TIFTON — The ongoing litigation between the City of Tifton and Tift County took another turn when the city filed an amendment to their original complaint on Feb. 22.
According to documents filed at the Tift County Superior Court, the city has amended their original filing, made in August of 2018, making an additional three claims: that the county owes the city $875,703 for “fire protection and suppression services” back from 2010-2016; than the county overtaxed Tifton residents by $1,354,896 in 2012-2018; and that the county mismanaged $4,867,000 in SPLOST funds.
Court documents state that before the fire department split in 2016, the city and county had an inter-local agreement where each body would pay for 50 percent of the cost of fire suppression and protection services.
The filing states that the city would pay for its share with revenues derived solely from city residents and the county would pay for its share with revenues derived solely from county residents.
The city alleges that the county did not fully pay its share for several years in the 2010-2016 period, and that when it did pay, it several times used funds transferred into the county fire district fund from the county’s general fund.
Monies from the general fund are derived from both county and city residents, meaning that city residents were being double-taxed for the same service, documents claim.
Special tax district
The filing further states that the county caused city residents to pay for services they did not receive, overtaxing city residents by $1,354,896.
The filing states that in February of 2011, the city informed the county that it was terminating the inter-local agreements with the county for E911, animal control, Emergency Management Agency, mosquito control and county development support services, which includes planning and zoning, permitting and code enforcement, and would no longer be using those county services.
The filing from the city alleges that “in order to provide funding for these services countywide, the County, without any consent from or an agreement with the city, raised the millage rate on city residents by 1.79 mills, shifted the allocation of the Special Tax District to the county general fund by 1.79 mils and raised the county-wide millage rate to 12.183.”
The city alleges that the county used the increased millage rate on city residents to fund the county development support service and that the county failed to create a special tax district to fund this service, resulting in city residents paying for a service provided only to residents in unincorporated parts of the county.
The filing also alleges that the county used $4,867,000 of SPLOST funds to pay for items not agreed to in the SPLOST V referendum.
In order to fund the county fire department, court documents allege that Tift County shifted funds from the general fund to the SPLOST V fund and then made purchases that were mislabeled as being for a radio system but were in actuality equipment and supplies for the new fire department.
The city states in the filing that because this money was spent on projects unapproved by voters in both the SPLOST IV and SPLOST V referendums, projects that had been voted on and approved by the voters have not and can not be funded.
The filed documents request judgment in these allegations, as well as legal costs and “such further relief as this court deems just and proper.”
“Seeing the facts, city officials could not turn a blind eye to these inequities that have affected their constituents,” a city press release states. “Since most of the current county commissioners represent City of Tifton residents, this needed to be addressed with them for appropriate action.”
The release quotes Tifton Mayor Julie Smith.
“The Tifton City Council stands united in our efforts to focus on the residents and business owners of this community,” Smith said in the release. “Tax equity and efficiency is of the utmost importance and we feel it is our responsibility to our tax base not to be seen as complicit in such matters that were brought to light.”
The release states that the city will remain open to discussions with Tift County concerning working through remaining service delivery issues and other pressing matters.
“It is the hope and desire of the city officials to see a just and final conclusion in such matters and it is the city‘s goal to start from a clean slate and move forward in the spirit of cooperation for the betterment of all city and county residents,” the press release states.
Tift County Manager Jim Carter declined comment.
Messages left for Tift County attorney Anthony Rowell were not immediately returned.
In a series of claims filed against City of Tifton in September 2018, Tift County alleged that the city is responsible for $22.6 million in damages to the county, according to court documents.
The county claims the city has breached contracts related to the water, sewer and solid waste joint funds and that it continues to do so.