At this afternoon’s board meeting, the Hall County Board of Commissioners will discuss how to handle The Georgia Mountains Regional Commission’s request for nearly $5,000 more this year.
"We’re challenging that increase in these economic times," said Chairman Tom Oliver.
The Georgia Mountains Regional Commission asks for $1.10 per capita from each of the 13 counties it serves.
The agency requested $142,936 from Hall County for 2009 and $147,617 for 2010, citing population growth as the need for the additional funding.
The county made major cuts in all departments for its 2010 budget and is not willing to match even the money it gave the regional agency last year.
"We’re trying to cut back in all areas where we can," said Assistant County Administrator Phil Sutton. "This is a major agency. It’s one of the biggest agencies we contribute to. It’s been the chairman’s feeling and the commission’s feeling has been we need to make a cut here as well."
The county opted to reduce the amount it is giving to the regional commission to $1 per capita, or $134,197, which is $13,000 less than they requested.
"We’ve already cut their budget and they’re threatening to sue us for that $13,000 we’ve cut their budget," Oliver said.
Danny Lewis, executive director of the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, said it is not fair for Hall County to choose what to pay.
Each of the local governments they serve pays the same rate.
"However we settle it with them will affect 50 other governments and how they pay us. It’s not a $3,000 to $4,000 issue, it could be a $60,000 issue if it’s settled the opposite from how we think it should be settled," Lewis said.
Oliver said he will ask the commission to take a vote to bring the dispute before the Department of Community Affairs for mediation.
But Lewis said "there’s nothing to mediate."
"The population per capita comes to us directly from numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau through DCA. They’re not numbers we generate," Lewis said.
Mike Gleaton, an assistant commissioner at the Department of Community Affairs, said it is unlikely this issue will be resolved with mediation. Mediation is a method that is best used to resolve more complex conflicts, he said.
"I question whether it would be effective," Gleaton said. "In this case it’s kind of black or white, I think."
Sutton said, in the past, other Georgia governments have lost legal cases with regional commissions.
In one instance, LaGrange stopped paying completely. In another, Columbus paid less than the state mandated per capita rate for seven years.
"The commission’s point here is we haven’t had a case that specifically addresses the economic conditions we’re under now," Sutton said.