MOULTRIE -- The county commission sent an urgent letter to Rep. Richard Royal Tuesday adamantly opposing Municipal Option Sales Tax (MOST) legislation the same day it hit the Georgia House floor.
Colquitt County commissioners said they were stunned Royal signed onto a bill that would severely impact revenues for county projects, while Moultrie councilmen were pleased at the prospect of more money for the city.
Rep. Richard Royal, D-Camilla, the fourth author of the new bill, expects the bill to be amended. The lawmaker, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, said Tuesday he wants to see lobbyists for Georgia's counties and municipalities to hammer out a compromise.
"I'm going to try to insist that they work it out among themselves. I don't want to be their whipping boy. I want them to sit down among themselves like ladies and gentlemen and work out a compromise," Royal said.
Representatives of the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association of County Commissions of Georgia (ACCG) will meet before legislators are back in session Monday.
The bill calls for allowing city residents to vote for a one-cent sales tax on goods and services purchased within the city limits, with the revenues used to fund city projects. Currently, local option sales taxes are voted on by all county residents and the tax applies to all sales in the county, whether in a municipality or the unincorporated area.
Rather than passing the municipal sales tax or setting a mandatory share of SPLOSTs, the ACCG suggested integrating an incentive provision for cities to participate in county sales taxes.
If a county includes city projects into a SPLOST, ACCG Legislative Director for Revenue Finance Clint Mueller proposed, the county would be entitled to remove the dollar threshold to complete sales tax projects or extending the collection period beyond the current limit of five years. Other ideas include allowing debt financing to be used for roads, streets and bridges projects and having sales tax cover maintenance of roads, streets and bridges. Currently, SPLOST can be used only for the building or paving of roads, streets, bridges and other projects, not for their maintenance.
But the GMA membership is set on getting a mandatory share of SPLOST or passing the MOST, Mueller said. Georgia cities want more voice in special local option sales taxes (SPLOST), Royal said.
The ACCG wants to fix the problems suffered within a few counties without penalizing everyone else in the process, Mueller said, but the ACCG doesn't want municipalities to have veto power over sales tax referendums. County oversight of projects placed on a referendum before voters usually weed out unnecessary projects.
Less than 20 percent of sales tax referendums are turned down by voters, he said, but more and more will fail if referendums are stuffed with projects that don't sell countywide.
Generally, county commissioners strive to have a balance of projects on a referendum to get it passed. County commissioners answer to all county residents, including those who live within city limits, he said.
"We feel like cities are being included in SPLOST. We're working on data right now that shows that millions upon millions of SPLOST dollars have been spent on city projects to date," he said. "By and large, like Colquitt County, most counties get along great with their cities. Most counties are doing what they should do and are including city projects that are essential."
This is true of Colquitt County, County Administrator Brian Marlowe said. The MOST proposal would have a "tremendous negative impact" on the county.
"Of course, I'm a little biased, but I think the way we have it set up now, it's working as it should," Marlowe said.
Much of the 2002 SPLOST referendum, such as $5 million for building an industrial park, is for the benefit of all county citizens, he said.
Colquitt County is maxed out legally for sales taxes, he said. Already, three cents out of the seven cents imposed on retail purchases go to county and school board proj
ects. The state does not allow more than that, so competition for that last cent could prove divisive.
And without sales taxes, the burden passes back to the shoulders of property owners.
Marlowe does recognize that in some counties, cities are treated unfairly, but he thinks that voters will balk at passing sales tax referendums with all the bickering.
"It's tough enough, and when you start competing for that seventh penny ..." the county administrator trailed off.
Most of the county's points of sale are within the corporate limits of Moultrie.
"I can see where Moultrie would benefit, but I can't see where the others would benefit any," Marlowe said. "They're in a better position with the present format."
The mayors of Berlin and Doerun agree.
Both Doerun Mayor Wade Ethridge and Berlin Mayor Mike Davis would like to crunch the numbers before they make their final call on it, but at first glance they don't think the bill would benefit their towns. The mayors also concur that the county government has been fair to their requests.
Revised projections have county SPLOST revenues coming in under $21 million, Marlowe said. Moultrie gets 24.55 percent, Doerun gets 2.08 percent, Norman Park gets 1.56 percent, Berlin gets 0.63 percent, Ellenton gets 0.52 percent, Funston gets 0.42 percent and Riverside gets about 0.15 percent.