Morgan, Madison square off over LOST funds

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City and County Recommendations

Madison Proposal: City begins with the share that it currently has but increases gradually to 26 percent, leaving Morgan County with about 67.5 percent of the funds.

Morgan Proposal: Involves a 3 percent increase, giving the county 76 percent, and Madison’s percentage would drop 4 points to approximately 18 percent.

By Nick Nunn, Staff Writer

Superior Court Judge Robert S. Reeves heard testimony regarding the contested Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) allocation between Morgan County and the City of Madison in the upper courtroom of the Morgan County Courthouse on Tuesday, Sept. 17.

Previously, Morgan County received 73 percent of the LOST funds, while Madison received approximately 22 percent. Morgan County’s offer being considered at the litigation, would involve a 3 percent increase, giving the county 76 percent, and Madison’s percentage would drop 4 points to approximately 18 percent.

Madison presented Morgan County with an updated proposal just before the meeting. The proposal involves Madison beginning with the share that it currently has but, during the near 10-year course of what will be the current LOST agreement, would increase their percentage gradually to 26 percent, which would leave Morgan County with slightly more than 67.5 percent of the funds.

Each percentage point of the LOST funds equals roughly $36,000.

Christian Henry, representing Morgan County, turned down the offer as proceedings began.

Henry said during his opening statement that Madison’s LOST offer would be “devastating” to the finances of Morgan County, and would require either cutting county services or raising taxes.

Joe Reitman, co-council for the City of Madison along with A.J. “Buddy” Welch, Jr., outlined a set of eight criteria for determining the distribution of LOST funds by the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) Paragraph 48-8-89, which includes service delivery responsibilities, tax apportionment and intergovernmental agreements.

Both Madison and Morgan County’s primary witnesses focused primarily on numerical figures representing the population, daytime population, tax equity and costs of service, among others, to represent the contributions that the two entities make to the general population of the county as a whole.

The two fundamentally differed, however, on their methods of arriving at the figures they presented, which, of course, portrayed the county and the city in completely different lights.

Douglas Eaves, owner of Eaves Consulting Group L.L.C., served as a witness for Morgan County and used a method that he referred to as “frequency distribution analysis,” which involved adding the total population of Morgan County to the total population of Madison and using that combined figure as a denominator for finding the percentages that the populations of Madison and Morgan County represent.

Michael Brown, former city manager of Savannah, Ga. and witness for the City of Madison, stated that the frequency distribution analysis misrepresents the raw figures at hand by creating a 140 percent total population of the county and the city combined, which would also “mathematically lower the city’s share.”

Most of the contention circled around the services that the county and the city are able to provide, both for themselves and each other.

Representatives for Madison claimed that the services that Madison offers, which include utilities, Madison’s parks and commercial businesses, benefit the entire county, not just the city itself.

Conversely, Morgan County representatives stated that Madison utilizes more than its share of county services while offering relatively little back to the county.

Following almost 12 hours of proceedings, the attorneys for Madison and Morgan County agreed to waive oral arguments to end the day in favor of presenting closing arguments in briefs.

After Judge Reeves receives the final briefs from the attorneys, there will be no set schedule for returning a verdict.

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