Peach County likely headed into mediation for local option sales tax

FORT VALLEY -- A licensed mediator will be put on notice to help officials from Peach County and cities within the county decide how to split a sales tax for the next 10 years, according to a Wednesday discussion among the officials.

“I really don’t think we’ve made much progress from the first time we sat here,” said Fort Valley Councilman John Ezell.

Over four meetings this summer about the next distribution of the county’s local option sales tax, Peach County, Fort Valley, Byron and Warner Robins officials have remained on opposite sides. They have until Aug. 17 to agree or be forced into mediation.

“Everybody is saying they want more than what they’re getting,” said Peach County Commission Chairman Melvin Walker. “I think that’s where the problem is.”

Peach County is among most counties statewide that are discussing the LOST split, which the state requires after every U.S. Census. According to regulations, the governments enter mediation after 60 days of internal talks if an agreement hasn’t been met.

The Peach County officials agreed to arrange for a mediator but to keep to their meeting schedule through Aug. 16. The mediator would be canceled if an agreement is met before then.

The next meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 8 in the county commission office.

Currently, Peach County receives 60 percent of the LOST, Fort Valley receives 31.5 percent and Byron receives 8.5 percent. 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.

The county would like to increase its portion of the tax based on the population of the entire county. Walker said that would equal 75.97 percent.

The cities of Byron and Fort Valley insist the county should not count the entire population because the cities provide their own services to city residents.

They proposed at the last meeting that the cities split 53 percent of the tax, leaving 47 percent for the county. Mayor Larry Collins, of Byron, said Wednesday he has reviewed the eight factors the state recommends for negotiations.

“It seems to me, in the big eight, the cities come out on top,” he said.

If an agreement isn’t reached once the mediator is called in, the process would go to an outside judge to decide.

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