FLOWERY BRANCH — Leaders of Hall County’s cities got a civics lesson Monday night in how a city-county dispute can go from bad to worse.
Randy Meacham, managing director of Gwinnett Municipal Association, detailed the struggles between Gwinnett County and its cities over taxation and service districts. It was a protracted battle, culminating in a 2009 lawsuit that ended with a settlement among the parties in February.
The flap was over which governments paid for services, such as fire and police, with cities especially concerned about double taxation.
“The parties have got to be willing to sit down. Delay helps the county,” Meacham said in advising the Hall County Joint Municipal Association, which met at the Hall County Library System’s Spout Springs branch.
“This was very costly. The cities paid out almost a million dollars in litigation expenses to do this,” he added. “There were some tense times and there were some folks, after two or three years, who were tired of paying legal fees in this.”
City Manager Stan Brown asked whether Charlotte Nash’s election as chairwoman of the Gwinnett County Board of
Commissioners served as “breakthrough point” in the issue.
“Charlotte was a very rational and reasonable person throughout this whole process,” Meacham said. “She did reach out and say, ‘I’m going to sit down and I’m going to restart these negotiations, because we need to get this thing resolved.’“
Buford City Commission Chairman Phillip Beard chimed in: “Charlotte had leadership. We just had a void there for several years. There was no leadership in the county government.”
Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin likened Gwinnett’s troubles to the Hall cities’ pending talks with Hall County over the way local sales taxes are distributed in the county.
Hall and the local governments renegotiate how they share Local Option Sales Tax collections every 10 years, following the completion of the decennial census.
Until now, the money has been divided based on population. The current formula gives Hall County a little more than 75 percent of the monthly check from the state’s Department of Revenue.
City officials have discussed shifting the focus this year, dividing the money based on each government’s property tax digest.
“At this point, for all of us, and I include Hall County in that, we’re not going forward (on the issue),” Bergin said. “... The similarities of some of the things you have discussed ring true for us.”
Beard advised the municipal group to remain focused.
“The big thing is sticking together,” he said. “It’s hard to do sometimes when you’re as far away as Buford is from Lula, but it can happen.”