Is Decatur County illegally double-taxing city residents?
Published 6:51 pm Friday, December 6, 2013
The City of Bainbridge is in the beginning stages of taking legal action against Decatur County in what they are calling a measure to save city taxpayers money.
The city has said they want to reduce what city residents are paying for Decatur County services they are not currently benefiting from.
According to the city, these services include: law enforcement, fire, highways and streets, maintenance and shop, planning and zoning and administration.
Last week, the City of Bainbridge, through McDonough-based law firm Smith Welch Webb & White, sent a thorough 16-page open records request to Decatur County asking for multiple line item expenditures such as operating costs for the landfill, expenditures for building inspection services provided to unincorporated areas of the county, line items referencing expenditures for the promotion of economic development and tourism, etc. from 2010 to present.
It is the City of Bainbridge’s contention, based on statements made by City Manager Chris Hobby, Bainbridge Mayor Edward Reynolds and their attorney Buddy Welch, that city residents are being dually taxed.
“The general information we have received to date indicates that the Decatur County Board of Commissioners is taxing the taxpayers of the City of Bainbridge for services that they do not receive,” Reynolds said in a statement following the council’s meeting Tuesday. “Double taxation is not authorized by law and should stop.”
Reynolds said for this reason, their attorney sent the lengthy open records request to the county — in attempts to “determine if this double taxation is occurring.”
Hobby noted the city, monetarily, is not seeking to gain anything, but is rather doing a service for its residents, trying to save them from the taxation.
“The City of Bainbridge is not looking for one penny,” Hobby said. “We are not asking for any money from Decatur County — we are simply asking that our residents be taxed fairly.”
Hobby said it is against the law for the county to impose double taxation on city residents.
He noted the City of Auburn et. al. v. Gwinnett County court case, which was resolved in superior court in 2011.
In that case Auburn and all other incorporated cities in Gwinnett County fought a legal battle against double taxation and won.
The same law firm representing the City of Bainbridge, Smith Welch Webb & White, represented Auburn in that case which began in 2007.
Similarly to Decatur County and Bainbridge negotiations with LOST tax agreements, the court case in Gwinnett County cites issues the city and county had in negotiating their Service Delivery Agreement.
In the conclusion of the case, the cities involved in litigation won and a precedent was set that double taxation was illegal.
Those cities as a result saw their residents’ millage rates decrease from anywhere from less than one mill to four mills. Several cities saw an increase and started paying higher rates when it was determined they used the services provided by Gwinnett County.
Gwinnett County residents saw an increase an overall millage increase.
At Tuesday’s Bainbridge City Council meeting, Decatur County Administrator Gary Breedlove presented three budgets for the county in 2012, 2013 and 2014, as well as the county’s 2012 audit as the county’s official response to the open records request filed last week.
Breedlove told council members he would rather work through the issues locally rather than going through a law firm out of the region.
“This is a super intensive, heavy manpower-oriented request,” Breedlove said. “It seems odd that you would say, ‘We just want to get this information and make sure people are doing it.’ Well come on down, let’s talk about it. This is like lobbing a hand grenade in.”
Decatur County Chairman Russell Smith declined to comment on any potential legal action.
“I can’t comment on pending lawsuit, but the county will have to show yes, we are doing our service delivery.”
Smith said that according to what he’s been told, the county has upheld their end of the service delivery agreement. This includes the services Hobby believes the city isn’t receiving.
At the end of the Tuesday’s meeting, following a closed session meeting called for litigation purposes, the council reconvened to state the information presented by Breedlove would be reviewed but “We have not withdrawn the open records request and still expect the county to respond,” Reynolds said in a statement.
To read the 16-page open records request the City of Bainbridge sent to the Decatur County Board of Commissioners, visit thepostsearchlight.com