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Cities, county hope to find LOST solution

POSTED: August 13, 2012 8:33 p.m.

Representatives from the three cities and Effingham County could be getting closer to finding an agreement on how to divide the local option sales tax.

Elected officials and staff members from the four entities are scheduled to meet next Wednesday at Lost Plantation Golf Club, two weeks after Effingham County submitted its proposal for dividing LOST revenues. In an aggregate of five different criteria, the county proposed splitting the LOST with 79 percent going to the county, 11.7 percent to Rincon, 7 percent to Springfield and just over 2.2 percent to Guyton.

The county takes in about $6 million of LOST proceeds, which are part of its general fund revenues. Rincon City Council member Paul Wendelken balked at the county’s offer.

“If we take less, I won’t vote for it,” he said. “There are few things that rise above what you normally do, and 10-year sales tax distribution is at the top.”

LOST negotiations take place every 10 years, and the last division of the sales tax proceeds was based on population.

“What happened in those 10 years is unbelievable growth,” said interim Rincon city manager Wesley Corbitt, “especially in Rincon.”

Currently, Rincon is receiving 13.84 percent of the LOST proceeds, and the county takes in 77.5 percent. Rincon officials are proposing to receive 28.34 percent of future LOST receipts, with the county to take in about 59.5 percent.

Commissioner Steve Mason suggested the separate staffs go through the proposal from the cities and the county and meet in an effort to reach an agreement that could be brought to elected officials. Wendelken pushed to have the negotiations completed last Wednesday.

“It’s hard enough for us to get together,” he said. “We’re spending a lot of time getting nowhere. I don’t want to keep spinning our wheels. I don’t see these get-togethers accomplishing a whole lot.”

County officials presented LOST splits based on such factors as daytime population, commercial and industrial digest, population growth, general fund expenditures, tax digest and sales including retail, automotive, lumber and utilities, among others.

Rincon’s population more than doubled from the last division, rising 107 percent. The county’s total population rose 40 percent between the 2000 and 2010 Census, shooting from 37,535 to 52,250. The number of people living in the unincorporated areas grew from 30,421 to 38,878.

Rincon responded with 10 assertions against the county’s proposal of how to split the LOST, challenging the county’s position on inherent inequality, Rincon not assessing a property tax, the cities’ residents  receive a LOST benefit disproportionate to service cost.

“The position we’re holding is that we have residents who live in the city and are served by the city, and we have residents who live in the county and are served by the county,” county finance director Joanna Wright said. “And city residents are county residents. It’s not about counting and double counting but what gives us a picture as a whole of what service is given to the city and the county residents.”

While mediation remains an option for the county and cities to determine how to divide the LOST proceeds, Corbitt is optimistic representatives from both sides can find numbers agreeable to both.

“There are some things we still need to address,” he said.


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