Originally created 01/24/02

County, cities torn by money



The battle lines in the discussion about the distribution of local option sales tax Money are drawn along Interstate 20, illustrating the two sides of Columbia County.

One side is Martinez and Evans - the bulk of the county's population and the hub of growth for the past 30 years. On the other is Harlem and Grovetown - the county's two cities, where officials feel left out of county projects and overlooked when it comes to spending.

"The spending is in Martinez and Evans," Harlem Mayor John Bentley said. "It's not down at our end of the county."

Before October, city and county leaders hope to work out a plan to distribute the more than $9.5 million of local option sales tax revenue that flows into Columbia County annually. Since 1981, the percentages have not changed: Columbia County gets 83.3 percent, Grovetown gets 10.7 percent and Harlem gets 6 percent.

Now, county officials want those percentages to better reflect the population distribution. According to 2000 census numbers, the unincorporated areas have 91.2 percent of the county's population, Grovetown has 6.8 percent and Harlem has 2 percent.

"We all need to look at this in a fair and balanced way," County Commissioner Frank Spears said.

The reduction in revenue to the cities would be financially crippling, however - maybe enough to force bankruptcy. Harlem would lose 40 percent of its operating budget; Grovetown would lose 35 percent.

"We'd be in dire need," Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau said.

In addition Mr. Trudeau said, he's still not convinced the census numbers are accurate.

"There were a lot of cracks in that and people fell through," he said.

Reach Jason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 115 or jbsmith@augustachronicle.com.