January 17-- Local governments in Toombs County are discussing allocation of local option sales tax (LOST) revenue for the next ten years starting in 2013.
After the first meeting Tuesday, it's a good bet the issue will go to a third-party mediator and perhaps to court because the parties are nowhere near agreement.
Under a population-based formula which expires this year, Toombs County and Vidalia each get 41.5%, Lyons receives 16% and Santa Claus gets 1%. State law requires the governments to reduce their property taxes by an amount equal to what is collected in sales taxes.
If the Toombs County Commission is successful in gaining a nearly 20 percent increase in its share of LOST revenue, that could mean an increase in property taxes to residents of Vidalia, Lyons and Santa Claus.
(L-R) Lyons Mayor Willis NeeSmith, Santa Claus Mayor Al Lewis and Vidalia Mayor Ronnie Dixon hear a presentation on allocating sales tax revenues Tuesday afternoon at a meeting at the Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce
The mayors of the three towns say they are willing to keep the formula the same as it is now, however, Toombs Commission Chairman Buddy West wants the county to increase it's share of sales taxes.
"We feel like we have not received our fair share and this is the reason we call it negotiations to go through the process," West says.
A proposal from the county increases its share to 61.41% and reduces Vidalia to 29.62%, Lyons to 8.75% and Santa Claus to .22%.
A consultant to the cities, Michael Brown from Savannah, says that's a non-starter.
"The sales tax law says those who generate it should get their fair portion of it. It's pretty clear that most of the retail and sales tax revenue is generated in Vidalia and they're providing services for that. At the same time, they're paying for a lot of services for the county and they need a mechanism to get some funds to pay for that," Brown believes.
Officials plan to hold another meeting January 25 to continue discussions. At the same time, Chairman West is looking ahead and wants to proceed with identifying a mediator who will take over if the cities and county can't agree on a number.