Statement from Lowndes County
On April 12, 2016, in accordance with OCGA § 36-70-22, Lowndes County gave notice to the Mayors of the cities of Valdosta, Hahira, Remerton, Dasher and Lake Park that a joint meeting had been scheduled for May 4, 2016 to meet the requirement that local governments assemble for the purpose of commencing deliberations on the statutorily required review, and revision if necessary, of the Service Delivery Strategy Agreement between Lowndes County and the Cities.
During the 1997 Legislative Session, the General Assembly adopted House Bill 489 which required local governments within each county in Georgia to adopt a Service Delivery Agreement. After the initial agreement, the matter is required to be reviewed every ten years or in accordance with a community’s Comprehensive Plan.
The last agreement between Lowndes County and the Cities was adopted in 2008. It is required to be reviewed in 2016, instead of 2018, due to the required update to the Comprehensive Plan.
The legislation is intended to require local governments to consider services provided by each government to identify duplication and/or gaps in services to provide for a more efficient method by which local services are delivered. Further, the statute requires services areas and funding sources to be identified for each service.
At the May 4 meeting, Chairman Bill Slaughter addressed the Mayors and asked them to consider renewing the current agreement, stating Lowndes County finds the current agreement to be an accurate identification of local service delivery and an accurate depiction of local funding sources.
On May 5, 2016, the Cities forwarded a memo to the County with a list of fourteen items for discussion.
Lowndes County and the Cities held several meetings to discuss the list presented by the Cities. At a meeting on July 27, Mayor Gayle called for mediation.
OCGA § 36-70-25.1(f) expressly provides Lowndes County’s strategy implemented as result of the process in OCGA § 36-70-25.1 “shall remain in effect until revised”. Revision of the existing agreement is not necessary nor is it required by law.
- The following four items were identified by the cities as issues needing further discussion:
Road Maintenance – Lowndes County will continue to maintain its system of roads for the benefit of the entire motoring public and others as has always been the case. The Cities will continue to maintain their streets as required by law.
- Water/Sewer Service Areas – Lowndes County will continue to provide water/sewer in its service areas and the Cities will do likewise. If customers request City water/sewer in the County’s service areas, the County will consider the request as has been done in the past through the current, agreed upon process.
- The City of Valdosta’s Crime Lab – As stated in the statute, Georgia Sheriffs are not part of SDS. The Sheriff will continue to determine usage of crime lab services as has always been the case from any provider that the current Sheriff or future Sheriff should decide to use.
- Funding for the James H. Rainwater Conference Center and the Annette Howell Turner Arts Center – Valdosta collects the tax to fund these services from their Hotel/Motel Tax Ordinance and will continue to do so and may continue to fund these services as it sees fit.
By offering to renew the existing agreement on May 4, 2016, Lowndes County proposed a solution that would have saved months of time and money. The Cities chose to insist on changes that are unconstitutional and/or shift significant funding and financial liability to unincorporated Lowndes County.
A tremendous amount of work was put into coordinating the current agreement. While a review of the agreement is required, changes are not. The current agreement meets the needs of our entire community. If it did not, citizen feedback related to service delivery would alert officials to areas of concern. This has not been the case. Citizens are focused on fiscal responsibility and the current service delivery agreement provides just that.
The November 1, 2016, memorandum from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs states, “These sanctions will remain in place until the first day of the month following our department’s verification that your jurisdictions have complied with the Service Delivery Act.”
This being the case, sanctions will remain until December 1, 2016, even if an agreement is reached prior to that date.
Lowndes County and the cities of Valdosta, Hahira, Lake Park, Remerton, and Dasher remain under a confidentiality agreement that was signed by representatives of all local governments at the onset of the mediation requested by the City of Valdosta.
Lowndes County will continue in good faith to negotiate a service delivery agreement that meets the needs of our community. An agreement that will determine service delivery areas and funding sources for the next ten years is a policy matter of high importance and significant impact.