ALBANY, Ga. — When Albany and Dougherty County officials failed to reach a concensus agreement on the distribution of local-option sales tax funds during Phase I of joint negotiations in July and August, the process moved into Phase II, formal mediation.
Phase II of the process calls for officials from the city and county to meet with mediators in an effort to find a split in the 1 percent sales tax funds that both can agree upon. City and county officials announced late Thursday evening that the first meeting of Phase II has been scheduled for Sept. 10
"This is a new state law and a new process," Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard said Thursday evening. "I don't know, but I'm hoping that the process is the problem in our inability to reach an agreement. We're working under a system (a 60-40 city to county split) that has worked for the past 20 years, and we believe it can work for 10 more.
"Any changes in the LOST split — whether it's 38 percent or 35 percent for the county to 62 percent or 65 for the city — is going to be harmful. Every percentage point represents $175,000, so every percentage point (lost) is potentially devastating."
City Manager James Taylor said that the inability of the Albany and Dougherty County governments to reach a concensus figure did not mean nogotiations had ended.
"We're in Phase II of the process, and if we can't reach a formal agreement during mediation, the issue will go before a Superior Court judge for binding arbitration," Taylor said. "But the good thing is that we'll be able to negotiate all the way up to the time that the judge makes a decision one way or the other.
"No one wants to lose LOST funds, and I think everyone feels we will be able to come up with a plan that will give (the city and county) a fair share of the revenue. It's not an easy solution, but I'm confident we'll get there."
Taylor, City Attorney Nathan Davis and City Commissioners Bob Langstaff and Chris Pike will make up the city's LOST negotiating team that will meet with mediators from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. Sinyard, County Attorney Spencer Lee, County Administrator Richard Crowdis and County Commissioners Lamar Hudgins and Gloria Gaines will comprise the county's team.
"These numbers are flexible," Taylor said. "We haven't presented all of our concerns yet, and I'm sure the county hasn't either. We'll remain in talks throughout the process."
Sinyard agreed, saying both governments are under "tremendous pressure" to reach an agreement on LOST distribution.
"This funding is used specifically for taxpayer relief, and I don't think our taxpayers can take another hit," he said. "I believe we can reach an agreement. If we don't — if it comes to that — then the numbers will have to speak for themselves."