Deadline looms as city/county LOST talks stall

Nov. 19—ALBANY — With the state-mandated deadline looming for Dougherty County and the city of Albany to agree on a plan to renew the Local Option Sales Tax, Albany is seeking to increase its share of the revenue over the 10-year period to align the distribution more closely with the level of services each government provides.

The city proposes incrementally increasing its share of LOST dollars to 70% from the current 60% over the next decade.

"It's essential for both the city of Albany and Dougherty County to come to an agreement that preserves this important source of revenue that provides for services our constituents depend on while providing property tax relief for homeowners and businesses alike," Mayor Bo Dorough said. "The city and county work as partners and will continue to do so, but the current split doesn't add up when you consider that the city provides 75% of intergovernmental services for the entire county.

"Albany confronts serious expenses in the coming years. Under an order from the state, the city must spend $150 million by 2025 to update sewer infrastructure, a project that will benefit almost every resident of Dougherty County. Increasing our LOST revenues would help pay for that, projects like that, and also distribute the funds more fairly."

According to state law, all cities and counties with a LOST must submit an agreement on how to distribute the sales tax revenue by Dec. 30 of this year. The renewal requires jurisdictions to renegotiate the plans after each census, and the agreements will last through 2032. If the city and county don't come to an agreement, the tax expires on Jan. 1, ending a revenue source that generated $18.5 million in 2021, with $11 million paid to the city.

"If we lose that revenue stream, there's nothing to replace it for a long period of time," the mayor said. "That means service cuts or property tax increases, which no one wants. The LOST saves our residents through lower property taxes and spreads out the tax burden to people from outside the county who shop here."

Dorough points to the SPLOST and T-SPLOST distributions from which the city receives 64% and 67%, respectively.

"The other sales taxes provide a more equitable split, and we're simply trying to slowly move the needle toward that goal in a way that's manageable for the county," Dorough said.