Clayton County, cities settle dispute on taxes, services

Long-standing tensions between Clayton County and its seven cities over distribution of sales taxes and delivery of services ended Thursday as the two sides inked a 10-year deal that puts more money in the cities’ coffers.

The mayors commended Clayton Commission Chairman Jeff Turner for shepherding the complex deal to a successful conclusion. They said Turner, who has been in office seven months, was able to break a three-year stalemate and broker a deal over how much each city will collect in local option sales tax money.

But the service delivery strategy agreement didn’t get delivered without a few hitches. Just before the commission’s 3-2 vote approving the deal, Commissioner Sonna Singleton voiced her opposition to the pact, saying, “It will result in higher taxes for citizens of unincorporated Clayton County.”

Turner disputed that claim. “Looking at the numbers, that does not appear to be the case,” he said.

Not reaching an agreement would have meant setting up special tax districts and tax rates likely would have increased then, Turner said.

He said he approached the negotiations in a “spirit of cooperation. They (the mayors) embraced me and we were able to sit down and talk.”

Under the deal, Riverdale, Lovejoy, Forest Park, College Park, Lake City, Jonesboro and Morrow collectively will get 31.41 percent of the money the first year, 32.41 percent the second year and 33.41 percent the third through 10th years. The agreement is effective Aug. 1. The cities previously got about 25 percent. Lovejoy and Riverdale will get the largest share of the money because their population has grown.

“It’s bigger than the numbers, it’s a monumental step in moving together as a cohesive unit,” Forest Park Mayor David Lockhart said.

“This is a very positive thing for all of us,” Lovejoy Mayor Bobby Cartwright said. “Jeff Turner has our utmost respect. We owe him a lot. He’s really got this county going in the right direction.”

On the service side, the pact will address what the mayors have long considered to be double taxation and double coverage of services in some cities.

“Everybody’s leaving the table happy,” Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Winn Dixon said.