County preps for tax fight

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

Morgan County and city of Madison officials are expected to hold another negotiation meeting on the Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) within the next month.  According to County Attorney Christian Henry, the University of Georgia is finalizing a study that conducted a statistical analysis of the services provided by the county to the City of Madison this week. According to Henry, the findings have only cemented the county’s original position, which rejected the city’s claim that city residents pay too much in county taxes for services. 

“I think the city is in for a rude awakening,” said Henry. “UGA is finishing up the study this week, but even a preliminary look at their findings show what we knew all along.  Overall, their findings indicate…that the majority of services provided by the county are used disproportionately by City of Madison residents. So, contrary to what the city is claiming, its residents actually get more band for their buck from county services than residents who live elsewhere in the county.”

However, city officials maintain their position, believing the current SDS agreement is unfair to city residents.

“The city has looked at this long and hard,” said David Nunn, city manager. “We feel that there are still some disparities that need to be addressed and that there are services our citizens are being double taxed for or being taxed for services they aren’t receiving.”

Last year, City of Madison officials requested that the SDS be adjusted due to their dissatisfaction current agreement, claiming Madison residents unfairly contribute over $1.5 million in ad valorem taxes annually for select services that are either primarily, or even exclusively, utilized by county residents outside the city limits or unnecessarily duplicated by the county that the city already provides. Those disputed services include the repair and maintenance of county roads, solid waste pickup, animal control, fire services, police services, planning and zoning, building inspection and county administration costs. The city suggested some form of tax relief or a financial stipend from the county to resolve the disparity.

However, the county would only concede to planning and zoning and building inspection services as areas not utilized by city residents.

“We’ve always acknowledged that,” said Henry.  “But when you look at the services we provide as whole to the city, they are absolutely benefitting and in some cases, disproportionately so.”

According to Henry, there is little room for negotiation when it comes to SDS.

“The city wants money from the county or lowered taxes, but we are going to show, if anything, that the city should be paying more money to the county for these services,” said Henry.  “The county wasn’t insistent on stirring up trouble, but if trouble is stirred up, I don’t know if the county will stay content with the way things are.”

Nunn was open to reviewing the county-initiated UGA study, but was confident in the city’s own assessment of the SDS.

“We look forward to seeing the study as well, and hopefully it will bring good information for us all,” said Nunn. “But our position remains the same. There are several services that we need further 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.

“WE have made some headway, but we just aren’t all the way there yet,” said Nunn. “But we are going to stay at it and get it done.”

“The ideal resolution is for everyone to pay their fair share, so if the city uses more of county services than other county residents, they should continue to pay for that,” said Henry.

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