City/county far apart on service issue

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

Leaders from the City of Madison and Morgan County government sat down to hash out the city’s grievances over county taxes and county services.

The City of Madison is seeking to renegotiate the Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) with Morgan County government. The City is unsatisfied with the current agreement, claiming Madison residents unfairly contribute over $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 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.

In the presence of the Madison City Council and Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC), City Manager David Nunn and County Manager Michael Lamar presented each side’s perspective on the matter.

City Attorney Joe Reitman presented eight county services the city believes residents are unfairly taxed for, seeking compensation or a revised tax plan as a remedy. Those services included Morgan County Animal Control, maintenance and repair of county roads, Central Dispatch/Emergency Communications E-911, General Administration, Law Enforcement Patrol and Investigations, Planning Zoning and Building Inspections, and Solid Waste.

“At the end of the day, we need to come to an agreement on every one of these things,” said Nunn. “If the county is not providing a service to us, then the county cannot expect the citizens to pay for that service.”

“We can’t cherry pick here,” responded Lamar. “We have to look at the entire thing.” Lamar argued that other county services disproportionately benefit City of Madison residents, which helps balance the Service Delivery Strategy. Lamar cited Public Transit, Morgan Memorial Hospital, and other health and human services as examples of county services primarily utilized by Madison residents. Lamar also argued that since county headquarters and county services are mostly located within the city limits of Madison, Madison residents have a closer proximity to county services and therefore, greater accessibility to county services than other county residents.

Lamar also pointed to the numerous county roads that pour into the City of Madison, making it possible for people to come into the city for work, recreation, school, and tourism. Nunn countered that the high volume of people that come into the City of Madison accounts for much of the wear and tear on city roads, which the county does not allocate funds to repair and maintain, even though city residents put in $375,000 in tax money for the repair and maintenance of county roads.

Lamar suggested city and county governments obtain the services of a professional individual or group to review the data sets pertaining to SDS and allow them to determine how each party benefits.

The meeting was the first in more to come between city and county governments regarding SDS negotiations.

The City wants to have a new agreement finalized with the county before June of 2017 as part of the comprehensive planning process. If the city and county cannot come to an agreement during negotiations, the city will move to the second phase of statutory mediation, and if that fails, the city will resort to the last effort: litigation.

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