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January 25--  After nearly three hours of talks Wednesday, elected leaders in Toombs County and the towns of Vidalia, Lyons and Santa Claus are at a stalemate on how local option sales tax revenue should be divided among the governments.

{mosimage}They've agreed to hire a third-party mediator to hear their arguments and try to devise a solution.  The cities want to use the same formula which has existed the last ten years, however, the county has proposed increasing its share by nearly 20 percent.  

The city leaders challenged the county to show how city residents benefit from county services and refused to negotiate any further.

"We're doing this because we can't agree with the county," Vidalia Mayor Ronnie Dixon said.  "It's a step backwards.  I've been in city politics for 35 years and this is the first time we haven't been able to sit down at a table and work this out.  It's just getting tougher and tougher to sit down with the county and work it out on things of this nature."

County Commissioin Chairman Buddy West defends the county's position by saying, "The county hired a professional county manager three years ago.  We've raised the bar to a level of professionalism that everyone should expect and instead of the politics of the past, it's moved to a different level now."

If Toombs County prevails, the main winners would be property taxpayers who live in the unincorporated parts of the county.  They would see a decrease in their property taxes.

City residents would also see a county property tax decrease, but that could be offset by city property tax increases as the cities raise taxes to offset lost sales tax revenue.

West is expected to seek reelection this year and the issue could cause him problems among city voters. "If doing the right thing costs me an election, then so be it," he says.

Attorneys for the governments will seek a mediator to conduct mediation starting in February.  If mediation fails, Superior Court is the next step.