In March 2015, The City of Bainbridge and Decatur County governments reached an agreement on service delivery after two days of court-ordered mediation at the County Courthouse.
The agreement was ratified by the Bainbridge City Council by a 6-0 unanimous vote. In a separate agreement was ratified by the Decatur County Board of Commissioners by a 5-1 vote. Commissioner George Anderson voted no, citing concerns that the service delivery agreement would lead to higher property taxes that would hurt lower-income taxpayers.
View updated Bainbridge-Decatur County Service Delivery Strategy
Unless the Decatur County Board of Commissioners makes substantial budget cuts, the county government may have to raise its millage rate, which is used in a formula to calculate property tax, by 4.5 mills.
Property owners in the City of Bainbridge would be impacted along with unincorporated landowners when it comes to a 1.5 mill increase for recreation, and the potential for up to a 2-mill increase to cover any deficiency in Memorial Hospital’s Indigent Care Fund.
Taxpayers located outside of Bainbridge City limits would also be impacted by a $125,000 annual payment that Decatur County has to give to Bainbridge for maintenance of county roads that run through city limits. There is also the potential for a property tax increase for unincorporated residents to help the county government pay for certain services that are now classified as “primarily benefiting the residents of unincorporated Decatur County.” Those services include the County Prison, County Fire and Rescue, the Decatur County Landfill, County Animal Control and the county’s Planning and Building Department.
Decatur County commissioners have privately said they are looking for ways to trim the county’s budget in an effort to avoid a large millage rate increase. Publicly, commissioners have given their support for the outcome of the service delivery agreement. Here’s what they had to say on Tuesday, March 24:
There has been some who disagree with the service delivery agreement, citing a belief that the City of Bainbridge benefits the most from the agreement. The City of Bainbridge agreed to give future consideration of resuming their usage of the Decatur County Jail and the Decatur County Landfill. The agreement essentially says Bainbridge would only use the jail and landfill if Decatur County gave the City of Bainbridge the lowest usage costs it quotes to other customers.
Former Decatur County Commissioner Oliver Sellers addresses current Decatur County Commissioners during the public participation part of their meeting on March 24, 2015. Sellers’ comments were critical of the Service Delivery Agreement made between the City of Bainbridge and Decatur County.
Bainbridge City Council comments on service delivery agreement
Here are some of the City Council’s comments that they gave after their meeting on March 12:
Councilman Phil Long: “I commend the county commissioners…we all worked hard to get this to come together. We will move forward hopefully, but there’s still a lot to do to improve the quality of life in Bainbridge and Decatur County.”
Councilwoman Roslyn Palmer: “I’m happy for the whole county. We made an effort to be peaceful. I’m happy for the chance we had to negotiate [the service delivery agreement] and now it’s time to begin anew.”
Councilman Luther Conyers: “I’m satisfied with the outcome [of the service delivery negotiations] and I think the citizens of Bainbridge will agree. The committees of elected officials involved in the negotiations did a good job of putting together each individual exhibit of the agreement and outlining which services needed a new source of funding.”
Mayor Edward Reynolds: “There’s no doubt we’re happy with the outcome of negotiations. This is what we’ve been asking for since this process began, for the chance to go back and look at how the cost of these services was borne by both county and city taxpayers. After reaching an agreement, we now have a better idea of what to do with controlling our budget.
“I feel confident that they are going to do what they said they would do,” the Mayor said, referring to county commissioners. “Both sides should now look to move forward. They had full confidence in the way they voted, as did we. This is a new beginning for us.”
How the mediation process worked
Mayor Reynolds explained to us how the mediation process worked. On the Monday that negotiations began, an initial meeting was held with all members of the Bainbridge City Council, the mayor and all of the Decatur County commissioners present. Also present were City Manager Chris Hobby, Decatur County Administrator Gary Breedlove, multiple lawyers for both sides, and the mediator, attorney Will Sanders of Thomasville.
However, after that initial orientation meeting, the two groups met in separate rooms in the courthouse, and only certain elected officials who had been appointed to participate in negotiations remained.
“We met in separate rooms for most of the two-day mediation, but we would occasionally meet up in small groups,” Mayor Reynolds said. “For example, myself and [County Commission Chairman] Dennis Brinson met together a couple of times to discuss particular issues.”
At other times, particularly as the end of negotiations neared, the full elected bodies would return to hear advice from their lawyers. While none of the participants have commented on what was said in mediations, Decatur County Commissioner Butch Mosely alluded to something the county’s lawyers had told commissioners. He essentially said they received advice that if they didn’t reach an agreement on service delivery, the City of Bainbridge might file another lawsuit against the county, which would incur an estimated $500,000 in legal expenses for the county, regardless of what the outcome was.