Sales tax distribution in Peach County settled

chwright@macon.comOctober 15, 2013 

FORT VALLEY -- Peach County officials reached a resolution Tuesday that will prevent fiscal meltdowns for its governments.

County and city leaders agreed on a temporary distribution of the 1 cent local option sales tax, after a week of worry that their budgets would take a huge hit when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled a negotiations process unconstitutional. Meanwhile, more negotiations have been promised, but they aren’t required.

“Oh my gosh,” said a relieved County Administrator Marcia Johnson, who had been afraid of an impending budget gap. “I got a load off me.”

The funds from a LOST, which most counties statewide implemented years ago, go to the general fund of cities and counties. About 34 of the state’s 159 counties and cities within had been using a new arbitration process the General Assembly enacted for last year’s mandatory decennial negotiations. But the court ruled that a judge making a decision on taxes violated the constitutional separation of powers.

The Georgia Department of Revenue and the state Attorney General’s Office told the affected counties late last week to submit a distribution certificate by the end of business Thursday.

“Thursday is the last day after the 10-day period during which the parties can file motions for reconsideration, and then any additional time the court takes to decide a motion, if filed,” said Nick Genesi, with the Department of Revenue. “If nothing is filed or the court does not take any additional time, then the decision is final.”

Fort Valley City Council and the Peach County Commission approved what equated to a continuing resolution Tuesday evening. It was ahead of a Thursday deadline the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Revenue imposed in order for counties without distribution decisions to continue.

With an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2014, the new distribution is: Peach County will receive 59.3 percent (down from 60 percent) of the sales tax proceeds; Fort Valley will receive 31.14 percent (down from 31.5 percent); Byron will receive 8.4 percent (down from 8.5 percent); Warner Robins will receive .99 percent; and Perry will receive .17 percent.

Association County Commissioners of Georgia spokesman Clint Mueller said Byron and Warner Robins must now sign the agreement.

Though some counties like Peach have opted to include an expiration date by which a new agreement must be negotiated, Mueller said the Department of Revenue won’t enforce that self-imposed deadline. Renegotiations are only required every 10 years.

“It’ll be up to them to come and renegotiate it at a different time,” Mueller said, adding that state law allows mutual renegotiations between mandatory agreements.

Johnson said she was not aware the expiration date will not be enforced at the state level. Neither did Mayor John Stumbo, who seemed surprised at the news.

“That makes sense,” Stumbo said of the Department of Revenue’s stance on expiration dates. He added that such an allowance could mean counties just pass temporary certificates every year and never reach an official agreement.

The negotiations had been held up in Peach County because the county refused to receive less than its 60 percent and the cities wanted a bigger slice. With Peach County basically receiving what it wanted minus a minor sliver given to Perry and Warner Robins, Stumbo could not respond whether he thought negotiations would come up next year.

The General Assembly returns to Atlanta for its regular session in January. Officials said they also may revisit the LOST.

“All this could change depending on what the Legislature does,” Johnson said.

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

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