Peach County, cities to enter arbitration in LOST renegotiations

chwright@macon.comOctober 16, 2012 

Lacking an agreement on how to split a one-cent sales tax, Peach County and its cities will now ask a Superior Court judge to decide for them.

Peach County Commission Chairman Melvin Walker and Fort Valley Mayor John Stumbo said the government officials are at a standstill in renegotiations of the local option sales tax. With the mediation phase ending, they’re now planning for a new state-required phase of arbitration.

“It’s not something that I look forward to, but if it’s what it takes” to reach an agreement, “then we’ll have to do it,” Walker said.

Georgia requires that every 10 years, following the U.S. Census, counties with LOSTs renegotiate the division of the funds to their respective governments. It is used to roll back the millage rate for each entity.

The governments within the county have 60 days to decide among themselves, then 60 days with a licensed mediator. A new state law requires that after mediation, the governments enter baseball arbitration.

In the final phase, a Superior Court judge outside of the area picks one proposal from those that the governments -- or groups of governments -- propose.

Peach County’s first phase ended Aug. 17. The law doesn’t specify from which date the mediation clock begins, making it difficult to determine the final day of Peach County’s second phase.

“The intent of the deadlines is that, by the end of the year, they have a decision,” said Amy Henderson, spokeswoman of the Georgia Municipal Association.

Walker and Stumbo said their attorneys have been told to begin proposals and to petition the court for a decision. The cities of Fort Valley and Byron will file a proposal together, and the county will file its own recommendations.

“We (the cities) were not willing to give the county as much as they wanted, and they were not willing to give us as much as we wanted,” Stumbo said of mediation.

Walker declined to give specifics about the mediation talks, which included only one full-day session held Sept. 24.

Stumbo, who is spearheading the efforts for Byron and Fort Valley, said the positions of the county and cities didn’t change that day. The cities of Warner Robins and Perry, which have small populations in Peach County, did not attend, he said.

In the open meetings held prior to the closed mediation meetings, Walker stood firm that the county shouldn’t receive less than the 60 percent it receives now. The cities insisted they deserved a larger portion than they receive now based on increased population and origin of sales tax revenue.

Currently, Fort Valley receives 31.5 percent and Byron receives 8.5 percent.

The LOST generated about $35.8 million between January 2003 and May 2012.

Several other Georgia counties have entered arbitration, according to the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

It hasn’t been decided which Superior Court judge will hear the Peach case.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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