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Tentative agreement over sales tax shares

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POSTED: September 19, 2012 1:30 p.m.
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Here's how the money would be split up if the current agreement is approved.

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It has yet to be approved by both governing bodies, but Liberty County and Hinesville representatives reached a tentative verbal agreement Tuesday for allocation of local-option sales tax revenues as required every 10 years due to census population counts.
The proposal would reduce the share of LOST revenues that Hinesville receives from its current 49.33 percent to 47.45 percent.
The plan also would reduce the amount Walthourville receives by 0.61 percent because its share of overall county population decreased between the 2000 and 2010 census figures, according to consultant Phil Sutton of Sutton Consulting LLC.
The Hinesville City Council and the Liberty County Board of Commissioners both plan to address the allocation during their Thursday meetings, and each must approve the plan or authorize a respective representative to do so.
Although mayors from Flemington, Midway, Riceboro and Walthourville participated in the talks, O.C.G.A. §48-8-89 allows the distribution to be determined by the county and a city that makes up more than 50 percent population of the qualified municipalities.
In preparing for the agreement, Sutton presented a number of calculation methods that take into account: daytime population; 2010 census population; general-fund expenses; point-of-sale economic activity, commodity reports and commercial digests; property tax and LOST revenue for each qualifying entity.
“Whatever Hinesville and Liberty County agree to, the proportion that goes to Hinesville, if there are absentee cities that don’t participate, they have an entitlement, and that entitlement is their percentage of the population of the cities,” Sutton said.  
Under the tentative plan, two cities will act as “absentee cities” that only use their population numbers: Midway would receive 3.06 percent and Walthourville would receive 6.54 percent.
Flemington would act as a “participating city,” which means its daytime population and commerce figures drive up its share to 1.74 percent. Riceboro also is a participating city that should receive 1.25 percent, up from its current share of 1.19 percent.
To qualify for LOST distribution, a municipality must provide three of six services: water, sewer, garbage collection, library, fire protection and a police presence. Allenhurst and Gum Branch do not meet the requirements.
Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin disagreed with the plan. He said the percentage allocated to Riceboro, 1.25 percent of the county’s revenue, does not give Riceboro a chance to grow or account for its heavy industrial presence.
During a Sept. 6 meeting, Austin asked Sutton to re-work the formula so it takes the industrial digest into account. Under that model, Riceboro’s share would have been 4.04 percent.
“I think this exercise that you performed reflects somewhat of an attempt to provide for the importance of Riceboro’s contribution to the county, which is what I was trying to do,” Austin said. “[The tentative model] doesn’t recognize it at all. … This one’s null and void as far as it being a fair way to distribute it.”
The scenario on the table came on request of Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas and City Manager Billy Edwards, who asked that Fort Stewart’s population figure of 4,924 be removed from the share allocated to unincorporated Liberty County.  
Edwards noted that Riceboro’s share still will increase and Hinesville’s will decrease. Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver pointed out that the county offers more extensive services to Riceboro than it does to other municipalities.
Sutton said he is working on about 25 other negotiations, and none of them have a tentative plan that remains so close to the existing agreement.

 

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