Since much has been written about the negotiations between the cities and county regarding Service Delivery Strategy, I feel responsible to tell the cities’ side of the story.
This is the county’s lawsuit: The cities have not sued the county. The county sued the cities, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and numerous DCA board members. Consequently, in regard to the $367,000 the cities have spent, it has been mostly in defense of the county’s lawsuit.
Sanctions: Once the cities and the county were placed under sanctions for not agreeing upon a new SDS agreement, Lowndes County was placed in non-compliance and sanctions were imposed by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
These sanctions were very serious. They impacted Lake Park, Hahira and Valdosta. Specifically, Hahira’s attempt to secure an environment grant was blocked.
A Valdosta downtown property owner was working with a state agency to obtain a loan for a building restoration. The transaction could not take place while the cities and county were in non-compliance. Fortunately, there was a process to have the sanctions held in abeyance by the court. The cities requested the court to do so. The county opposed lifting the sanctions. The court agreed with the cities.
Attacks on SDS: Instead of utilizing the SDS resolution process, the county chose to attack it. The county initially argued the SDS resolution process was unconstitutional. The Georgia Supreme Court disagreed. The county’s second attack against the negotiation process is that the SDS agreement from 2008 remains in effect. The latest decision says that attack also fails. Now the county has appealed the latest SDS rulings to the Supreme Court. This will cause additional expense and delay which will only lead to more taxpayer dollars being spent.
Tax inequity faced by municipal residents: SDS is meant to eliminate or greatly reduce tax inequities. The recent article on SDS attorney’s fees highlight the tax inequity faced by the municipal residents of Hahira, Lake Park, Dasher, Remerton and Valdosta. For example, the residents of those cities pay approximately 52% of the Lowndes County Tax Digest. The county paid its SDS attorney’s fees from that revenue source. Consequently, municipal residents not only paid 100% of their own legal fees, they also paid 52% of the county’s.
The cities did not initiate the SDS lawsuit and were certainly not involved in the county’s decision to sue, and then appeal the decision to dismiss the state entities. However, the cities still have to pay the majority of the county’s attorney’s fees.
Negotiations: The cities have negotiated on every issue but the county has not. The last proposal the cities offered was that for any residence, development or residential project, the cities would agree to follow the same process utilized in the 2008 SDS agreement. However, for commercial/ industrial prospects and projects, the cities proposed customer choice.
If the commercial or industrial project desires municipal water/sewer and fire protection, then those municipalities could provide it. Again, any provision of these services would be driven by a request by the potential prospect.
This is a very small adjustment to our previous agreement with the county. It would bring all the arguing and spending of taxpayer money to an end. It would also facilitate more efficient negotiations with industrial and commercial prospects in an attempt to bring more jobs to Lowndes County.
The cities hope the county will direct its attorney to drop further appeals, accept the offer above and move forward.
John Gayle is the mayor of Valdosta.