Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul was among city leaders taking part in a town hall meeting on the distribution of more than $3 billion in Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenues in College Park on Wednesday night.
The meeting came a week after a similar event was held in Roswell with a few mayors from the southern part of Fulton County joining North Fulton mayors.
The mayors shared their views of Fulton County’s demand for a significantly larger share of the LOST revenue than it had been receiving for the past 10 years. The county has been receiving 4.98% of the sales tax revenue. After dropping its original request for 35% of what’s collected, the county has reduced it to a starting share of 7 to 9%, increasing to 19 or 20% by the seventh year of the agreement.
The cities want residents to contact their county commissioners to ask them to reconsider their LOST proposal.
“If you agree with Fulton County on this, let us know. We’ll admit if we’re wrong,” said Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul. “If you disagree with Fulton County, let them know.”
The cities and county are required by legislation to renegotiate the LOST distribution every 10 years.
LOST revenue makes up 25 to 40% of the 15 cities’ budgets, according to a news release. Its loss would require severe budget cuts if millage rate increases were not made.
In Sandy Springs, LOST makes up 27% of the city’s budget, Paul said. If LOST ends because no agreement is reached, Sandy Springs will have to lay off police officers and firefighters, he said. It would also force the city to eliminate the subsidy it pays for faster response times by ambulances.
Mayors told local residents that no agreement can be reached by the 15 cities and the county, they would have to increase millage rates – and as a result property taxes – as much as 7 mills. Sandy Springs is one of four cities with a cap on its millage rate. Only voters can approve a tax increase in Sandy Springs under its charter. Other cities might need legislative action to amend their city charters to enable millage rate increases, the release said.
The cities offered an increase from the county’s current share that would provide it with an additional $51 million for additional healthcare services. The county wants an increase of $380 million, and the cities say no details on how the money would be spent have been offered.
A fact sheet released by Fulton County said that its LOST revenue supports services like libraries, public health, and courts that are provided countywide. Fulton faces an additional burden with Grady Memorial Hospital after the closure of a hospital in East Point and Atlanta Medical Center closing on Nov. 1. The county’s jail population continues to grow increasing the need for more deputies and a new jail. The justice services account for 38% of the county budget.
When Fulton County received American Rescue Plan Act funds, none of it was disbursed to the cities, Paul said. The county used $70 million of ARPA funds for the court system and now they are asking for more money.
Paul said Gov. Brian Kemp also released a $130 million package for Grady Health System, answering another need for revenue the county said was necessary.
The first mediation session between the cities and county negotiation teams on Sept. 23 failed to reach an agreement. The next mediation session is scheduled for Oct. 7.
If an agreement is not reached by Dec. 30, LOST will automatically end.