Crisis averted. Columbia County, Grovetown and Harlem officials have signed off on a deal to divide the next 10 years worth of money from the Local Option Sales Tax.
What does it mean?
It means there is no need to slash services or boost property taxes to make up for the estimated $165 million the 1 percent tax is expected to bring in over the next 10 years. Its a lot of money, representing a third or more of the budgets for the county and the cities - money that comes not from property taxes, but from the broader sales tax.
All Georgia counties and cities with LOST are renegotiating shares of the tax this year. Most are seeking some semblance of equity along population lines - i.e., if 10 percent of the population lives in a city and 90 percent in the county, the tax gets roughly that same split.
Those proportions have been skewed for years in Columbia County, allowing the two cities to enjoy a far greater share of tax funding than a strict population formula would warrant. During renegotiations, then, some commissioners made a cut-and-dried case for a population-driven split.
The cities, however, would have suffered serious funding losses as a result - especially Harlem, which has lost population as Grovetown and Columbia County boomed. And Grovetown, which grew statistically at a faster percentage than Columbia County, wouldnt accept a plan that cut their funds.
A deal seemed impossible as patience wore thin in repeated negotiation sessions. But wisdom prevailed. County Commission Chairman Barry Fleming, who lives in Harlem, wasnt about to let the cities take a crippling blow in the negotiations. He also knew the majority of the residents in rest of the county deserved to keep a larger share of the funds.
The result is a good compromise that gradually lowers the percentage of the funds that go to the cities, but relies on growth of the revenue to keep the cities from taking a fiscal hit.
Its a good plan, and averts what could have been a serious game of financial chicken. Instead, the funds are secure for the next decade, and can continue to be put to use coping with the pains from the growth that brings in the money.
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