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Local Officials Work to Maintain LOST
Monday, 14 October 2013

October 14--  A Georgia Supreme Court decision is threatening the ability of governments in Toombs County to collect Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenue.

Last year the cities of Vidalia, Lyons and Santa Claus had to go to court against Toombs County to get a ruling on the distribution of sales tax collections.  Toombs County wanted more of the money but ultimately lost in court.

Now the state Supreme Court has ruled that judges have no authority to set tax distribution rates.  That decisiion nullfies the Toombs County decision and has local officials looking for a way to maintain the tax.  If they fail, it could mean a major reduction in services and a large increase in local property taxes.

"We're able to do a dollar-for-dollar rollback on property taxes with what we receive in sales taxes.  To not be able to do that could cause an increase of three mils in the county and an increase of five to seven mils in the cities.  That would be devastating," according to Toombs County Commission Chairman Blake Tillery.

The local governments are signing resolutions telling the state they agree to the sales tax distribution defined in the court case and hope they can get some kind of favorable dispensation until the legislature can address the Supreme Court's concerns when lawmakers convene in January.

"This period between now and January is critical for us because LOST collections for the city of Vidalia are averaging $160,000 a month and if you took that out of our budget, it would affect us in a drastic way," says Vidalia city manager Bill Torrance.

A spokesman for the State Revenue Department says it will work with the state Attorney General to see if an interim solution can be done legally.

Meanwhile, Vidalia city manager Bill Torrance regrets the administration of former county chairman Buddy West refused to reach agreement with the cities.  The refusal cost local governments an estimated $300,000 in fees and court costs and now is causing a whole new set of problems.

"The offer was always on the table to leave it like it was.  I don't think anyone could have foreseen this because we were following the law.  I wish we could have been one of the counties that through cooperative efforts left it like it was at the time and not spent that money and now have the potential danger of losing the sales taxes along with the money that was spent in court.  It's s shame," Torrance said.


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