Little progress made as county, cities near Feb. 28 SDS deadline
Published 11:00 am Wednesday, February 24, 2021
The deadline for Troup County and the cities of West Point, Hogansville and LaGrange to reach a Service Delivery Strategy agreement is Feb. 28, and it’s looking unlikely that any decision will be reached by that date.
However, even if a last-minute agreement is signed, it’s likely that all entities involved will no longer be in compliant with state law, as the Department of Community Affairs requires a 30-day window to review the agreement, according to Jon West, who serves as principal planner for DCA.
If the deadline isn’t met, all four entities will be ineligible to receive new state funding or some state issued permits.
“The impact is immediate,” West said. “The system that tracks local compliance with the state’s service delivery act … it’s automatic. If we do not receive documents where we can verify our compliance by the end of the business day on Feb. 28, then at midnight that night then the local governments automatically by process of law will be placed on the list of local governments that are non-compliant with the state’s service delivery act. The impact of that is specified explicitly in statute that no state agency can provide financial assistance — that would be grants, loans, things of that nature — to any affected local government or authority, so that would be the cities and the county.”
The SDS ensures that citizens aren’t being double taxed, where they are paying two entities for the exact same service. It’s required by the state for all 159 counties and outlines the delivery of government services in a cost-effective manner to citizens.
If the deadline is missed, West said the law dictates that the four local entities would remain non-compliant until the first day of the following month once the SDS paperwork is verified by DCA. Therefore, even if an agreement was reached hypothetically on March 1, it’d still be at least April 1 before they’d be in compliance again.
However, West clarified that the lack of an agreement will typically only halt new grant funding or the renewal of permits.
“If there’s a two-year long grant process that they are already one year into, that kind of a thing is not impacted,” West said. “But, typically they will not be able to access new things.”
He noted that every state agency operates independently, so everyone operationalizes it differently, but generally that’s how the process works — ongoing grants continue and new grants would not be accessible until after an agreement is verified by DCA.
West said the verification process gives DCA time to review the SDS agreement thoroughly to ensure clarity and consistency in the document so that it’s clear who is doing what.
WHERE THINGS STAND
The Troup County Commission has already passed a resolution approving the SDS agreement, and the City of LaGrange passed a resolution during Tuesday night’s city council meeting.
But from there it gets complicated.
Hogansville passed a resolution last week that said the city was in favor of the SDS, but specifically noted that the council did not authorize Mayor Bill Stankiewicz to sign the SDS agreement until all four entities were in agreement. Stankiewicz has since vetoed the agreement.
Stankiewicz said Tuesday that the Hogansville charter gives him the right to veto any resolution or ordinance that he believes is not in the best interest of the city of Hogansville and its citizens. He said the charter requires him to state his reason why, and he plans to at Monday’s Hogansville City Council meeting.
Stankiewicz has stated previously that Hogansville and West Point agreed to work together in hopes that each city — both much smaller in population than LaGrange or Troup County — would receive better deals. West Point Mayor Steve Tramell thanked him for his support during Tuesday night’s West Point City Council meeting.
According to the law, for the SDS to pass, the county seat (LaGrange), the county and half of the other cities have to come to an agreement. Therefore, with Troup County and LaGrange already in agreement, if Hogansville or West Point approved the SDS and the other did not, the SDS agreement would be approved and be sent on to DCA for verification.
Both West Point and Hogansville requested mediation weeks ago, and that appears to be where the discussion is heading. West Point Mayor Steve Tramell said he wants to go to mediation, and the West Point City Council said Tuesday night that they fully support the mayor.
CLOSER LOOK AT WEST POINT
Tramell said he’s had heartburn over the process from the very beginning of the process, which has been ongoing for eight months.
“We are paying the exact same millage rate as the unincorporated county, and the rest of the county, LaGrange and Hogansville,” Tramell told the council. “That money goes into their general fund and funds every program in the county. We do not receive services from every program of the county.”
Tramell pointed out that the county does not need to pay for fire service, as West Point has its own fire department. He noted that West Point has its own sanitation service, 911 service, EMS service, and he believes shouldn’t pay the county for those services either.
“There are things we paying for that we aren’t receiving,” Tramell said. “The original paperwork, and this goes back 20 years — way before I ever thought about doing this — it originally called in that agreement for special tax districts would give a different millage rate to the city of West Point, and we would be paying for just the services we received. That’s equitable. That’s fair. That’s how it should be in my opinion.”
West Point has specifically asked for money for Kia Parkway and for recreation, as well as library services. However, Tramell said it’s not about trying to get just a little more funding.
“I don’t want to be trying to get a little more here, a little bit there. I want it to be fair from the beginning,” Tramell said.
Tramell said when he’s brought his argument about West Point paying for services it doesn’t use to the county, he usually gets no feedback.
“I usually just get crickets when I bring these things up,” Tramell said. “… It’s one of those ‘it’s always been done this way, so why am I trying to rock the boat kind of thing.’”
County Manager Eric Mosley said Tuesday that there’s no meeting currently scheduled to discuss SDS between Troup County and West Point.
The city of LaGrange passed four resolutions Tuesday night at its council meeting. One passed the SDS agreement, giving Mayor Jim Thornton the right to sign it.
The second ordinance would extend the current SDS for three months, which would prevent sanctions and would give all four entities a chance to discuss further. For that to occur, it’s believed all four entities would have to agree to extend the current SDS.
Stankiewicz said he was in favor of Hogansville doing so, but the Hogansville City Council doesn’t meet again until Monday, March 1, one day after the deadline.
The council had an emergency called meeting Tuesday, but the only agenda item was an executive session for litigation. Stankiewicz said there would be no discussion on SDS.
Mosley said the county would probably not be in favor of extending the current agreement.
“I’m not saying we wouldn’t be in favor, but I think that we just don’t believe there’s a need to extend it,” Mosley said. “When we’ve got three parties that agree, in my opinion, there’s no need for an extension.”
Tramell said the city wants to go to mediation. West Point and Hogansville Attorney Alex Dixon said during Tuesday’s meeting that he’s not sure why the mediation process hasn’t already started.
“Why we are not already in the process of scheduling mediation is extremely frustrating to me, the mayor and the administrations for the cities of West Point and the administration for the city of Hogansville,” Dixon said. “That should already be in place, and I think it’s wrong that it’s not.”
LaGrange’s third resolution passed Tuesday said that if a SDS agreement is not reached and submitted to DCA by Feb. 28 that the city wishes to enter into an agreement with the county to begin the new agreement.
That means items the county and LaGrange have agreed to in the proposed SDS would go into effect March 1, even without a signed agreement by all four entities.
For instance, that means the city would go ahead and take over more than a dozen parks that are currently managed by the county. The county meets Thursday, where it could pass a similar agreement.
LaGrange’s fourth approved resolution called for funds from the next SPLOST to be used for maintenance for Kia Boulevard and Kia Parkway.
“I agree with [West Point] that Kia Parkway is a road of countywide significance, and it benefits the residents of LaGrange, Hogansville and unincorporated Troup County,” Thornton said.