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LOST arbitration judge wants case to move forward

2010 census triggered renegotiation

POSTED: March 12, 2013 11:43 p.m.

Frank C. Mills III, former Cherokee County chief superior court judge, wants to expedite the local option sales tax dispute between Hall County and its cities.

The dispute has been ongoing since last summer.

The retired judge was appointed on Feb. 14, just a day after Judge Andrew Fuller, chief judge of the Superior Court for the Northeastern Judicial District, issued an order requesting a judge for the case.

“On matters like this, we don’t mess around,” said Steven M. Ferrell, court administrator for the Ninth Judicial Administrative District, referring to Administrative Judge Brenda Weaver’s quick turnaround on the request. “There’s tax dollars at stake.”

Mills has been calling Ferrell to try to move the matter along, he said, but the parties didn’t get notification until about 10 days ago because the notice, which was mailed, was delayed, said County Attorney Bill Blalock.

The Hall County clerk’s office for the Superior and State Court didn’t have a copy of the appointment in its files Tuesday.

Blalock said Mills’ office contacted him last week.

Attorney Christopher Huskins of Eatonton is representing Gainesville, according to court documents.

Mayor Danny Dunagan, who is the contact for all the cities, including Buford, Braselton, Oakwood, Gillsville and Lula, declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation. A call to Gainesville City Attorney James Palmour was not returned. A call to Richard Mecum, Hall County Board of Commissioners chairman, was not returned.

A joint petition between the county and the city of Gainesville was filed in November after both renegotiation in July and mediation in October failed to reach an agreement. No court date has been set.

Mills, who retired in 2012, was a judge for more than 30 years, serving as superior court judge and chief judge of the Blue Ridge Circuit, reported the Canton-Sixes Patch. He dropped out of his eighth race for the position in 2012 and retired Jan. 1. Previously, he was also elected district attorney.

The redistribution negotiations were triggered by the 2010 census, and this is the first time the county and the cities are renegotiating since a new state law took effect that requires “baseball arbitration,” where an outside judge hears each side and gives a final decision.

The current distribution has Hall County receiving the largest share, with 75.49 percent, Gainesville with 19.87 percent and Oakwood taking the third-largest portion at 1.63 percent.

Under the Hall County proposal floated last August, the county share would stay nearly the same, with Gainesville going down to 17.39 percent and Flowery Branch claiming a slightly bigger piece of the pie at 2.35 percent.

Under the cities’ proposal during that time period, all the cities would receive more revenue, with Hall County entitled to 58.7 percent, Gainesville taking about 27 percent and Flowery Branch receiving 4.77 percent. In a November Times’ article, Dunagan said the cities had amended their proposal, but declined to give specifics.

LOST revenue is meant to offset local governments’ reliance on property taxes to fund daily operations.

Distribution is determined by population count from the census every 10 years.

Blalock said it was likely the proposals will be entered into evidence at the hearings and taken under advisement.

While proposals floated around last summer, none were officially filed with the court.


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