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LOST talks heading to mediation
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Negotiations between Effingham County and the municipalities apparently are headed toward mediation.

Savannah attorney Patrick J. O’Connor has been recommended as the mediator between the cities and counties as they try to find a formula to divide local option sales tax receipts.

"I don’t know how we do it without mediation," said county Commissioner Bob Brantley.

Rincon’s original offer was for the cities to receive 40.47 percent and revised its proposal to 32 percent, with the county’s proposed cut going from just under 60 percent in the original offer to 68 percent.

The county submitted an offer of 75.03 percent for the county, with Rincon getting 11.71 percent, Springfield receiving just over 7 percent and Guyton getting 2.3 percent. The county’s original offer put the cities’ share at 16.84 percent.

Each percentage point is equal to about $85,000, and LOST revenue is about $8.3 million a year, according to County Administrator David Crawley.

"That’s how important each percentage point is," said Commissioner Steve Mason.

Under Rincon’s latest offer, the cities would be getting $760,000 more than they are receiving currently in LOST, according to county finance director Joanna Wright.

The county’s offer, Rincon interim city manager Wesley Corbitt said, puts Rincon’s share at 48 percent of its current population, and Rincon has three times the population of Springfield.

"If the county were to make the same offer to Rincon and Guyton they are making to Springfield, I am sure we could settle without the expense of litigation," he said in an e-mail. "We really thought that our move of 8.4 percent would show a good faith effort to resolve the negotiations without litigation."

Rincon City Attorney Raymond Dickey had made an offer to split the difference between the two proposals.

"When Raymond Dickey made the offer to split the difference, that made me stop and think," said Commissioner Vera Jones.

Mason said he believed some of the issues were covered in the previous service delivery talks. He added the entities were served well by having the staffs close the gaps in proposals before elected officials finished the deal.

"If we could get closer, than maybe we can get involved and not have to go through this," he said. "But right now, we’re so far apart."

The difference in the proposals is about a gap of $915,000, or more than half a mill in property taxes, Wright said.

O’Connor, managing partner at the firm Oliver Maner, served as Savannah assistant city attorney from 1985-89 and is a mediator and arbitrator registered with the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution.

"He’s a very good attorney and a very good mediator," county attorney Eric Gotwalt said.

O’Connor also has done legal work for both the county and Rincon, Gotwalt pointed out.

"These things can be a lot like herding cats," he said.

Mediation will proceed over 60 days, but talks don’t have to be limited to mediation sessions, Gotwalt said.

"There is nothing that prevents the cities and the county from getting together outside of mediation to try to work this out," he said. "We can still try to continue to work things out."

Said Jones: "It doesn’t have to be perceived as a negative if we go to mediation."