Negotiating Service Delivery Strategies

May 29, 2017

Amy Henderson:; Cell: 404-387-0624, Twitter: @amyh_gma
Kelli Bennett:; Cell: 404-796-5508, Twitter: @KelliB_GMA
GMA on Twitter: @gacities
GMA is hosting several regional workshops for city officials on Service Delivery Strategy. If you’ve been covering city or county government for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard of SDS. If not, you’re going to be hearing a lot about it soon.

There’s some history here. Basically, in the 1970s, the state constitution was amended to allow counties to provide the same services as cities. As a result, some counties, mainly in the metro Atlanta area, went into the water business. Others started their own police departments (which has since been disallowed). Over time, cities and counties were providing many of the same services and duplicating efforts. As a result, the legislature in 1997 passed a bill requiring cities and counties to reach agreement on who provides what services and who is going to pay for it so taxpayers aren’t paying twice for the same service or paying for a service they don’t receive.

According to the law, counties are required to create special tax districts where only unincorporated residents are receiving a service. An example of this would be a county fire department where they don’t fight fires in the city. In that case, a special fire tax district should be created so only residents in the unincorporated areas are paying for county fire services. It’s important to note that since the SDS law was passed in 1997, the Georgia courts have found that the operations of Constitutional officers – Sheriffs, Court Clerks, Tax Assessors, etc. – are not part of SDS as they provide a service to the entire county.

Deciding on who provides what services is usually not that difficult; it’s the paying part that causes angst. Here is GMA’s take on SDS; you can see ACCG’s perspective here. You’ll note there are substantial differences of opinion.

The negotiations can lead to ill will and, as the Sunshine Project notes, big legal bills. Also, without an SDS agreement, cities and counties stand to lose out on state grants. But even with what’s a stake, the process allows city and county leaders to put great thought into how services are being funded and if the tax burden is fair to the end user. Even if negotiations get tense at times, it’s to the benefit of the taxpayers that both sides fairly and sincerely address the issue and not strike an agreement for the sake “of getting along.”


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