Chatham cities, county agree on $630 million tax split - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Chatham cities, county agree on $630 million tax split


It's like the Rolling Stones said -- you can't always get what you want. When it comes to Local Option Sales Tax negotiations, did city and county governments get what they need to keep government running without raising taxes?

After more than two days of hearings in superior court, city and county governments agreed Wednesday on how to divide more than $630 million in LOST over the next decade.

City and county leaders both have said that residents' tax bills next year depend on how these negotiations shook out. If the county won, taxes in some of the cities were expected to go up. But if the cities won, a county tax hike was probably in store. Wednesday, no one was ready to make that call.

"We will have to assess where we are and what we will have to do," Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson said.

County Commission Chairman Al Scott said a tax hike is "the furthest thing from my mind."

But if taxes aren't going up, how does the county plan to pay to run the newly renovated and expanded Chatham County jail? The cost to run the jail starts at $5.28 million a year.

That's why the county was looking for a bigger slice of the sales tax pie. And it's part of the reason a superior court judge urged the sides to compromise.

"I'm not thrilled about the compromise," Scott said. "But it was obvious from day one the judge felt the county's position was too high and the city's position was too low."

The county was angling to get 33 percent of the LOST dollars. The cities thought the county should get 19 percent. They settled on 22 percent -- starting April 1. And the county will gain another percentage point next year and keep it through the rest of the agreement.

Compare that to how the taxes are split today.

The county has been getting 18 percent, the city of Savannah 67 percent. Pooler and the other small cities split the rest.

The new split is one both sides say they can live with.

"It's not going to be perfect in any way," Jackson said. "But when you can get a group of elected officials to sit down and work out an agreement, it speaks volumes for the kinds of people who are elected in this community."

The agreement has to be voted on by the full city council and county commission before it can take effect. That could happen by the end of the week.

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