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City council says it wants to avoid court battle with Grady County

Cairo city officials made it clear to Grady County administrator Carlos Tobar Monday night that they do not want to take the issue to court, but that they want a “service delivery strategy” approved by Grady County Commissioners last week to be executed as written.
The Cairo Mayor and Council, Tobar and Steve O’Neil of the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission reviewed the document, which had been prepared by Tobar with assistance from O’Neil.
Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas, who is a certified public accountant, said that when he looks at tax bills of his clients who are residents of the unincorporated areas of the county, he sees that they are paying the same tax rate he pays as a city resident.
According to Douglas, based on the service delivery strategy that the county commission approved, only tax revenue from residents of the unincorporated areas of the county are to be used to finance the operations of county code enforcement, economic development, volunteer fire department, Roddenbery Memorial Library, and solid waste disposal.
“I, as a city resident, should be paying a lower tax rate than what a resident of the unincorporated areas of the county is paying, but that’s not happening,” Douglas said.
“Do city taxpayers pay toward the operating of the volunteer fire department or is it a separate fund?” city manager Chris Addleton asked Tobar. Tobar responded that it is paid by all county taxpayers.
“Should the city taxpayers be funding the VFD?” Addleton asked.
“That’s a good question,” Tobar responded.
Douglas said that if the service delivery strategy stipulates certain services are paid for with revenues from the unincorporated county then city residents’ county tax rate should be adjusted accordingly.
“Under this agreement, city taxpayers shouldn’t be paying the same millage rate as county residents in the unincorporated area,” Douglas stated.
“The level of breakdown you are requesting I don’t have for you. We can come back and address this with you,” Tobar said.
Councilman Douglas insisted the city’s position was to work out a resolution between city leaders and the Grady County Commission.
“I want to fix this among ourselves. I don’t want to be like Bainbridge and Decatur County and have to pay a bunch of attorneys huge fees to discuss issues and end up with something that we can resolve among ourselves,” Douglas said.
O’Neil with the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission asked whether simply changing the wording to countywide revenues would resolve the issue and Councilman Douglas said the wording was correct, but that the execution of the agreement was at issue.
“It says what it should be, but the reality is that is not what is happening,” Douglas said.
According to O’Neil, the city and county have until Oct. 2016 to resolve the issues.
City manager Addleton asked if Tobar could bring back a plan by the council’s Dec. 14 meeting.
“I don’t know if we can get it figured out by Dec. 14. It may require additional meetings and maybe a historian to tell how we got here,” Tobar said.
City Attorney Thomas L. Lehman said it was incumbent on the city to present in writing its areas of concerns to the county as quickly as possible.
“A response from us may take longer,” Tobar responded to which Lehman said, “it will get the process rolling.”
“Let’s all sit down and talk about it,” Addleton told Tobar.
The council conducted a public hearing on the draft of the 2016 Grady County Comprehensive Plan Monday night, of which the service delivery strategy is associated. No one from the public questioned the proposed plan, and the council took no action on the comp plan or the service delivery strategy this week.

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