Officials from Columbia County, Harlem and Grove-town met last week in hopes of settling negotiations over the split of 1-cent local option sales tax revenue among the three governments.
County Administrator Steve Szablewski said he estimates $180 million will be available during the 2011-16 sales tax period. Typically, city and county leaders agree on what percentage of those funds each entity will receive.
The funds often are used for large capital projects not included in annual budgets.
A 2004 law change allows the revenue to be used for projects that serve the entire county before the remaining money is split between the county and cities. Szablewski said he would like to see an expansion of the Justice Center and Courthouse Annex in Evans, the Columbia County Detention Center and the county health department, in addition to debt payments for the construction of the Justice Center and jail, before the remaining estimated $110.2 million is divvied up.
"I think it is important to look at the population, because if we come up with a percentage of what each city gets, it is usually based on population," he said.
Population estimates and projections, compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, the CSRA Regional Development Center and each city, vary; therefore, county officials proposed a split based on population numbers that could negate the variations and a miscalculation on Harlem's population during to the 2000 census.
The proposition includes 10.53 percent of the money, about $11.6 million, for Grovetown; 2.81 percent, about $3 million, for Harlem; and $95 million, or 86.66 percent, for the unincorporated areas of the county.
"I have no problems with that at all," Grovetown Mayor George James said at the July 16 meeting. "I have no qualms with the 2010 population estimate."
Officials believe that Harlem's population was grossly underestimated in the 2000 census. The offer was made based on a 2010 population estimate of 3,200 people, slightly less than the estimated population this year.
"I feel like y'all are trying to make an effort to see our side of it," Harlem Mayor Bobby Culpepper said. "We appreciate your effort. I think we probably would be wise to get back together and talk and make sure everybody is onboard with this."
Culpepper said city officials still have a few more questions and negotiations to undergo with county officials. Barring any major changes, Culpepper said, he expected to finish an agreement with county officials Tuesday.
"We don't want to delay the process," he said.
An agreement with city officials and a priority list of projects needs to be approved by Columbia County Commission by Aug. 19. A referendum is expected to appear on the November ballot.
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