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County, city leaders optimistic after SDS meeting

For the first time in months, it sounds as if there’s optimism for a Service Delivery Strategy agreement between Troup County and the cities of Hogansville, West Point and LaGrange.

Hogansville, West Point and Troup County held a meeting on Thursday, and according to all sides progress was made toward a new SDS agreement. County Chairman Patrick Crews said discussions focused on double taxation, an issue that West Point Mayor Steve Tramell — and Hogansville to some degree — have been vocal about since the beginning stages of the discussions.

LaGrange and Troup County agreed on their terms months ago, so LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said LaGrange did not participate in Thursday’s meeting.

“I think there’s optimism that we now have a plan,” said Troup County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews.

The SDS is required every 10 years in all 159 counties and is meant to ensure delivery of services to citizens in a cost-efficient and effective manner.

The deadline for a SDS agreement is June 30, but it has to be submitted to the Department of Community Affairs, which requires a 30-day review process. An original deadline was set for the fall, but that was moved due to COVID-19. A second deadline was the end of February, but right at the last minute all four entities agreed to a SDS extension through June.

The extension allowed local governments to avoid sanctions, which would impact state-funded grants, and allowed for more time to negotiate.

With negotiations stalled, the parties had agreed to April 23 for mediation but since progress is being made have discussed postponing that date to allow for more time to negotiate.

“We met and we made progress [Thursday],” said Hogansville Mayor Bill Stankiewicz. “And I think it’s fair to say that a solution is possible without any deleterious effects.”

Stankiewicz said there still some things to iron out, but that the cities and county had agreed to an approach for negotiations.

Tramell said things are “moving in the right direction.”

“I’m cautiously optimistic. We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Tramell said.

The attorneys are now working to create a draft of an agreement, which will then be discussed by all parties involved.

The new discussions are the first time in weeks that any progress has been made toward an agreement.

Back in February, Troup County and LaGrange had passed a proposed SDS agreement, and those two entities remain on the same page.

“We anticipate zero changes between the two of us,” Crews said of LaGrange and Troup County.

West Point did not take an official vote, and the Hogansville City Council passed the agreement with the stipulation that Stankiewicz couldn’t sign unless all four parties were in agreement. Stankiewicz then vetoed the agreement.  Stankiewicz and Tramell have said numerous times that Hogansville and West Point had agreed to work together during negotiations in the interest of both cities.

For the SDS agreement to pass, the largest city (LaGrange), the county and half the remaining cities (West Point or Hogansville) must agree.

The county then gave Hogansville notice that it was ending its fire services agreement in 90 days — the length of notice required to end the intergovernmental agreement — if the SDS wasn’t signed in that time. The county argued that it may not have the funding to provide fire services to Hogansville without a signed agreement.

Unless a decision is reached — or something changes — the county will not provide fire services in Hogansville beyond May 30.

Crews said they are working to get an agreement signed in April, and any new SDS agreement would need to be approved by all parties. The Hogansville City Council meets Monday night and the Troup County Commission meets Tuesday morning, but it’s unclear if SDS will be discussed at either meeting, although a vote on an agreement seems very unlikely.

“The parties are working very hard to come up with a final solution that would be in the best interest of all citizens of Troup County, Hogansville, LaGrange and West Point,” said County Attorney Jerry Willis. “Those terms have not been solidified at this point in time but hopefully we’ll have more to say about it later.”