No service delivery solution despite third round of talks

City and county officials have ended a third round of court-appointed mediation without a resolution to a now four-month-long service delivery dispute.

The closed-door meetings held from Monday through Wednesday did not give way to an agreement on services such as police and transportation, with county leaders saying they are still seeking a tax rate that would give a break to people who live in unincorporated areas.

Leaders have battled on the agreement for years on the plan, with city officials hoping for a break for their residents in county taxes, since, in many cities, they pay for police and other services in the form of city taxes.

County officials, though, came up with a millage rate plan where rates would be higher in cities, since people there don't pay insurance premiums and occupation taxes to the county.

"The essence of the issue is how the county will use revenue received solely from residents, property and business owners who live, work and operate their businesses outside of the 15 cities in Gwinnett County," said Gwinnett County Administrator Jock Connell. "The county's position is that these revenues should be used solely to benefit those who pay it - in this case, 80 percent of Gwinnett County's population. The cities oppose this view, but each of the cities in Gwinnett collect similar revenues and use such proceeds to benefit their residents, who make up 20 percent of the county's population. However, the county thinks it is only fair that the people who pay should receive the benefit. I believe it is our obligation to do all that we can to safeguard this fairness on behalf of the large majority of Gwinnett County residents who do not live in a city."

Lawrenceville Mayor Rex Millsaps said city officials offered several concessions during the mediation proceedings, but county officials were not willing to make any.

"They seem to want to risk everything they've got on a judge's decision," he said, adding that city officials will now take those concessions off the table.

He said he is concerned that Gwinnett and its 15 cities could lose their qualified government status, putting state grants and stimulus funds in jeopardy. A judge had ordered those sanctions withheld while mediation proceeded.

"The equitable delivery of services to Gwinnett's 800,000 residents is of chief concern to me and my fellow board members, and we continue to hope for an outcome that serves the best interest of all our citizens. We are now evaluating all available options," Chairman Charles Bannister said in a statement.

Political Notebook appears in the Thursday and Sunday editions of the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Camie Young can be reached via e-mail at camie.young@gwinnettdailypost.com.