By Tia Lynn Ivey
The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) and Madison Mayor and City Council have finalized a joint meeting, open to the public, to attempt settling the ongoing Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) dispute between the two governments. Both boards will meet on Monday, Oct. 16 at 9 a.m. in the meeting room above the Madison-Morgan Convention and Visitors Bureau in Madison. The BOC also voted to file another extension for the SDS agreement to be reached until February 28, 2018. The current deadline extension is set to expire Oct. 31.
“We want to continue to try to work out these issues together,” said County Manager Adam Mestres.
Mestres, the private negotiations between officials in recent months have “made some progress” but leadership on both sides believed it was time to return the debate to the public view as they move closer to deciding on how to proceed—either coming to a compromise amongst themselves or procure a legal mediator to work out an agreement. If a legal mediator fails to remedy the dispute, the county and the city will head to court to battle out SDS terms.
County officials, who pledged to do some research on how county services are utilized by the City of Madison during the last round of public meetings, are expected to reveal their findings at the coming meeting. According to Mestres, no vote will be taken at Oct. 16 meeting, but will be purely for informational purposes as they reopen SDS negotiations to the public again.
SDS sets forth the services provided to the city from the county. The City of Madison petitioned the county last year to renegotiate the SDS, believing the current agreement is unfair to city residents.
The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) unanimously voted to approve filing for a deadline extension with the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) earlier this year since an agreement could not be reached between the county and city by the usual June 30 deadline.
“It has become necessary to update the 2004 Service Delivery Strategy prior to its expiration on June 30, 2017, as required by law, and changes of delivery in one or more services areas. The Board of Morgan County Commissioners requires additional time to update its Service Delivery Strategy to provide for the best outcome for all jurisdictions involved,” wrote the BOC in the official resolution earlier this year.
The City and County have been butting heads over SDS since last year, with both sides digging their heels in the ground during two joint negotiation meetings in 2016.
The City is unsatisfied with the current agreement, claiming Madison residents unfairly contribute more than $1.5 million in ad valorem taxes annually for select services that are either primarily—even exclusively—utilized by county residents outside the city limits, or unnecessarily duplicated by the county for services that the city already provides. The county, on the other hand, claims the services they provide—in totality—benefit everyone in the county, including Madison residents and, in some cases, disproportionately benefit Madison city residents. City officials have argued that city residents pay county taxes that go toward the maintenance and repair of roads, but that money is only used on county roads.
City officials also listed solid waste pickup, animal control, fire services, police services, and county administration costs as services from which city residents do not adequately benefit.