HAHIRA — Lowndes County Commission Chairman Ashley Paulk surprised city leaders Wednesday morning when he predicted that the negotiations to split almost $250 million in Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenue would be settled in the courts, just as it was ten years ago.
Representatives from five Lowndes County cities made no offer or proposal during the meeting at the Hahira Community Center, but Valdosta Mayor John Gayle made it clear their intention to keep negotiations out of lawyer arbitration.
“I wasn’t really surprised they didn’t make an offer,” said Paulk after the meeting. “The county came forward and made an offer day one and that was on the table for seven days and the county is not going back to that offer and we’re not going below that offer.”
Made in April, the initial Lowndes County offer was similar to the distribution model created in 2002 and provided about 42 percent of the LOST revenues over 10 years for the five cities. The county’s alternative offer dropped that to about 28 percent.
Hahira and Valdosta staff members laid out the various services provided by the cities and population variables due to increased employment in the cities compared to the county.
After the meeting, Gayle said the old SPLOST formula would not be fair to the cities’ needs because it was 10 years old.
“It kind of went how I expected,” said Gayle. “We’re trying to work together on this thing and they already told us they weren’t going to present anything.”
Paulk also made it clear that the county plans to set the Special Local Option Sales Tax VII referendum on the upcoming November election ballot. Paulk said there was no reason for the county to have to pay to hold a special election right after the first of the year when there already is one planned for the fall.
The City of Valdosta currently hopes to use from $40 to 55 million of SPLOST VII revenues as Tier 2 funds to pay for the Five Points project and a new municipal auditorium. Lowndes County would still be responsible for paying for the construction of the new library building, estimated at $15 million from SPLOST.
Because those Tier 2 funds can “come off the top” of the estimated $180 million SPLOST funds available, it would reduce the total amount both the county and city would receive for other projects.
Paulk said the county will pay for county projects and the city needs to do the same for their projects.
“We’re certainly not in favor of that (November SPLOST referendum) and we’ll do everything we can to see where he’s coming from,” said Gayle.
Paulk also informed Valdosta city leaders that as the library has no written commitment or pro forma from the city stating they can locate at Five Points, the library may have to find another location. He also said the county will not support the Five Points Project as an “off the top project” from SPLOST, regardless of whether the library is built there or not.
“The city’s offered the library free land there, but that’s up to them. They’re also looking at some other sites; we’ll just have to see what their response is. Quite honestly, I feel like the request from the library board was excessive,” Gayle said.
No future meeting dates were set and it remains uncertain if there will be more meetings or if the next meeting will be before a judge.
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