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October 30--  A Superior Court judge from Dublin will decide how local option sales tax (LOST) revenue will be divided for the next ten years among Toombs County and the towns of Vidalia, Lyons and Santa Claus.

{mosimage}Judge Gibbs Flanders conducted a nearly ten-hour hearing Tuesday at the Toombs County courthouse on the first LOST case in the state to make it to court.

The Toombs County commission wants a bigger share of sales tax collections and has been unable to get it after negotiation and mediation sessions with the towns.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Flanders has to decide on one of three options presented at the hearing.

He can approve an offer from Lyons and Santa Claus to leave the distribution the same as it is now with the county and Vidalia each getting 42.17%, Lyons  14.66% and Santa Claus 1%.

Another option is to approve the Vidalia offer which keeps everything the same until 2017 when the county's share would start being reduced by just over one percent and end up in 2022 at 38%, an overall reduction of just over 4%

The third choice is the county's proposal to increase its share by almost 10% starting in three years.

Former Toombs County manager Doug Eaves, who now consults for other counties in LOST cases, testified for Toombs County and was accused by lawyers for the cities of inflating Toombs County population figures in order to justify an increase.

County Commission Chairman Buddy West says the county went to court because, "It's all about tax equity.  We represent all the citizens of the county and when you get an unbiased third party maybe we can get a true answer for what we've been seeking."

Michael Brown of Savannah, a former city manager and adviser to cities, testified for the towns and claimed city residents are subsidizing county services to residents who live in unincorporated parts of Toombs County while paying 65% of all county property taxes.

Vidalia Mayor Ronnie Dixon believes the city had a good day in court. "I think we presented our case.  We're trying to do the right thing.  We're not asking for a whole lot of money, in fact, in the beginning we wanted to leave it like it is now.  We presented an offer we thought was fair and wanted to get at least what we're getting now and no less," he said.

Officials estimate the local governments are spending up to $80,000 in tax money to resolve the issue.

According to Mayor Dixon, "The taxpayers are having to pay for it and we could have avoided this if we had sat down and worked it out."

However, Chairman West believes it's money well spent. "What's the price of doing something right?  This is a ten-year decision and if it's made right, then it's well worth it," he believes.

Judge Flanders is expected to render a decision in the case before the end of the year.  The new distribution scheme will take effect January 1 and continue through 2022.