Legal battles continue mounting between the city of Milledgeville and Baldwin County Board of Commissioners since they still have not reached an agreement on Service Delivery Strategy.
The latest legal documents were filed Monday in Baldwin County Superior Court Clerk Mitch Longino’s office by attorneys representing the city of Milledgeville. Those attorneys include D. James “Jimmy” Jordan and Cedric B. Davis, of Adams, Jordan & Herrington of Milledgeville and J. Raymond Dickey, of Rincon.
The 21-page civil lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by The Union-Recorder, seeks mandatory mediation of Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) and mentions breach of contract, specific performance, mandamus and other relief as the court deems appropriate.
The lawsuit was filed against each of the five members of the Baldwin County Board of Commissioners in their official capacities as elected officials. The commissioners, known as defendants in the court documents, include chairman John H. Westmoreland, vice-chairman Henry R. Craig, commissioners Emily C. Davis, Tommy L. French and Sammy Hall.
In the city’s lawsuit, attorneys state that city and county officials implemented an SDS agreement back in 2008. The 2008 SDS was comprised of a series of agreements related to the provision of various governmental services.
The current SDS was due to be reviewed and revised by June 30, 2019.
On multiple occasions negotiations to update the SDS agreement between the two local governmental bodies failed.
It resulted in sanctions, pursuant to O.C.G.A. 36-70-27, being implemented against Baldwin County, as well as the city of Milledgeville in both their respective and joint authorities as of July 1, 2019, city attorneys said in the court documents.
“Milledgeville has identified areas in the existing Service Delivery Strategy agreements with the county that result in funding inequities and city property taxpayers paying for county services the city property taxpayers do not receive — all of which results in double-taxation of city residents, businesses, and property located inside the corporate limits of Milledgeville,” according to attorneys representing the city.
City officials desire to review, revise and reach an agreement on a new SDS with the county that would eliminate any and all areas of funding inequities and taxation of Milledgeville residents, businesses, and taxpayers by the county for services that the county does not provide.
Those areas include, but are not limited to the following: public works, road construction and maintenance, bridge construction and maintenance, curbside solid waste collection and disposal, land use (planning and zoning), engineering, building inspection, Sinclair Water Authority, fire protection, government support services, administration, building maintenance, water distribution, sewer collection and treatment, soil erosion control, street lighting, stormwater management (drainage), surveyor, traffic control, yard-debris removal, and other services.
“Milledgeville wishes to coordinate with Baldwin County to negotiate with the county so that Milledgeville and the county can implement new SDS agreements comprised of revised agreements that meet the requirements of Georgia law,” city attorneys said in the lawsuit.
The suit provides a variety of statistical data.
For example, the population of Baldwin County, based on the most recent U.S. Census data, is 45,720.
That population is split into those who live in the unincorporated area of the county, as well as those who live within the city limits of Milledgeville.
The figure for those living in the unincorporated area of the county was listed as 28,005 people or 61.25 percent of the county’s total population.
The latest population figure shows 17,715 people living in the city of Milledgeville or 38.75 percent of the total county population.
During three mediation sessions in 2018, presided over by Attorney Theodore Meeker, city and county officials were unable to come to an agreement regarding a new SDS.
“As a result of the city and county being unable to reach an agreement to resolve the service delivery issues, the city has no alternative but to file this civil action to resolve all service delivery issues and related matters,” said city attorneys.
The lawsuit was filed with the approval of all six city council members at a special called council meeting last week.
“The violation of the SDS agreements and the Georgia Service Delivery Strategy Act by the county and the commissioners include improperly using revenues not allowed under Georgia law for payment of services for special service districts,” according to the city’s lawsuit. “For instance, mobile home tax, alcohol beverage tax, cable fees, alcohol licenses, and occupational tax are not funding mechanisms allowed under Georgia law to pay for special service district expenditures. Further, Baldwin County and the Sinclair Water Authority (SWA) provide public water supply services to certain unincorporated areas of Baldwin County.”
According to the lawsuit, neither the county nor SWA provides any such services within the corporate limits of Milledgeville.
Under the existing SDS agreements between the city and county, the city provides water and sewer services within its incorporated boundaries, as well as to certain unincorporated areas.
“The city of Milledgeville is the only governmental entity in the county that treats sewage within the county,” according to the lawsuit.
For many years the city of Milledgeville has provided water and sewer services to certain unincorporated areas of Baldwin County through multiple SDS agreements without any disputes from the county.
“Milledgeville has expended millions of dollars to expand, repair, and upgrade sewer and water services to unincorporated areas at the request and agreement of the county,” according to the city’s lawsuit. “The water and sewer services provided by Milledgeville to the unincorporated areas for all these years have resulted in the development of these areas and a resulting increase in the tax digest values and sales tax. The county now desires to claim service areas held by the city and stop additional water and sewer taps by the city to areas in which the city has a long history of service.”
The city’s lawsuit also contends that approved Baldwin County annual audits provide documentation that the county and commissioners transferred $4.3 million from its general fund (countywide tax dollars) to fund the water service of the county in the unincorporated areas (special service district) and to fund the Sinclair Water Authority through 2017.
“Further, the county and the commissioners transferred $852,482 from the general fund (countywide tax dollars) to fund the solid waste disposal of the county in the unincorporated areas (special service district), according to the lawsuit.
City attorneys contend that the use of general fund tax dollars violates the intent of the Georgia Service Delivery Strategy Act, as well as the current SDS agreements.
“The transfers made by the defendants — the county — and the defendants — commissioners of countywide tax dollars to the special service district’s fund for water, solid waste disposal and to the SWA in the amount of $5,197,657 violate the SDS agreements,” city attorneys contend. “The city vehemently believes that the county’s 2018 and 2019 audits will show further transfers of money from the general fund to the special service districts in violation of the SDS agreements. Hence, city property owners paid for county services provided only in the unincorporated area and received no benefit for the taxes that were paid.”
Fire service also was addressed in the city’s lawsuit.
Defendants are currently providing fire service to a portion of the city without an agreement with the city to provide the fire service within the city, according to attorneys representing the city in the lawsuit.
“The current SDS agreements state that the city will provide fire service within its incorporated boundaries and the county will provide fire service in the unincorporated areas,” court documents show. “Providing of the fire service by the county and the commissioners within the municipal boundaries without an agreement with the city violates the supplemental powers provision of the Georgia Constitution. The providing of the fire service without agreement violates the intent of the Georgia Service Delivery Strategy Act, HB-489, and the Georgia Constitution.”
City attorneys also contend that the defendants “have refused to correct their violations” involving SDS agreements and state law. “As a result, Milledgeville has no choice but to seek the assistance of the judicial system to compel compliance with the provisions of Georgia law applicable to Service Delivery Strategy and other applicable Georgia laws.”