LOST is a 1-cent sales tax that generates funds for the county and municipalities. All of the money goes into one “pot” — so to speak — and is then divided up. However, the contention is on how to divide up the funds, as several criteria can be used to determine how to do so, such as population, service delivery responsibilities and point of sale and use. So far, the most popular method is to divide it based on population.
“The mindset is that this is the way we’ve always done it,” said Bremen Mayor Sharon Sewell. “It’s the habit and it’s easiest to divide up the money based on population. We may only have 45 residents on the Carroll County side of Bremen, but it’s a highly commercial district that generates a lot of money for Carroll County.”
Currently, Bremen receives 0.32 percent, or about $10,000 a year, of the Carroll County LOST revenues. But according to Bremen City Attorney Sam Price, the city generates much more for the county.
“We generate $2 million in sales taxes and $244,000 in property taxes each year for Carroll County,” Price said. “However, we only get back about $15,000 between LOST and SPLOST combined. Meanwhile, it’s costing us to provide services to [Carroll County’s Bremen] residents.”
According to Bremen City Manager Perry Hicks, the city of Bremen spends $450,000 a year delivering services to businesses and residents on the Carroll County side of Bremen.
“What services will they (Carroll County) render to the Carroll County Bremen businesses in exchange for the revenue they generate for the county?” asked City Council member Jane Wilson. “It is wrong to ask people to pay taxes in order to generate services for other people and receive no services themselves.”
City officials say this is an issue because the LOST is designed to lower property taxes as it spreads out the burden of taxes onto people other than property owners.
“If we don’t get any of these taxes back that the area generates, we can’t roll back taxes,” said Price. “That’s not fair to the 45 people who live on the Carroll County side, because we’d ultimately have to increase their taxes. So what we’re doing is asking Carroll County to look at the daytime population of the Carroll County side [and base the distribution on that].”
Despite Bremen City officials’ concern, Carroll County Commission Chairman Bill Chappell says their distress is “a little premature.”
“We haven’t made a determination yet of the factors we are going to use [to determine distribution], and there are quite a few to choose from,” Chappell said.
According to Chappell, Bremen doesn’t have the economic power they say they have.
“There are businesses on the Carroll County side of Bremen, but not the huge amount they want to lay claim to,” he said.
A meeting is planned for Thursday, July 26, to begin negotiations for the Carroll County LOST distribution.
“I’ve told all the mayors that I want feedback from them,” Chappell said. “Whatever we do, I want it to be fair.”
However, Bremen officials are concerned that they won’t get a fair shake from the negotiations due to their negligible population numbers.
“We have absolutely no vote in the negotiations because we don’t have at least 500 residents in Carroll County,” said Price.
According to Price, if the city was considered to have at least 500 daytime residents, then the city would have more say during distribution negotiations. But as it stands with current state law, the city has to take what the city and county leaders in Carroll County are willing to give them.
“It’s going to be up to the Carroll County committee to be willing to be equitable,” Sewell said.