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City and county agree on SDS resolution

By Shelby Farmer and Powell Cobb

The City of Bainbridge and Decatur County governments each approved a resolution detailing a new service delivery strategy at separate special-called meetings Thursday evening.

The Bainbridge City Council unanimously approved the resolution without revisions. The Decatur County Commission approved the resolution 5-1, with Commissioner George Anderson dissenting.

“It feels very good. I think all of the Council and Commission have done a very good job to move this county forward,” said Bainbridge Mayor Edward Reynolds, “and we look forward to these things being worked out and seeing them come to fruition. I think it’s going to be great for our community and county.”

Despite struggling with many provisions in the resolution, the majority of the commissioners made clear the agreement marked progress for the county as a whole.

“There have been some decisions made that were not easy,” Commissioner Pete Stephens said. “It’s one of those deals where you hold your nose, take a deep breath and swallow the pill. My compliments to those at City Council. I’m sure they feel the same way.”

Anderson’s opposition to the resolution stems from an ad valorem tax of 1.5 mills on all nonexempt property in Decatur County for the years 2015 and 2016. Beginning in 2017, the rate lowers to 1.25 mills, and all funds generated from the tax will be paid over to a recreation Authority. Legislation providing for the recreation authority will be introduced during the 2015 legislative session.

“Some people are not going to be able to pay this millage increase,” Anderson said. “A lot of people will. Some people are on fixed income.”

Commissioner Butch Mosely, who was present at the meeting via speakerphone, said there were ways to counter this millage rate increase, including having the city return to using the Decatur County Landfill. Mosely also said the commission has been told by consultants the Correctional Institute is losing around $2.1 million per year, which the commission is exploring “opportunities” to resolve.

“I feel like it’s a good deal for everybody,” Mosely said. “I think we are doing right by the citizens of Decatur County.”

Following the approval of the resolution, Decatur County Administrator Gary Breedlove expressed his opposition.

“For two days I have had serious and significant objections to some of the aspects of the agreement,” Breedlove said. “I stand by those objections, and I have no further comment.”

Mosely was keen to note Breedlove’s comments were inappropriate following the meeting.

“Once the majority of the commission votes, it’s a done deal and everybody should fall in lockstep,” Mosely said.

Commissioner Rusty Davis said he believed the city and county were in a good agreement, despite not everyone being completely happy with the decisions.

Decatur County Chairman Dennis Brinson said he “hated” having to resort to mediation and litigation to resolve issues the city and county could have talked about between themselves.

“I really, really struggled with this decision, simply because we started discussing things that really did not pertain to what we would call service delivery,” Brinson said. “Those conversations evolved into areas where, from an agreement standpoint, pretty much backed us in a corner. We are trusting that the numbers will work out in our favor. When all the smoke and dust clears, we are hoping that what is said to be the millage increase will reduce dramatically where this is no more burden than what has to be to the citizens of Decatur County. ”

Bainbridge City Manager Chris Hobby expressed his appreciation for both the City Council and the Board of Commissioners getting the resolution passed.

“It feels great to get this behind us,” Hobby said. “I am very appreciative to the entire Board of Commissioners and to Gary Breedlove for approaching this as a serious issue and for working hand-in-hand with us to get a settlement.”

The adopted resolution is split into four “exhibits.”

Exhibit A details the negotiated agreement over all services that will be provided and funded by Decatur County, including the airport, elections, emergency medical services and roads and streets, among others.

Exhibit B describes services that are primarily for the benefit of the incorporated areas in Decatur County, including any debt associated with the services, and will be provided and funded by the county through a “special service district in which user fees and property taxes are imposed or levied on the residents, individuals, property owners, and taxpayers in these areas,” according to the resolution. These services include: animal control services; code enforcement, land use, planning and zoning; and fire protection services.

Exhibit C describes services that are planned to benefit the unincorporated areas of Decatur County, and all costs and debts of these services will be provided and funded by the county through an Enterprise Fund. The revenue generated from these services will go toward the cost of providing them. Any remaining balances, if any, are to be paid through the special service district described in Exhibit B. These services include the Correctional Institution, the Pines Golf Course, the Decatur County landfill and solid waste disposal, natural gas and water and sewage.

Exhibit D deals with recreation. Decatur County and Bainbridge will maintain their passive parks as they deem appropriate until Dec. 31, 2016, when a board made up of three members appointed by the County Commission and three members appointed by the City Council will be responsible for the “authority, maintenance, repair and cost of the improvements required to maintain the rental property for the operation of the creations facilities and activities to be maintained thereby,” the resolution reads. Bainbridge agreed it will enter into a written lease with this authority for 10 years, for a rental rate of $1 per year, beginning Jan. 1, 2017.

Both the county and the city have until April 1 to execute service delivery strategy forms for the services detailed in Exhibits A through D.