Peach County enters negotiations for local option sales tax, LOST, distribution

Negotiations for how a local sales tax will be split among Peach County and its two municipalities, which translates to a property tax rollback for each, are under way.

Representatives from the County Commission and city councils of Byron, Fort Valley and Warner Robins met Tuesday evening to set a schedule for the mandatory renegotiations of the county local option sales tax, or LOST.

“Every entity -- we have people who need to be served,” said Melvin Walker, chairman of the Peach County board of commissioners. “We need to look at it and come up with a distribution that would be fair to all involved.”

Every 10 years, Peach County renegotiates the distribution of the 1 percent LOST. Beth Brown, spokeswoman for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said all but 19 Georgia counties are also in the negotiation process right now.

The sales tax is used to roll back millage rates, Peach County Administrator Marcia Johnson said.

“The current rollback is ... 16.792 less the sales tax (at) 3.237,” she said, “which makes the net millage rate 13.555” for the county.

Currently, Peach County receives 60 percent of the LOST, Fort Valley receives 31.5 percent and Byron receives 8.5 percent, Johnson said. Those terms end Dec. 31, unless the cities and county haven’t reached an agreement on the next distribution split.

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

Warner Robins and Perry, Houston County municipalities, were invited to the negotiations because a small portion of their populations spill over into Peach County.

Houston County entities decided years ago to give their entire LOST to the board of education, as did six other Georgia counties, Brown said.

Lee Gilmour, Perry city manager, said the city has decided not to participate in the Peach County LOST because Perry has just 63 of its 13,839 residents in Peach County and adequately serves that one subdivision.

“This is the same situation we had last go-round with the LOST (in 2000),” Gilmour said. “We did not think it would be appropriate for something to come to us from the Peach County LOST.”

Warner Robins Councilman Mike Daley attended Monday’s meeting as mayor pro tem, but wasn’t sure where the city stands on the issue.

The city opted out in 2000 for the same reason as Perry. Warner Robins currently has 364 of its 66,588 residents in Peach County, Johnson said.

Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen did not return phone and e-mail messages for comment.

“I think Perry made the right decision in opting out,” Byron Mayor Lawrence Collins said. “I would expect the city of Warner Robins to opt out as well.”

Collins said he is hoping for Byron to receive a larger piece of the pie, about 16 percent, during the next 10 years because the population has grown, the city provides water services to residents in unincorporated areas and it hosts several other county services.

The city of Byron grew from 2,887 residents in 2000 to 4,512 residents in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The conventional wisdom is both of the cities are going to have a larger slice of the pie than we had last go-round,” Collins said.

The city of Fort Valley grew from 8,005 residents in 2000 to 9,815 residents in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The county population grew from 23,668 to 27,695.

Fort Valley Mayor John Stumbo did not return calls for comment.

Collins said a major factor in the negotiations is where the taxes are generated. Unfortunately, he said, the Georgia Department of Revenue cannot provide that information.

“It’s real obvious it’s the I-75 corridor on the north end of the county,” Collins said.

The leaders have until Aug. 17 to reach a decision on the split or the negotiations will enter the next phase with a licensed mediator.

“I would anticipate that would not take place in Peach County,” Collins said. “I would anticipate we will come to an agreement.”

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