2019-01-17 / Front Page

County is doing it right, chairman says; rest of SDS process could be simplified

Charging that consultants and lawyers engaged by the City of Washington have confused and unnecessarily complicated the process of formulating a Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) agreement between the county and the city, Wilkes County Commission Chairman Sam Moore indicated that he thinks most of that problem has been worked out and he is hoping that the agreement can be settled upon as simply and quickly as it has in the past.

The chairman had been told by the City, based on its consultant’s report, that the county was “doing it wrong” concerning the setting of tax millage rates and also concerning the county’s bookkeeping of tax accounts and their corresponding expenditures. Moore, insists that he has been told by the Association County Commissioners of Georgia’s top officials and others that Wilkes County is “doing it right” and has been all along.

Moore’s remarks came during the regular meeting of the Wilkes County Board of Commissioners last Thursday, January 10. He and three other commissioners had met with the Washington City Council the previous Monday in order to try to come to an agreement on how to proceed with the development of the SDS.

“Service Delivery has been going on really since 1996 so I’ve been involved with it and it has really been a pretty simple process the last two times,” Moore said. The “process” prescribed by the state requires that the various government entities in a county come to an agreement on how their separate and overlapping services will be delivered to citizens and how the payment for those services will be broken down. A renewal is required every 10 years.

“We have really never had a problem with the service delivery,” Moore continued. “What it does is [define] what services the city is going to do, what services the county is going to do, and what services we are going to do together. The question is about what we’re going to do together, how the money is spent, and how the money is split up. Basically, it’s about what their government wants to do and what our government can do.”

The chairman explained that counties are just subdivisions of state government while cities exist for other purposes. Counties primarily fund the state court system and maintain the county roads that connect to state roads. “What your [county] property taxes are for is to support that court system which includes everything from the Magistrate Court, to the Probate Judge, to the Clerk of Court, to the Sheriff, to the jail, to the District Attorney, to the Superior Court Judge, to indigent defense. All of that is what counties really do,” Moore said.

“Cities are in existence to give you a higher level of service than the county has,” he continued, using backyard pickup of trash, water and sewer, etc. as examples of that higher service. “We offer services but not at the higher level that the City of Washington has.

“So through the years, we have always agreed to do things ... and the service delivery says if you agree to do it that way and it has the correct intent, not to double-tax people, then you can do it. And that’s what we have always done,” Moore said.

Stating that “we have hopefully gotten past the consultants and the lawyers that we feel have just confused a simple process,” Moore said he is hopeful that the process will move forward and be as simple as it has been in the past, in spite of the differences.

“We were actually told that we should be keeping two sets of books,” he reported. “Well, I have looked at the law and have read every law that they sent up here, and I see nowhere in the law that says we are supposed to be keeping two sets of books.

But the county does separate things that are done in the unincorporated area and take it off of the insurance premium tax, Moore said, explaining that the millage rate is lower in the unincorporated area of the county than it is in the incorporated areas of the county.

“The reason for that is that the city gets the Insurance Premium Tax and takes it as a revenue. The county gets it and has to take it as a rollback. So the things in the unincorporated area that are just for that unincorporated area, we take off of the Insurance Premium Tax, because we have to roll that back. Whatever amount of money is left over, then we roll that amount back in the unincorporated area.”

Moore again said that every one of his county government contacts had advised him that Wilkes County is doing it correctly.

“I think we are going to move forward with this and we have to have it done by June,” he finished. “In the past, it has taken only a few hours to complete. Our Regional Commission has always looked over it and the city has now agreed to let them do Service Delivery and the Comprehensive Plan. I feel like it is going to move forward and hopefully everybody will be in agreement with what we come up with.”

All of the commissioners, including Esper Lee, Ed Geddings, Charles Jackson, Clem Slaton, and Moore were in attendance at the meeting as were County Attorney Charles LeGette, County Clerk Karen Burton, and a few visitors.

In other business:

. Three years of tax relief (the maximum allowed) was granted to Michael Harrison as the result of damage done to his barn and carport by a tornado in 2014. Three years of relief was also granted to Jayne and Kenneth Callaway for incorrect billing on an above-ground swimming pool.

. Action on a county truck ordinance was delayed until the next regular meeting of the commissioners.

. Burton reported that for the month of November, Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax receipts amounted to $95,075.14, Local Option

Sales Tax was $61,800.01, and TSPLOST was $83,570.22.

. Moore reported that the county is anticipating grant funding for the striping of county roads but that the work will probably not begin until June. With some 250 miles of county roads, the list for striping is big and the work is expensive. However, the expected grants do not require matching county funds.

. Moore also reported that LMIG road improvements for 2019 are scheduled for Sandy Cross Road and Ware-McLendon Road with possibly a few more miles on some others.

The next regular meeting of the Wilkes County Board of Commissioners will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, February 14, in the ¬≠Wilkes County courthouse with a work session immediately prior in the chairman’s office beginning at 1 p.m.

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