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SDS extension reached in final days

In the final days, Troup County and the cities of LaGrange, West Point and Hogansville agreed to sign an extension to the expiring Service Delivery Strategy agreement on Friday afternoon.

The new deadline will be June 30. The Department of Community Affairs had already accepted and granted the extension on Friday afternoon, according to an email forwarded to The LaGrange Daily News.

“We’ll expect to hear from the local governments on or prior to June 30, 2021, with either an SDS Update or another SDS Extension,” wrote DCA’s Jon West in an email to the county.

The current SDS, which is revisited every 10 years, would’ve expired after Sunday, resulting in sanctions that would’ve impacted state grants and permits. The SDS is required for all 159 counties and outlines the delivery of government services to citizens.

The extension was officially signed and sent to the Department of Community Affairs around 4 p.m. Friday, according to County Manager Eric Mosley. The extension was officially submitted by LaGrange Attorney Jeff Todd, with County Attorney Jerry Willis and West Point and Hogansville Attorney Alex Dixon copied. It was signed by County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews, LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton, West Point Mayor Steve Tramell and Hogansville Mayor Bill Stankiewicz.

Mosley said the four entities had given DCA notice earlier this week that an extension might be signed.

“They were prepared to receive it,” Mosley said.

It appeared Thursday that all parties were moving toward an extension, with LaGrange, Troup County and Hogansville already voting in favor of one. The timeline differed though, with LaGrange and Hogansville voting for longer extensions and Troup County voting for a 45-day extension. However, the extension would have to be through June, per DCA policy. County Manager Eric Mosley noted Friday that the county was trying to impose a 45-day deadline to keep discussions moving, though the official extension, if passed, would be 90 days.

He also noted that DCA requires a 30-day review process, so 45 days would allow time for that review process to complete before the extended SDS expires.

This is technically the second extension to the current SDS, as the county noted during its commission meeting Thursday that DCA had asked to move its original deadline from October to Feb. 28 due to COVID-19. The four entities have been negotiating for eight months in hopes of coming to an agreement, and they’ll now have 11 months.

LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said Friday that he was “cautiously optimistic” that a revised SDS agreement will be submitted in advance of the new deadline.

“The past few weeks have brought clarity to the issues at hand, have revealed the consensus between the county and LaGrange and Hogansville on SDS, and have identified that issues remain between the county and West Point,” Thornton wrote in an email to the LDN. “I am hopeful that further negotiation and/or mediation between the county and West Point will result in a compromise between those two entities. The stakes are too high to let sanctions go into effect, because that would adversely affect our residents and businesses. While there is more work to do, I’m glad that the parties remain committed to finding an agreement.”

 

WHERE THINGS STAND

The proposed SDS agreement has been approved by the city of LaGrange and Troup County. Hogansville’s council voted last week to approve the proposed SDS agreement, but the council did not authorize Mayor Bill Stankiewicz to sign the agreement until all four entities were in agreement.

Stankiewicz then vetoed the approved agreement by the council. West Point has not taken a vote, but its council and Mayor Steve Tramell discussed wanting mediation at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Under the proposed SDS agreement, the city of LaGrange has agreed to take over management of more than a dozen parks within the city limits after sustained complaints from residents that the county was not doing a good job maintaining them. Approximately $700,000 in county money will be rerouted to LaGrange for park maintenance.

Under the proposal, Hogansville will pay less for fire services, going from paying $237,618 to Troup County to $195,000 for the next two years. After that, the parties would revisit the amount to determine if development causes a need for increased fees.

West Point has asked for funding for Kia Parkway and Kia Boulevard, along with several other requests. West Point and Hogansville originally both asked to go to mediation, and West Point has continued that request throughout the discussion.

“The county almost had it right yesterday,” Tramell said. “They just were off by a little bit, what they need to do is to cancel the fire service in West Point and quit charging us for it.”

Mediation is the next step if no agreement is reached by the new deadline.

 

FIRE SERVICES

The Troup County Commission voted Thursday to send notice to Hogansville that it would pull fire services from the city, if the proposed SDS remained unsigned.

Mosley said Friday that the commission had elected to wait until Monday — the day after the original SDS deadline — to send that paperwork, so it had not been sent yet. It was originally expected to be sent Friday.

Ninety days from Monday would be May 30.

The county currently provides fire services to Hogansville through an intergovernmental agreement, which is signed by both cities. That agreement can be broken with 90 days notice, per discussion at the Troup County Commission meeting.

Willis recommended giving 90 days notice, saying the county might not have funding available to provide Hogansville fire services, if the SDS is unsigned. Willis noted that the county pays about $600,000 in operational costs for the county fire station in Hogansville. Under the current SDS, Hogansville provides around $237,618 of that $600,000. Under the proposed SDS, Hogansville’s cost would lower to approximately $195,000.

“We provide the fire service agreement to Hogansville only because we have an intergovernmental agreement between unincorporated Troup County, this body here [the commission] and the city council of Hogansville. Without that, the unincorporated body of Troup County, this board, would have no authority to set foot in the city limits of Hogansville to provide fire services,” Willis said Thursday. “In fact, it goes against the Constitution.”

Willis warned the commission that if they waited to provide the notice that there might be a day further down the road where they couldn’t afford to continue fire services in Hogansville and would still have to give 90 days notice.

“If we move forward without this thing being inked, there is uncertainty. Where do we get the $400,000 to supplement the city of Hogansville?” Willis said. “Quite frankly, we get it from the two largest tax bases. That’s the city of LaGrange and unincorporated Troup County. If we don’t reach an agreement, there might come a point in time where unincorporated Troup County doesn’t have the money to augment $400,000 for the citizens of Hogansville.”

The notice would be sent Friday and would be rescinded if a SDS agreement is signed.

“What you’re saying is, if this thing holds, Hogansville is going to have to come up with their own fire department,” asked Commissioner Lewis Davis.

Willis said that the city would become responsible for its own fire services. Commission Chairman Patrick Crews noted Hogansville could sign another intergovernmental agreement with another county.

“They have the responsibility to provide fire services of the citizenry of Hogansville,” Willis said. “We have been doing it only because there’s an intergovernmental agreement between unincorporated Troup County and Hogansville to provide it.”

When called after the meeting Thursday, Hogansville Mayor Bill Stankiewicz said he’d already heard about the vote.

“I’m not going to give you my reaction because you couldn’t print it,” Stankiewicz said. “The first thing I’m going to tell them is to move their fire station off my land.”

The City of Hogansville also posted on social media regarding the county’s decision.

“It is very regrettable that they took this action when we wanted to continue the negotiations for SDS as a whole in Troup County, which apparently was not the way the BOC wanted to handle the matter,” the city wrote. “This aggressive action was undoubtedly done as all previous scare tactics were unsuccessful. In short, the county would not have a building for a fire department in the city as the city takes back possession of the land where the station is located. Although the city was hoping this would not happen, we have been exploring all options to address this if the county decided to take their proverbial toys and go home, which has now apparently happened.”