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City, county mediation brings results

POSTED: October 28, 2012 8:00 a.m.
 

In the season of ghouls and goblins, Forsyth County commissioners and members of the Cumming city government delivered a treat on Friday with no tricks attached.

In a joint signing ceremony, the two governments put to rest months of contentious debate on two high priority issues — an ongoing contract to allow the county to purchase water from the city, and a distribution formula for the local option sales tax.

Unable to reach an accord on their own, officials for both governments had earlier agreed to enter into mediation in an effort to iron out compromises with which both bodies could be comfortable.

With former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher serving as mediator, the two sides were able to resolve both issues.

In counties where the local option sales tax is collected, state law requires the formula for sharing proceeds from the tax with city governments to be approved every 10 years, after the completion of each census and release of updated population data.

Forsyth County is fortunate in that there is only one municipality within the county with which it must negotiate the tax distribution, but nonetheless the process is a difficult one each time. Simply using population data alone isn’t a valid method, since cities often serve as commercial centers and generate a disproportionate share of the tax when compared to their actual population.

The mediated agreement leaves the existing 85-15 percent split in place for five years, then shifts to 87-13 percent for the next five. Both sides should be happy with those numbers, and hopefully groundwork has been laid that will make the process less combative a decade from now.

The water rate issue is more complicated and complex, but it too provides for flexibility, with certain rates adjusted annually based on the consumer price index.

The new agreement is expected to save the county more than $9 million over the next 10 years, but will also provide Cumming with more than $11 million for capital project expansions.

Commission chairman Jim Boff said he had hoped the county could become “water independent,” but had accepted the fact that the agreement with the city was the best solution for now.

Cumming Mayor Ford Gravitt praised the efforts of officials from both governmental entities for their willingness to compromise on such significant issues.

The agreements announced Friday show what happens when politics and posturing give way to conscientious leadership. Kudos to all involved.

 

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