Attorney General Takes Sides In Lowndes Tax Money Battle

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[Update] - Valdosta, Ga. - June 21, 2012 -

A contentious battle is dragging out in Lowndes County over who gets more tax dollars from a county penny tax. County commissioners are pinned against all five cities, but now they think they have the upper hand.

The Lowndes County Commission Chairman Ashley Paulk tells Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg that a letter from Attorney General Sam Olens is proof that the county should get more of that money. The letter very simply states they agree with the Commission's argument.

"Well I wouldn't look at it as vindication. I was just looking for clarification," Chairman Paulk told Gullberg. "And I wanted to make sure that if I was going to sit there and argue that point that I was arguing the point correctly per the law."

The dispute is over more than $200,000 tax dollars that are up for grabs because the county and cities each want a bigger share. The money comes from the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST).

The county wants the majority share because it says it provides services for the entire county including within the limits of Lowndes' five cities. But the Mayors of those cities, including Valdosta's Mayor John Gayle, say services within city limits are their responsibility so they need more funds despite what the Attorney General says.

"(The letter) changes nothing as far as we're concerned. We still feel we have the strongest case," Mayor Gayle told Gullberg. "There's eight criteria that you use for figuring LOST proceeds, and the county is only using one. We're using all eight."

The deadline to reach an agreement already past on June 9th. Now negotiations will go through a mediator.

The mediator was chosen Thursday morning, it's Savannah attorney Pat O'Connor. O'Connor, Mayor Gayle and Chairman Paulk will be working out the details of the next negotiation meeting over the phone Friday morning.

If they cannot reach an agreement through mediation in the next two months the case will go to non-binding arbitration. If that doesn't work, the last step is to go to Superior Court. If that happens it will not be the first time.

The LOST funds are re-negotiated every ten years.


- Valdosta, Ga. - May 09, 2012 -

Negotiations have stalled over the use of sales tax dollars in Lowndes county. The cities and county cannot agree on who should receive the majority share of the funds.

All the fray revolves around funds from the "Local Options Sales Tax" (LOST). All five cities in Lowndes County have agreed to a proposal where they will receive 56.37%, leaving the county with 43.63%. But Lowndes County Commissioner Ashley Paulk says that is unacceptable.

Mayors from all five cities showed up to negotiate Wednesday morning, then left after only 15 minutes. Nothing could be accomplished without the County Commission present.

Valdosta Mayor John Gayle told Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg that he sees this as counter-productive.

"So all we're asking the county to do is sit down and let's try to work this thing out," Mayor Gayle told Gullberg.

LOST dollars could reach more than $200,000 over the next decade. That's a lot of money for public services like streets and police.

"Our needs have become greater over the last ten years than what we feel like the county's has," said Mayor Gayle.

If they can't work it out by next month's deadline, lawyers and a judge will have to mediate for them. That's what happened last time, ten years ago.

The next scheduled negotiations meeting will be Wednesday the 16th.


-- Valdosta Ga. -- April 18, 2012 --

There are five cities in Lowndes County. All of them contribute to the Local Option Sales Tax, known as LOST. What they can't agree on is how to divide the money from that tax.

Between January of 1999 and August of last year, the LOST tax generated about $244 million dollars. The distribution of that money has been roughly the same over the last decade. Cities like Hahira have seen an increase in household growth, but have not seen an increase in LOST tax revenue.

Valdosta resident Gavin Sinclair said "If they are spending more money than they should get some more of it back. If they're contributing more to the economy than let it contribute back to them."

But not everyone agrees with changing the way the money is divvied up.

Valdosta resident Shelby Parker said "I think blanketly, like evenly distributed so that everybody gets a fair amount. Because Hahira they may get more money but they might not need the money back as much as say Lake Park would."

Community leaders will meet on Wednesday may 2nd to debate this issue. Hahira gets about 1.4% of the LOST tax proceeds. Valdosta gets around 38%.