The county and Blue Ridge battled it out again in court last Tuesday for their portion of the Local Option Sales Tax (L.O.S.T.)
Every ten years, counties and cities across the state are required to negotiate their share of the revenue from the sales tax. Currently, the county receives 79 percent of the revenue; Blue Ridge, 11.10 percent, and MacCaysville 9.9 percent.
Last week’s battle was one of wits, the county’s rational argument versus Blue Ridge’s mathematical argument. The nearly six hour session began with Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss presenting the county’s case to the court. Here, Doss delivered what she called a rational argument, citing that a larger population resides in the county than in the city. As such, Doss argued the county requires a 77.25 percent cut of the sales tax in order to continue to provide services for county citizens. Doss also pointed out that even residents of the city are citizens of the county. Most important, though, the linchpin of her argument was a possible tax hike via a millage rate increase if the county does not receive its desired percentage.
Blue Ridge attorney David Syfan, however, countered Doss by saying Blue Ridge is the greatest generator of revenue for the county, including tourism. As such, a 21 percent cut for Blue Ridge is necessary. Assessing LOST revenue distribution is based on eight criteria. Syfan went through each criterion in a quest for a quantifiable measurement. In an elaborate presentation, he sought to correlate the industrial and commercial tax digest to revenue, using other counties as comparisons. Doss, though, objected, saying Fannin County does not fit the same mold as the other counties. He noted that in 2005, Blue Ridge experienced a 252 percent increase in its digest, while the county only experienced a 151 percent increase. More recently, though, in 2012 Blue Ridge experienced a 350 percent increase in its digest, while the county experienced a 220 percent increase. Further, Syfan strengthened his argument by arguing that 74 percent of the county’s businesses are located in Blue Ridge, meaning that the city is the largest generator of revenue for the county. Here, though, Judge Stone presiding over the case, pointed out that determining revenue generation (the point o sale criterion) for any particularly part of the county is vexing, lacking accuracy. Following this argument, that Blue Ridge is a significant source of revenue, the city is justified in receiving a higher percentage.
Also, according to the discussion, both sides agreed on an increase for MacCaysville at 10.25 percent. As such, Blue Ridge and the county battled over 89.75 percent of the tax revenue.
So, who deserves how much? This is the million dollar question. Despite the great lengths put forth by Syfan to identify a formula, the state did not provide a cut and dry equation to determine specific percentages allotted to certain entities. The state left the statute ambiguous, leaving room for courtroom battles to brew between governments.
In the afternoon, after hearing both sides of the case, Judge Stone said he would soon render a decision and inform the two attorneys of his judgment.