Sales tax split formula heads to court

Distribution of Fayette County’s local option sales tax revenue remains up in the air as the county and municipal governments have been unable to agree on the final numbers.

The matter went to mediation in July but the meeting was unsuccessful and so the governments have petitioned a Superior Court judge to make a final ruling.

Sales taxes are typically the second largest amount of revenue for local governments, right up there with annual property tax revenue.

The county’s four local judges have recused themselves from the case, and Senior Judge Stephen E. Boswell of Clayton County has been appointed to handle the matter. The complaint filed jointly by all the government entities seeks Boswell to “adopt the best and final offer of one of the parties” while specifying how the sales tax will be allocated among the governments.

There are thousands of dollars at stake and Peachtree City stands to perhaps lose a fair amount of the monthly sales tax take due to its stagnating population compared to other areas in Fayetteville, Tyrone and unincorporated Fayette County.

The governments in the legal filing are being represented by Fayette County Attorney Scott Bennett, Peachtree City Attorney Ted Meeker, Fayetteville City Attorney David Winkle and Tyrone Town Attorney Dennis Davenport. No hearing date has been scheduled as of yet, though Boswell could conceivably issue a ruling after reading briefs from all parties in lieu of conducting a hearing.

Although the process has involved input from negotiating teams representing each government entity including public employees and elected officials, it has been cloaked in secrecy in part because such is allowed by Georgia law. Such negotiating sessions are not required to be handled as open public meetings announced in advance to the citizenry.

No matter how the judge rules, the county and city governments in Fayette County are expecting to begin the new year with a continued declining amount of property tax revenues thanks to the drop in property values in both the residential and commercial sectors.

Fayette County government over several years built up a multi-million dollar emergency reserve fund to handle such times; Fayetteville has had significant cuts to city staff, switching a number of key administrative positions to part-time roles and Peachtree City has reorganized each of its departments except for the fire department, eliminating more than two dozen positions over the past several years in an attempt to cut city revenues and balance out the city’s budget.

Tyrone meanwhile has managed to make do with its comparatively small revenues and maintain a healthy reserve that is equal to 13 months of its annual budget.