LEESBURG, Ga. -- A tentative agreement has been reached to determine how Lee County's governmental entities will slice up the Local-Option Sales Tax pie for the next decade.
Under the proposal offered by Lee County Commissioners Monday night, Lee County will get 81 percent of the sales tax monies, up from the 70.94 percent share the county has received during the past decade. Leesburg will get 13 percent, and Smithville will get 6 percent.
"We've listened to both sides and have been back and forth on this," County Commissioner Bill Williams said. "We've agreed to 13 percent for Leesburg and 6 percent for Smithville, and I think that's a fair settlement."
County officials want a larger share of the sales tax funds to finance services for the growth in the county, most of which is occurring in the unincorporated areas.
Monday's gathering at the Leesburg Library was the fourth negotiating session. At the end of a stormy third meeting, the county was holding the line at an 82-12-6 split. The existing split is 70.93 for Lee County, 17.5 for Leesburg and 11.56 for Smithville.
The County Commission agreed Monday to increase Leesburg's share from 12 to 13 percent. That counter offer appeared to be acceptable for those council members at the session.
With Lee and Leesburg officials reaching an agreement, it was not necessary for Smithville to sign off on the deal.
Smithville representatives argued for a larger percentage, indicating the decrease from 11.56 percent to 6 percent may result in a sizable tax hike for property owners in the north Lee County community. The new agreement will cost Smithville about $170,000.
"We are at 4 mills now," said Smithville City Councilman Vincent Cutts. "We'll have to raise it to 8 mills. Some people in our community try to live on $500 a month.
"We'll probably have to go to a four-day work week ... and cut our part-time help. We won't be able to give any financial support for the library, which needs it."
However, Williams remained firm on the 6 percent allocation.
"We have stretched as far as we can go," he said. "I think 6 percent is generous."
Using population as the basis for his per-capita comparison, Lee County Commissioner Rick Muggridge said each resident of the unincorporated area would receive tax benefits of $101.87 based on the 81-13-6 split.
Leesburg residents would receive $265.42 in benefits, while Smithville residents would receive $480.83 each.
"To me, that is not fair to residents on the south end of the county," Muggridge said. "This money does not belong to us. I am not talking for me, I am talking for the people I represent."
County Commissioner Dennis Roland, after expressing his support for the continued existence of Smithville, said things are not likely to improve in the future for the small town.
Roland said Smithville has been able to drop its tax millage rate from 11 to 4 mills "because you have been getting more than your fair share of the local-option sales tax."
If population trends continue with more growth along the southern border of the county, Roland said Smithville may be looking at a 1 percent share a decade from now.
Leesburg Mayor Jim Quinn said he believes the City Council will accept the 13 percent.
"That's what we asked for," he said. Quinn said some budget cuts will have to be made, and that two employees who recently left the city will not be replaced.
However, Quinn said he believes the adjustment can be absorbed without a tax increase.
The settlement Monday comes just one week before a state deadline to reach an agreement. If no deal had been reached, the matter would have gone to binding arbitration.
If given final approval, the new guidelines would go into effect Jan. 1.