Six of Liberty County’s municipalities do not currently level a city property tax, but an agreement struck between the Liberty County Board of Commissioners and the city of Hinesville could set taxes in motion.
The topic was among those discussed during the commission’s recent retreat at MidCoast Regional Airport, and it is rooted in the 2012 local option sales tax negotiation that was adopted in the fall.
According to data from Assistant County Administrator Bob Sprinkel, the county currently provides road maintenance, mosquito control and animal control to all but Hinesville in exchange for $2,400 annually from each government.
But Sprinkel said the county endures a $133,419 shortfall to provide the services, which cost a combined $147,819. The county receives $14,400.
County Administrator Joey Brown said the county and municipalities began entering into contracts, or intergovernmental agreements, for the services in exchange for the charge.
“We started to collect at the time $2,400 per year, which was a nominal fee that was really to get them to start paying something for the services,” Brown said.
As the municipalities have grown, their service demands have increased — and so have their share of local option sales tax, or LOST, revenues. That means the county receives a smaller percentage of overall sales-tax collections.
Also, the 2012 agreement for LOST distribution that was triggered by the 2010 Census count had a provision that obligates the county to either collect full reimbursement from other municipalities or to roll back millage rates on Hinesville residents by the amount that is not reimbursed.
“Trying to find about $133,419, according to my calculations, that’s about two-tenths of a mill right now,” Brown said about making up the deficit.
“How do they — I’ll speak up for my little city of Gum Branch — I know that they can’t afford to pay it,” District 3 Commissioner Connie Thrift said about the costs of services. “I know that Allenhurst probably cannot afford to pay it. They don’t have a tax base or a revenue base to pay for the services that are provided for them.”
Brown said each municipality receives a portion of the insurance premium tax, and some receive business-license fees. Some others make money for services.
Brown later said that what smaller cities would have to do is no different than what Hinesville does.
“They would put a half a mill or a tenth of a mill or two-tenths, or whatever it was, on their citizens, and then contract with [Tax Commissioner] Virgil [Jones] to collect it, and it would go out on the tax bills and he would remit the money to them…,” Brown said.
Riceboro receives the largest proportion of services, according to the data presented. Its costs to the county run about $40,112, with the bulk coming from road maintenance.
Next is Walthourville, receiving $35,464 worth of services. Its largest service type was animal control, with more than $19,000 in costs.
Midway is third, and it receives $26,242 in services. Animal control comes in at $11,047, and roads follow at $10,254.
Allenhurst, Flemington and Gum Branch each receive between $14,000 and $16,000 in services.
The pre-existing contracts were allowed to expire, but the county still has been providing services for the same amount, Brown said. To move forward, Brown and Commission Chairman Donald Lovette will meet with the mayors and present the current costs versus contributions.
“What we’ll do is say, ‘Here’s what we’re currently providing for you, here’s your service contract with us, this is what the actual cost — just routinely, absent potholes, absent signs, whatever — this is minimally … what it actually costs,’” Brown said.
If the commission is in total agreement, Brown said he would suggest that each mayor sign a service agreement with specific requests for roads maintenance, and animal and mosquito controls. They also could agree to bill separately for hourly services like pothole repairs.
“What we’ll need to let them know is once you make an election on a cycle, say it’s once a year, you can’t come in here when it’s mosquito season and tell me to start spraying twice, because I’m going to build those cycles in with my county cycles,” Brown said. Costs then would be calculated to reflect the city’s requests.
“You’ve either got to cut back on services that you can’t afford, or you’ve got to raise the money somewhere else,” Brown said, reminding the commission that if the cities do not shoulder costs and the county continues to provide services, the county must raise its rates.