No progress reported from LOST meeting

ALBANY — City of Albany and Dougherty County officials continued their conversation about the division of 1 percent local-option sales tax Monday, trying to come to an amicable agreement before the end of the month, at which time a Superior Court judge would decide the matter in non-binding arbitration.

County Administrator Richard Crowdis said no agreement was reached at the closed meeting, held at the Thronateeska Heritage Center.

“We met, and we’re still in discussions,” Crowdis said. “We’re still in the mediation phase of the process, which will continue through Oct. 31. We’ve agreed to continue discussions, but no date has been set for another meeting.”

City and county officials met with mediators from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government on Sept. 10 but got no closer to a settlement. City officials are looking for a larger share of the split than the 60-40 formula that has been used for the past two decades. County officials say any drop in percentage of the split would leave them with a budget crisis.

Each percentage point in LOST funding is worth some $175,000. Any eventual decision, whether reached by government officials or determined by a Superior Court judge, will remain in place until results of the 2020 census are released.

“We’re still seeing if we can find a middle ground,” Albany City Manager James Taylor said just before Monday’s meeting. “The only meeting we’ve had to discuss this matter (since the Sept. 10 mediation session) was a meeting to determine if there was sufficient reason to attend (Monday’s) meeting. Both boards felt there were things we could talk about.

“This is critically important to the city and the county; it’s not a one-time thing. This decision will be in place for 10 years. It will have a long-reaching impact. But we’re still talking, and that’s a good thing.”

Anna Boling with the Carl Vinson Institute, who was part of the mediation team that took part in the first joint city/county meeting, said the fact that the groups were meeting Monday is a positive.

“I’d say it’s a positive that they found common ground,” Boling said. “In fact, I’d say ‘Yay’ just hearing that they decided to meet. It’s not unusual for government agencies to hold talks without mediators present once they have an initial meeting like we did in Albany.

“I couldn’t comment on whether or not we saw progress during our meeting there, but I think (the meeting Monday) shows that they’re considering a variety of options. Both sides have to want to have things work out before they’ll be worked out.”