With a vote of 3-2, the Baldwin County Board of Commissioners voted down the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) intergovernmental agreement approved by the City of Milledgeville.
Chair Faye Smith and Commissioner Sammy Hall voted for, while commissioners Bubba Williams, Linda Fussell and Emily Davis voted against the agreement.
Milledgeville City Council approved the LOST agreement in a called meeting early Tuesday. All present aldermen but Jeanette Walden, District 2, voted to approve the intergovernmental agreement.
Walden cited a significant dip in the 2013 fiscal year tax revenue. The councilwoman stated that city losses totaling almost $900,000 from the percentage kicked back to the county would only burden taxpayers in the future.
It’s a 1.38 average percent increase in LOST county revenue over the next 10 years.
A seemingly small provision that would lease the lower level of the Baldwin courthouse parking deck to the city proved to be the snag. If approved as written, the city would have exclusive possession, operation and control of the 61 marked spaces.
Also, the city would designate six spaces adjacent to the courthouse within the 100 block of North Wilkinson Street for courthouse business. A system providing parking passes for grand jurors and traverse jurors to cover their periods of service was included.
Sheriff Bill Massee read a letter addressed to the commission taking issue with the idea of leasing those limited spaces. Massee estimated that 240,000 people come in and out of the courthouse yearly, and that the LOST agreement provision would cripple the constitutional mandate of county courts and employees.
“I wrote a lengthy letter because I wanted those people that see it to understand what county government has to do. Once we lose these parking spaces, we will never get them back again,” Massee said. “I encourage y’all to consider this. The other constitutional offices are not here because we had no notice of this. I know this is a negotiation, but we are giving away a vital county asset.”
County Attorney David McRee detailed the negotiation process to settle on a LOST distribution formula. The board gave Hall and the negotiating team the authority to close the gap to reach an agreement two weeks ago.
Hall moved to adopt the agreement, with the alternative being baseball arbitration to settle the dispute.
“It’s basically going to be public parking. It’s always been public parking, but people don’t realize it’s public because of the arm that’s down there,” Hall said. “We aren’t giving up parking places. It’s just going to be managed by the city.”
Commissioner Bubba Williams, District 5, said the language didn’t mention jurors would get special treatment.
“I’m wondering is it preferential treatment on court dates for these people showing up to be jurors,” Williams said.
McRee said the city indicated those spaces would be available on the morning that the jurors arrive.
Vice Chair District 1 Emily Davis said that wording should be included.
“That’s not in there. Everything needs to be in black and white,” Davis said.
McRee said the parking permits would prevent the juror from being ticketed either on the deck or the street. The same total spaces will be available in January if adopted, according to McRee.
“We don’t reserve spaces for jurors now,” McRee said. “They park where they can find a space.”
Hall said if the city didn’t properly regulate parking the agreement would no longer stand.
Williams said the board shoulders blame for not discussing the parking terms with county constitutional officers.
“One thing y’all forget is we have 100 employees that work in this courthouse. We don’t have parking spaces reserved,” Massee said. “We have 161 parking spaces, and you are giving away 61 of them. We are already having a hard time getting juries here.”
Massee said he understood it is a monetary decision and constitutional officers have no input. The sheriff doesn’t think the city would reserve the spaces as detailed in the agreement.
“Then that would be a violation of the agreement, and it wouldn’t stand,” Hall said. “It’s clearly spelled out that they shall do that. If it becomes a problem then the agreement is not valid.”
McRee reminded the board of the coming Nov. 26 deadline to file a petition for arbitration with the state superior court. After the county board’s vote, litigation is a reality.
“Arbitration is expensive, and there is no guarantee that you will get as good a deal as we have now,” Hall said.
McRee said it’s a risky proposition for both sides. Only one city and county have gone to arbitration already, according to the county attorney.
“It’s going to make us all look bad,” Hall said. “We may go backward and have less revenue than we are getting now.”
In other news:
• Linda Fussell, District 2, motioned to remove the interim from County Manager Ralph McMullen’s title. Williams said an open interview process should be set up to establish the best person for the job. The District 5 commissioner was the only vote against the appointment.
• The county approved a modification of the county Sunday alcohol sales ordinance chosen by the most recent referendum vote. Sunday sales of malt beverages, wine and distilled spirits will be allowed by retailers effective Dec. 1.
• County staff compiled a list of the worst roads in Baldwin County for a Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) list submitted to the commission. Out of 45 rounds listed, many fell on the edge of being totally gone. McMullen said vendors would be brought in to get more improved road mileage out of available funds. Hall speculated that current funding could address about 13 on the list. The county must submit its LMIG request to the Georgia Department of Transportation by Jan. 1.
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