jack Longino.

Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt said the credit for getting an agreement in place belongs with Turner.

“He made it happen,” Oswalt said. “If it hadn’t been for him, it would have never happened.”

Under the LOST agreement, the cities’ share of the tax revenues will gradually increase over the next three years. They will receive 31.41 percent of the tax revenues in the first year, 32.41 percent in the second year and then max out at 33.41 percent in the third year.

Singleton said she was “not content” with the amount of money the cities would get because she felt it would take money away from the county and cause a tax increase.

“I am not content that it’s not going to be a tax increase for me and the other people who pay taxes,” she said.

Under the service delivery agreement, the county agrees to continue providing fire protection services to Jonesboro and Lovejoy. The county had started plans in December to strip Lovejoy of its fire service. It was a move the city’s mayor, Bobby Cartwright, called an act of retaliation over the stalled negotiations at the time.

County officials also will have to return all equipment stripped from Lee Street Park in Jonesboro nearly a year ago when it abruptly decided to turn control of the park over to the city.

Clayton County police and fire departments also will provide assistance to every city when it is requested.

Both sides agreed the county will provide equipment and labor and the cities will provide materials for repairs to county roads located within city limits.

Each side also agreed there will be no new special tax district created in the county.

With the LOST and service delivery agreements in place, the cities and the county are now free to address other pressing issues.

Jonesboro, for example, can now turn its attention towards regaining its status as a state-recognized “Certified Local Government” and with it some state grants that have not been available to the city in recent years. City Mayor Joy Day said she couldn’t submit an application to regain that status, which expired at least two years ago, until a service delivery agreement was in place.

Day explained such agreements are among the requirements a city must meet to obtain “Certified Local Government” status from Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs.

“I could have applied for ‘Certified Local Government’ status three months ago, but our application would have just been rejected because we didn’t have this issue resolved,” Day said.

Turner said the agreement should be seen as an opportunity to start a new era of cooperation between Clayton County and its seven cities.

“This is laying the foundation for us to actually start working together and tearing down those walls and those barriers,” he said. “We are all one Clayton County and we need to start acting like it.”

Oswalt said both sides have to work together in the future to address issues facing the county. As a potential sign of cooperation in the future, Oswalt and Turner were finishing each other’s sentences after the Commission approved the agreements.

“It’s got to be a ‘We’ thing instead of ...,” Oswalt said.

“Silos and everyone working individually,” said Turner as he finished the mayor’s sentence.

And, that might be a major change of course from a mindset that seemed to have become standard operating procedure in recent years.

“It’s been a long time since this county realized what’s good for the cities is good for the county and what’s good for the county is good for the cities, but now it’s beginning to turn and you see the fruits of it already,” Oswalt said.