When it comes to trying to establish a new service delivery strategy (SDS) agreement between the two local governments in Milledgeville and Baldwin County, commissioners say they are ready to come to the table and talk any time city officials want to get together.
“We extend them (city) an open invitation,” Baldwin County Commission vice chairman Henry Craig said following a Wednesday night special called commission meeting.
The special invitation comes on the heels of county commissioners’ approval of an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that provides full funding for the Twin Lakes Library System through the end of 2020.
Similar action was taken by Milledgeville City Council on Tuesday night. Members of the Twin Lakes Library System’s Board of Trustees followed up with approval of the same IGA during a Thursday morning special called meeting.
During Wednesday night’s special called county commission meeting, Commission chairman John H. Westmoreland called for a motion to rescind a previous IGA agreement that was adopted by commissioners last week.
Andy Welch, an attorney who specializes in SDS agreements and who was hired by the county commission to help guide them through negotiations and mediations, talked with The Union-Recorder about latest library IGA agreement.
Welch said he and Milledgeville City Attorney Jimmy Jordan had communicated several times via email last week in an attempt to get a telephone conversation lined up.
“And I believe we actually talked on Monday,” Welch said. “And I know we talked several times on (Tuesday).”
Jordan wanted the funds for the library services to be struck from the language in the proposed IGA, Welch said.
“He (Jordan) wanted it struck from the IGA that the funds to provide services for the library would come from the city’s general funds, and we were not going to agree to that,” Welch said.
City officials compromised as to that point in the IGA agreement.
“Both parties will be allowed to use their general funds to pay for it,” Welch said.
Welch said he thought both sides worked out a good solution.
“I felt it went very professional,” Welch said. “How that translates into the other services with SDS, we’ll see. Jimmy and I suggested that we keep talking, so we’re going to be talking about some of the other issues to see whether there is anything else that we can get resolved.”
One of the issues is related to the Sibley-Smith property, a mega industrial park site in Baldwin County, the county attorney said.
“In the fall of last year, the city sent over an agreement to address that property, and the board of commissioners approved that last October,” Welch said.
He explained it would remove one of the issues that has been a problem between the city and county because the city has never approved that IGA.
“In this agreement, the city would be using SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) money to pay for its share for acquiring the land, so it does have a role to play, but there’s nothing to negotiate there in terms of SPLOST,” Welch said.
The county attorney said if city officials still contend that SPLOST is up for discussion, then commissioners would listen to them.
“From our (county) perspective, SPLOST is a separate tax and a separate issue from service delivery, and frankly, the voters have already approved SPLOST and it’s rolling along as it should,” Welch said.
Immediately afterward the approval of the new library funding IGA, Craig read aloud several prepared statements.
“The Baldwin County Commission has accepted the library IGA changes proposed by the city of Milledgeville,” Craig said. “We will not use the importance of uninterrupted library service to our community as an opportunity to make political comments about the city and SDS negotiations.”
The commission vice chairman pointed out that providing what he described as quality service to all residents of the county was the motivation of the Baldwin County Board of Commissioners.
“Last week the county commission stated our governments working together to ensure continuity of the library was an opportunity to restart service delivery negotiations,” Craig said. “Our two governments, separated by one city block, must communicate with each other if we are to serve our community and establish a service delivery agreement.”
Craig said to that end commissioners sent their proposed library IGA agreement to the city and library’s board of trustees last week.
He explained that the library board replied with changes which commissioners agreed to accept.
The city did not respond with any objections until after library board members approved the IGA at a noon meeting Monday, Craig said. Commissioners met later Monday afternoon and adopted the library board’s agreement, and a short time later, the documents were hand-delivered from the county to the city.
“In the interest of lifting the library over the SDS fray, we asked our attorney, Mr. Welch to reach out to the city’s attorney, Mr. (Jimmy) Jordan to see if a compromise could be reached,” Craig said. “Mr. Welch called Mr. Jordan to discuss and Mr. Welch proposed a solution to be stated in the preamble of the agreement. Mr. Jordan agreed and drafted the language, which Mr. Welch approved. The two (attorneys) worked together so that the city would have an agreement it could approve and the library system would be funded. These efforts were accomplished in a professional and productive manner.”
Craig said county commissioners, as publicly mentioned last week, are ready to reopen negotiations with the city regarding a new SDS agreement.
“The needs of our community will never be served if we, elected representatives, cannot genuinely negotiate and be open to compromise,” Craig said. “Baldwin County commissioners will continue waiting for the city of Milledgeville to accept our invitation for meaningful discussions and negotiations.”