Originally created 05/07/02

Leaders agree on tax division



Two months of negotiations over sales tax money ended Monday when Harlem, Grovetown and Columbia County officials came to an agreement late in the game.

The agreement determines how the more than $165 million in countywide local option sales tax revenue will be handed out for the next 10 years.

During Monday's meeting, officials signed off on a plan that will give Grovetown 9 percent of the revenue for the first five years and drop to 8.25 percent for the last five years. Harlem will get 5 percent to begin with and drop to 4 percent; the county will start with 86 percent and jump to 87.5 percent after five years.

The agreement, presented by Grovetown officials, will not be official until county commissioners approve it today at their meeting and the two cities vote on it Monday. All three groups said they could get the votes needed.

"I'll bet my next county check that I could get one more commissioner to vote on it," said Columbia County Commission Chairman Barry Fleming, who was joined by Commissioner Frank Spears at the meeting. "If they see me and Frank agreeing, they'll vote for it."

County officials had been preparing to try a plan to cut out both municipalities. Monday's meeting was the last one before the matter was to go to an arbitrator. If an agreement had not been reached by the end of the year, the sales tax revenue would have been lost.

Both sides said they were happy the matter didn't come to that.

"I wouldn't say it was the bottom of the ninth," Mr. Fleming said. "But it was getting into the seventh inning."

Now that the game of negotiation is over, both sides said they are satisfied with the compromise.

"I think we all worked hard for who we represent," Mr. Spears said. "In the end, I think all the citizens of Columbia County are the winners."

"I'll bet my next county check that I could get one more commissioner to vote on it." - Columbia County Commission Chairman Barry Fleming, on expected approval of the local option sales tax allotment

Reach Louie Villalobos at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 109, or ccchron@augustachronicle.com.