OUR VIEW: Give and take key to completing SDS agreement

Published 5:52 pm Friday, February 26, 2021

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We realize that reading the Service Delivery Strategy agreement is akin to watching paint dry for the average person, who has a job, children and plenty to do aside from worry about what our local governments are doing.

To be perfectly frank, this newspaper is doing all it can to take a fairly complicated discussion and put it in simple terms. That can be difficult when you consider that all four local governments are involved.

So we’re going to try to go over it again in another effort to break down what’s going on and where we stand.

Service Delivery Strategy is an agreement signed every 10 years by all 159 counties in Georgia. It’s a large document that breaks down who is providing each service in a county to ensure all citizens are receiving services and to ensure the same service isn’t being duplicated. It’s meant to be clear and consistent, and it’s submitted to the Department of Community Affairs, who verifies it. Under the law, the county (in this case, Troup), the largest city (LaGrange) and half of the remaining cities (West Point or Hogansville, or both) have to agree to the SDS agreement for it to pass.

Troup County, LaGrange, West Point and Hogansville had to come to an agreement by Sunday, or sanctions would’ve been enforced that impact state grants. At seemingly the last minute, the four entities decided to sign an extension to the current SDS, keeping it in place through June 30.

If no agreement is reached by that new date, we’ll be back in the same boat, meaning state grants and permits will be impacted.

While the extension is great, it doesn’t eliminate the problem, as the county and three cities still have to come to an agreement.

To recap, LaGrange and Troup County have voted to approve the proposed SDS. Hogansville approved it as well, but did not authorize Mayor Bill Stankiewicz to sign it until all four entities were in agreement. West Point Mayor Steve Tramell has said he won’t sign it and wants to go to mediation, which is the next step if they four entities can’t reach an agreement.

West Point and Hogansville have said that they are working together. As cities that are similar in population and dwarfed by Troup County and LaGrange, they decided it was best to work in the best interest of each city.

That basically means Hogansville has agreed to the SDS, but won’t sign regardless because it wants to help out West Point. County Attorney Jerry Willis called this “perplexing” numerous times Thursday, and we admit it’s hard to explain. Essentially, Hogansville agrees, but doesn’t agree.

And on top of that, the county took things to another level Thursday when it voted to give Hogansville 90 days notice that it would end an intergovernmental agreement regarding fire services, if the SDS isn’t signed in that time period.

The county’s argument is that without the signed SDS, it doesn’t know if it’ll have the money to provide fire services to Hogansville. Hogansville pays for just over a third of the operating costs at the fire station currently, but that number would lower even further to around $195,000 under the proposed SDS agreement.

That was a sticking point in the SDS discussions with Hogansville and the county caved, so Hogansville will pay less, if it ever signs the agreement.

We’ve talked to all four entities about this agreement throughout this process, and we’ve heard arguments from all four. All have sound arguments. But we’ve got to admit that $195,000 a year seems to be an incredible deal for five services. Imagine if Hogansville had to hire a fire chief, firefighters and purchase and upkeep fire equipment. They’ll have to figure that out — or sign another intergovernmental agreement with someone — in 90 days if the SDS isn’t signed by then.

It was a bold move from the county, and it’s certainly got people talking. 

Got all that? We know it’s complicated.

These SDS agreement discussions can get down in the mud pretty quickly, and it happens all around the state. While this discussion is unique to Troup County, other counties across Georgia have been down this road in the past.

We’re glad an extension was signed, putting off sanctions for a few more months. However, the county and the cities have been meeting for eight months, trying to come to an agreement, so it’s not like there haven’t been many meaningful discussions already. More are needed. Hard lines in the sand have been drawn by all parties, and those need to fade.

Our understanding is that West Point and Troup County — the two parties in disagreement — haven’t really even met in the last week or so, which further complicates things.

Each city needs to be clear in what it’s asking for and be prepared to explain what it’s willing to give up.

Negotiations never work if one side is willing to give and the other side isn’t. It’s a game of give and take, not just take.

We encourage leaders of all four entities to get into a room, lock the door and figure this out.

We know it’s not that simple — it never is — but it’s also the only way this is going to get done.  If extending for another 90 days doesn’t result in an agreement, then it’s definitely time for court-appointed mediation.

It’d be sad for someone outside of Troup County to have to step in to solve Troup County’s problems, but that’s the road we’re heading down. Let’s hope we don’t get there.

At least now we’ve got until June to kick the can down the road a little further. Hopefully, more time helps an agreement become a reality.