FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 3/29/2023
A Plan To End All Litigation Via A Fire Services Intergovernmental Agreement
Below you will find a general summary of items the City would offer to the County via an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) which if accepted by the County would end all litigation. The County would receive more than one million dollars in additional LOST funding and the accrued lease payments on the cell towers. Fire service in the City would be assured for a long time. And the arrangement would cost the County no more than their normal budgeted expenditures as they are providing the service currently.
In the year 1992 the City of Dahlonega and Lumpkin County enjoyed an exceptional working relationship. In that regard the two governments got together to combine their fire departments into one unit to serve the entire county including the city. A joint committee was formed which looked for an appropriate site for the fire station in the city. The committee identified the Pinetree site, and the two governments voted to acquire it and created a joint SPLOST for the acquisition of the property and construction of the fire station. The government minutes, the referendum, the construction contract, and the survey all reflected the joint nature of the project, but the deed executed omitted the City’s name as one of the grantees. This omission was acknowledged by the sole commissioner and a deed to correct the mistake was filed along with an affidavit from the commissioner stating that ownership of the property was intended to be held as one-half interest in the county and one-half interest in the city.
In 2014 the Lumpkin County Commission, apparently disagreeing with the sole commissioner’s decision in 1992, sued the City seeking to have the City’s one-half interest declared void. For eight long years, the City endured litigation caused directly by the actions of the Board of Commissioners. The taxpayers of Lumpkin County and the City paid lawyers hundreds of thousands of dollars to litigate this matter. On March 30, 2022, the court found that the City should have received its one-half interest in the fire station property. As the County took no action to recognize the City’s interest, the court found that the County is holding the City’s interest in trust. Since then, the city officials have asked that the county transfer to the city its one-half interest in the property to avoid litigation. County officials have refused. Not only that, but the county continues to collect rents from cell tower leases on the property and has withheld the City’s share of the rents. The City cannot allow this to continue and has decided to file suit against the county asking a court to order the Commissioners to transfer to the City its one-half interest in the property and its share of the rents.
As you may know, there is another lawsuit pending. In November of last year, the County sued the City asking the courts to declare the local option sales tax (LOST) certificate invalid. If successful, the LOST would end, and all the sales tax revenues we receive from people who visit our county would no longer be available to pay for local services and roll back our property taxes. Fortunately, the City prevailed at the trial court, but the Commissioners continue to spend taxpayer money chasing a different decision from the Court of Appeals. Nevertheless, the City wishes to end all litigation and enter into a long-term agreement with the County for fire service. To that end, the City will make the following proposal of compromise to the County:
1) If such agreement on fire services can be reached and as additional consideration for that agreement, the City is willing to accept the County’s request and that Lumpkin County and the City of Dahlonega execute a new LOST Certificate of Distribution directing the State Revenue Commissioner to distribute the LOST as follows:
a. For the years 2023, 2024, 2025, and 2026, the City of Dahlonega shall receive 25% and the County of Lumpkin shall receive 75%.
b. For the years 2027, 2028, 2029, 2030, 2031, and 2032, the City of Dahlonega shall receive 23% and the County of Lumpkin shall receive 77%. (This amounts to more than 1 Million Dollars in additional revenue to the County which is in addition to keeping all cell tower lease revenues.)
c. This new Certificate of Distribution shall be tendered to the State Dept. of Revenue by Lumpkin County within 5 business days of the fire service agreement being approved by both governments.
2) The County has proposed a 50-year fire services agreement. This period is acceptable to the City provided the agreement contains certain protections for the citizens of the city and the students and faculty at the College as provided below.
a. The fire protection services provided by the County within the City maintains the same ISO rating of at least 4 or better within the City; and
b. The County would provide Fire Services within the City as a countywide service for SDS purposes, and the County will provide said services from Fire Station #1 and/or any other station mutually agreed upon as necessary to maintain an ISO fire rating of at least a 4 or better.
c. The County will not levy or impose fees, taxes, assessments, or costs against the City, property owners, residents, or citizens within the City for Fire Services.
d. The City’s half of all accrued cell tower lease payments from 1998 forward to the present and the City’s half of all lease payments received by the County during the term of the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) will be assigned to the County. If the County were to breach or terminate the agreement prior to the expiration date of the agreement, the County would pay to the city as liquidated damages the City’s half of all such lease payments. The City would have the first option to purchase, after an appraisal by a neutral appraiser, the County’s interest in the fire station property and all county-owned structures and fixtures thereon; and
e. If the Agreement is breached or terminated early by the County during the current LOST period, the County shall, upon notice by the City, approve, sign and submit a new certificate to reflect the original distribution of 75% to the County and 25% to the City.
f. The County provides a limited warranty deed to the City for a fifty percent legal interest in the property as the parties intended back in 1992.
g. All property management and expenses related to the property will remain with Lumpkin County.
h. The City will dismiss its current suit regarding its interest and rents within 5 days of the approval by both parties of the agreement.
i. Additionally, the County will equalize the maintenance and operation millage rate charged to incorporated and unincorporated property taxpayers by the tax year 2025.