Peach leaders begin LOST talks

FORT VALLEY -- Leaders from Peach County, Fort Valley and Byron met Wednesday to discuss distribution of the local option sales tax, but it was mostly an informational session.

They agreed that when they meet on July 11, each would come with a proposal of how the tax should be distributed.

State law requires the tax distribution to be renegotiated every 10 years after the census.

The meeting consisted mostly of Phil Sutton, a consultant for the county, going through the law on the LOST tax and the timeline for the negotiations.

It won’t have quite the drama as in the past, when cities and counties either had to come to an agreement or lose the tax. This time a process is spelled out in which mediators come into play if an agreement isn’t reached. If all else fails, a Superior Court judge from outside the area is appointed to hear each side and make a binding decision.

Byron Mayor Larry Collins said he doesn’t think it will come to that.

“I think we are going to be able to sit down and work out something among ourselves,” he said.

Fort Valley Mayor John Stumbo, who went through the process during the last negotiation, said there was disagreement then, but officials ultimately ended up basing it on population. If it were done the same way this time, Fort Valley and Byron would figure to get more because population has shifted to the cities.

Sutton, however, said the law expressly states that population should not be the primary factor, although he also said previously that’s the way it was done in about 90 percent of the counties.

“One way to get into trouble if we do get into arbitration is to only consider population,” Sutton said.

Other criteria to consider, he said, are services delivered, where sales tax revenues are generated and daytime population. The point-of-sale issue could be tricky because the Georgia Department of Revenue doesn’t provide figures on exactly where sales taxes are generated.

Also adding a twist to the negotiations is that Warner Robins and Perry have a small number of residents in Peach County. Warner Robins has 364, and Perry has 63. Both opted out of previous negotiations, and neither sent representatives to Wednesday’s meeting.

Stumbo said his understanding of the law is that Perry and Warner Robins are entitled to a percentage, whether they participate in the negotiations or not. However, he said he would hope both would simply agree not to be included.

The LOST is intended to allow counties and municipalities to roll back property tax rates. Only three counties in the state do not have a LOST, Sutton said.

Currently Peach County gets 60 percent of the tax proceeds, Fort Valley gets 31.5 percent and Byron gets 8.5 percent.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.