• 61°

UPDATED: Hogansville signs, making SDS agreement official

The Hogansville City Council unanimously approved the Service Delivery Strategy Wednesday evening, officially putting an end to 10-month long negotiation between Troup County and the three local cities.

The city of LaGrange and Troup County had already passed the proposal, doing so on Monday and Tuesday. Hogansville was the third and last required vote. West Point has not voted on the proposal but doesn’t have to for the proposal to be approved.

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. For it to pass, the county, LaGrange and 50 percent of the other municipalities (West Point or Hogansville) have to agree to pass it. Throughout the process, West Point never took an official vote on SDS and consistently asked for mediation — which was the next step in the process if no agreement was reached.

Hogansville also approved a fire services agreement with the county, which was the sticking point throughout recent negotiations.

“Well, I think after much negotiation, give and take, we finally got an agreement that we all could live with,” said Hogansville Mayor Bill Stankiewicz. “Negotiations typically result in an agreement that nobody’s happy with but everybody can live with. You never get everything you want. In this case, I think we have a good agreement that we can live with — all of us can live with.”

As part of the agreement, Hogansville will not have to pay the county for fire services for the first two years, a savings of nearly $400,000.

Troup County Chairman Patrick Crews said Wednesday evening the county will send the SDS agreement to the Department of Community Affairs for review. DCA requires 30-days to review the document but should be able to before the end of June, which was the deadline for an agreement.

NEGOTIATIONS

The original deadline for an agreement 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 extend the previous SDS through June to allow for more time to negotiate.

The extension passed in February allowed local governments to avoid sanctions, which would’ve impacted state-funded grants, and allowed for more time to negotiate.

For the last few months, negotiations were down to Troup County and the cities of Hogansville and West Point, as LaGrange and the county agreed to terms in February and even passed proposals at that time. The Hogansville City Council also passed an agreement at that time with the stipulation that West Point had to agree before Mayor Bill Stankiewicz could sign. Stankiewicz then vetoed it.

After months of negotiating, SDS was finally passed this week.

Following an extended executive session Monday that lasted over three hours, the Troup County Commission voted unanimously to accept the proposed SDS agreement with several amended attachments. The biggest was that Hogansville would not have to pay for fire services for the first two years of the agreement.

After the first years, ending July 1, 2023, Hogansville would start paying the originally agreed upon rate of $195,000 per year.

“Ultimately, if the county had to go out and build a new fire station, that’s money that we’re taking from other places,” Mosley said earlier this week.

“And so, if we can keep the fire station where it’s at, that’s certainly mutually beneficial for us to do so. We have a 20-year relationship to that fire department. And we really have no intentions of leaving unless we’re asked to leave. We believe that by offering them this deal that we make it that much sweeter for them at this point.”

Through the negotiations, a termination agreement within the fire services proposal was tweaked numerous times. Under the final agreement, the county could terminate the agreement after giving 12 months notice to Hogansville if an action is filed by any Troup County municipality seeking the establishment of an unincorporated fire service district.

“If unincorporated service districts were decided upon countywide then ultimately, it would certainly affect how we provide fire services and pay for our services in the unincorporated county and in Hogansville,” Mosley said Tuesday.

“So, we just wanted to make sure that there was a clear definition in place that protects both Hogansville residents as well as unincorporated county residents.”

Troup County had argued in the past that if the SDS agreement was not signed that it might not be able to afford to provide fire services in Hogansville. At one point, the county even sent Hogansville notice it was ending its fire services agreement, though that decision was later reversed.

Mosley said the county is able to provide Hogansville two years of fire services savings due to two factors — an increase in local option sales tax (LOST) — and allocating funds to Hogansville that were originally set for West Point. Mosley said under the new proposal, roughly $100,000 that would’ve gone to West Point for recreation and another $100,000 that would’ve gone to the Hawkes Library is now being reallocated.

“We certainly could not have imagined that we would have seen the growth in our community that we have, and we certainly are seeing a lot a lot of new homes, a lot of new residents … so those are now spilling over into funding mechanisms that are allowing us to do this,” Mosley said.

WEST POINT

While the agreement is completed, West Point was not included among the approvals as it has not voted on the agreement. West Point Mayor Steve Tramell has said throughout the process that he wants the city to stop paying taxes on services it doesn’t get from the county.

For example, unlike Hogansville, West Point has its own fire department and E-911 center.

“The city of West Point requested tax relief for its Troup County citizens,” Tramell said. “

The city provides most services to its citizens and believes that the Troup County tax levy should be reduced. Simply the county does not spend those dollars for services to West Point citizens.

The county chose not to provide any tax relief for the citizens in West Point or the other cities and instead negotiated to spend millions in cash payments and reduced service cost to the other city governments. The citizens are the losers in the new 10-year SDS agreement. I will continue to fight for tax equity whenever the opportunity arises.”

Tramell said he hates bullies and believes West Point is being taken advantage of. However, he also believes this issue happens around the state due to the way the law is written regarding SDS.

“This abuse by the larger cities and county goes on throughout the state,” Tramell said.

“It’s wrong to take advantage of these smaller cities that will never get ahead as long as the counties are able to play these shell games.”

In summary, Tramell said he just wants West Point to only pay for what it receives.

“We want a separate tax district for West Point,” he said.

“We will gladly pay for the services we receive, and we want them to stop charging us for the things we don’t. Stop double taxing us.”

As far as next steps, Tramell said West Point is reviewing its options.

Last week, County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews and LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said they want to see West Point come to an agreement as well.

Crews said he always planned to reach back out to West Point once a deal was struck. 

“I know I’ve talked to Mayor Stankiewicz, and he feels the same way I do, which is that we would love to see the county and West Point work out a deal, the same way that LaGrange and the county did and now Hogansville and the county have,” Thornton said last week when a deal appeared imminent.

“We’d love to see West Point and the county work out a deal, and we would support an amendment to incorporate that.”