September 5, 2018 10:56:36 AM
In the wake of several disputes between Columbus and Lowndes County regarding joint agreements, at least one issue seems to be resolved.
With separate unanimous votes, county supervisors and city councilmen unanimously approved an agreement that would gradually increase the amount the city pays the county for property tax collection services over the next four years.
Under the new agreement -- which Lowndes County Tax Assessor/Collector Greg Andrews drew up with the assistance of County Attorney Tim Hudson and City Attorney Jeff Turnage -- the city will pay a graduated fee of 1 percent each year, based on the percentage of vehicle tag collections from city residents, until that percentage caps at 5 percent in 2022.
In Fiscal Year 2019, which begins Oct. 1, the city's fee will remain 2 percent, or roughly $55,000. In 2020, it will move to 3 percent (an estimated $85,000), then 4 percent ($114,000) in 2021 and then 5 percent ($142,500) in 2022 and thereafter.
Columbus Municipal School District will pay about 63 percent of that fee through its annual tax millage.
Since 1988, Columbus has paid the county for collecting the city's vehicle tag fees, according to Andrews. For the first 20 years of that agreement, the city paid 5 percent, but the county agreed to reduce that cost to 2 percent in 2008.
"What (this agreement) does is get everybody back to where they were in 2008," Andrews told supervisors at their meeting Tuesday morning. "That's all it does. In 2008, the fee was 5 percent, so we're going to get back to that over a four-year period."
The county also has charged the city $120,000 per year since 2002 to collect its personal and real property taxes.
In July, county supervisors abruptly tried to increase the city's fee for personal and real property tax collections to $200,000 -- voting to give the city only 90 days notice to agree or start collecting its own taxes again.
The terms of that agreement, however, called for a minimum of nine months' notice, meaning no new fee could go into effect before Fiscal Year 2020. That brought city and county officials to the negotiating table, where they ultimately decided to gradually raise the vehicle tag percentage and leave the fee for other property collections at $120,000.
"I think the city is very appreciative for the gradual increase rather than the draconian $80,000 increase that was first proposed," Turnage told The Dispatch following Tuesday's city council meeting.
City-county joint committee
During Tuesday's supervisors' meeting District 4's Jeff Smith broached reconvening an intergovernmental committee of city and county officials to discuss business that could affect both entities.
This came in response to the number of disputes the city and county have undergone during their respective budget planning processes, as well as ongoing disagreements on funding for city and county parks since the dissolution of the joint Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority.
Specifically, Smith recommended appointing a committee that would include two supervisors, two city councilmen, County Administrator Ralph Billingsley and Chief Financial Officer Lloyd Price, city Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong and CFO Milton Rawle.
The committee, once established, could meet quarterly or monthly, Smith suggested.
"When I first got on the board (of supervisors) we had a committee that navigated a lot of the internal issues that the city and county were involved in," Smith said. "I'm just asking this board if it's possible that we look at re-establishing that committee. It certainly would help to relieve some of the problems that have been taking place between the city and county."
Supervisors agreed to approach city officials with the idea before taking an official vote.
Councilmen, and Mayor Robert Smith, for their part, seemed to be amenable to the plan.
"I don't see why not," Mayor Smith told The Dispatch. "It sounds like a good idea."
Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box agreed.
"It could be a good way to open communication between the city and county," Box said. "We need some way to get some better communication going."
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