After two special called meetings of the Dawsonville City Council, city leaders are pressing the pause button on a resolution that would contest the legality of the county’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, SPLOST VII.
Last week, the city council voted 4-0, with Council Member Mark French absent, to file a lawsuit against Dawson County over SPLOST VII, citing a lack of agreement between the city and Dawson County and alleged discrepancies in the time period over which SPLOST funds can be collected.
But at the city’s second special called meeting on the issue, held on Monday, March 29, council members took a step back from their motion to contest SPLOST VII, unanimously voting to give city and county attorneys time to try and come to an agreement before filing a lawsuit.
In his words to the board on Monday night, City Attorney Kevin Tallant said that over the last week they had learned that the two governing bodies would likely be able to reach an agreement without having to take the issue to court.
“If [the city and the county] are in the same ballpark we wanna give ourselves a little more time to work on this before anyone has to file a suit to try to have the SPLOST set aside, and if we’re not in the same ballpark then we certainly don’t wanna waste anyone’s time and money negotiating on something where we’re not going to reach an agreement,” City Attorney Kevin Tallant said. “It is apparent that we are in the same ballpark, so based upon that it would be my recommendation … to allow the city attorney to execute a tolling agreement if an acceptable tolling agreement is presented; otherwise to proceed with the suit to set aside the SPLOST.”
According to Tallant, the tolling agreement, a legal tool used to extend the statute of limitations on litigation, would allow the city and county more time to work together.
“A tolling agreement would be something that basically puts a pin in the matter where the county is agreeing not to raise any kind of objection that a statute of limitations has expired or that we’re waiting too long to proceed with this or something along those lines,” Tallant said.
At the first called meeting, held Monday, March 22, Tallant said that prior to the passage of SPLOST VII, Dawsonville had proposed an IGA, which was not accepted by Dawson County officials. Tallant said that instead of proposing a new IGA, the county voted to approve a SPLOST VII resolution without an agreement between the two parties at the end of January.
Tallant also alleged that by approving the $60 million SPLOST VII by resolution and setting it to be collected over a 6-year time period, they believe the county has broken the Georgia codes regulating SPLOST.
“After we have looked deeply in the SPLOST resolution, we have some serious concerns about the legality of that tax,” he said. “One of the things that was most concerning is that the SPLOST has been called for a period of six years, and we believe that the Georgia code is clear, and this is supported both by the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association of County Governments… both agree that this tax can only be collected for five years in this situation.”
In a special election held earlier this year, Dawson County voters approved SPLOST VII and its 6-year, $60 million boundaries.
When contacted for comment, Dawson County Attorney Angela Davis said that the county denies Tallant's claims, but declined to comment further at the present time.
Following Tallant’s words to the board on Monday morning, Dawsonville City Council Member Mark French said that while he is in favor of the tolling agreement, he doesn’t like the idea of filing a lawsuit against Dawson County over the matter.
“I do believe that it will not be an unachievable task to obtain the agreement,” French said. “I do support the tolling agreement that we’re attempting to agree with, however, I’m not comfortable with the lawsuit feature in there, but in order to move it forward I would be willing to vote in favor of proceeding.”
Dawsonville Mayor Mike Eason also commented that he was confident that the two entities can come to an agreement on SPLOST VII.
“We all support the SPLOST — I voted for it like all the council members did,” Eason said. “The county relies on it for a lot of things that provide services to everybody, so what we want to do is fix it; I think we’re going to and I feel confident that we’ll be able to come together and do what’s right.”
The city council will hold another called meeting at 9 a.m. on Friday, April 2, to discuss the next steps that need to be taken on the issue and hear whether any progress has been made by the two parties’ attorneys.
Alexander Popp contributed to this report.