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Locals take aim at sales tax drain
• Rome and Floyd County commissioners want the state legislature to give local jurisdictions help with collecting the revenue.

Rhonda Wallace

Rome and Floyd County officials are asking state lawmakers to look into ways to stem the loss of sales tax revenue in local jurisdictions.

"I know we're losing money somewhere," County Manager Jamie McCord said. County Commission Chair Rhonda Wallace noted that expected bumps haven't materialized from big events such as the recent air show and tournaments at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College

."We didn't have a sales tax holiday this year, and our collections were down that month," Assistant County Manager Gary Burkhalter added.

The problem is threefold, according to the Association County Commissioners of Georgia: internet sales, sales tax exemptions and the state Revenue Department's sole control over the distribution.

County and city commissioners asked for help in the 2018 Georgia General Assembly session during meetings last week with Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, and Reps. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, and Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee.

Two bills that passed the House and are awaiting Senate action would require out-of-state vendors to collect tax on the items they sell in Georgia, and require the DOR to provide more specific information to local governments.

Hufstetler also is chairing a study committee examining every tax exemption allowed by law to determine if they are cost-effective.

Internet sales, however, may remain a sticking point.

At the City Commission's session, Joel Wiggins of the Georgia Municipal Association said local brick-and-mortar businesses also are losing sales to online retailers that are not collecting sales tax.

"It's a question of marketplace fairness," Wiggins said, adding that "It is a shame that someone who won't put a building up in Georgia, we give them a 7-percent break on taxes."

Hufstetler said the Legislature's ability to address that problem is limited, since regulation of internet sales is a federal issue.

South Dakota lawmakers passed legislation last year requiring online retailers that sell more than $100,000 worth of merchandise in the state to collect sales tax. However, their state Supreme Court threw out the law in September and the case is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Drew Ferguson, a field representative for U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, promised to look into the status of any pending legislation in Congress.

Ferguson said he could see both sides of the coin: While sales tax is "an infusion to communities," he said, the responsibility to collect and distribute it to the appropriate jurisdiction "is a barrier to burgeoning internet commerce."

Hufstetler noted that state law already requires Georgians to pay their own sales tax to the state if business doesn't collect it. However, he acknowledged that the payments rarely happen.


Surprise party honors Guthrie
Celebrating 60 years of service

Singing, clapping, laughter and praise filled the air for a special occasion at Greater Christ Temple Rapture Preparation Cathedral — a surprise celebration of Bishop Nealon Guthrie's 60 years of service.

More than 50 well-wishers gathered Sunday afternoon at the church, built in 1987 under Guthrie's leadership at 1321 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Pastor Sandra Russell made the trip up from Atlanta with several elders of her New Jubilee Harvest Church.

"We had to come and be a part of this," a smiling Russell said.

Sister Elaine Owens arranged for a limousine to bring the 90-year-old to the festivities, telling him it was a fundraiser to help her with medical expenses. She spoke of his decades of commitment to the congregation, beginning with his arrival in Rome in 1957.

"The Bible says give double to the shepherds who watch over you," she told the crowd before Guthrie was brought in and led down a red-carpeted aisle as the choir sang.

Rome City Commissioner Milton Slack was among the speakers who praised Guthrie's life of example and mentorship, presenting a proclamation honoring the clergyman's contributions to the community.

Greater Christ Temple RPC had just 12 members when Guthrie, a native of Indianapolis, Indiana, moved to Rome.

The congregation at the little church on Flannery Street grew steadily over the years. Guthrie notes with pride that their move to the larger space on MLK Boulevard reclaimed the site of the notorious Peggy's brothel as hallowed ground.

Guthrie retired in 2015 as bishop of the 30th Episcopal District of the State of Georgia, but remains active as a spiritual leader in Rome. He was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement and Chosen Pastor award at the 2015 Gospel Choice Awards.


TODAY'S YOUNG ARTIST

Today's artwork is by East Central Elementary School fourth-grader Reagan Orr.


ACC to review food-to-drink ratio
• Rome regulations effectively limit mixed drink sales to restaurants.

Joe Smith

Rome venues that sell mixed drinks are required to sell at least as much food as they do liquor — a standard that's hard to meet at nightclubs and other entertainment outlets.

The Alcohol Control Commission is slated to start a discussion tonight about possibly recommending a change.

City Clerk Joe Smith has pulled together several options, based on what's been done in surrounding communities. For example, a Cartersville ordinance allows the Old Havana Cigar bar in that city to count tobacco-product sales toward the ratio.

Made up of three elected city commissioners and three appointed citizens, the ACC has spent the year examining the city's alcohol regulations with an eye to encouraging new business.

The board's recommendation to lower permit fees — and to create categories tailored for microbreweries and paint-and-sip parties — was adopted by the Rome City Commission earlier this month. Its recommendation to establish an open container district downtown was rejected.

City commissioners eliminated the 50/50 food-drink ratio for beer and wine sales several years ago. They also talked with local legislators last week about a state law requiring a 50/50 ratio for any establishment that sells beer, wine or mixed drinks on Sunday.

"We'd like to see state law changed to let that be a local decision," Smith said.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said there are opposing views on the issue, but he thinks a possible solution will be presented during the Georgia General Assembly session that starts in January.

It's a fine line, said Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome. On one hand, the ratio is challenging for small venues, she said. On the other hand, there's concern about the proliferation of bars. "In all honesty, that's how we got Sunday sales passed," she said about the ratio.

The ACC is set to look at scenarios tonight for venues that don't sell alcohol on Sundays.

The first two options are to leave the 50/50 rule intact, or to completely eliminate the restaurant requirement at places that sell mixed drinks.

Other possibilities range from lowering the ratio to setting new standards for venues that don't have to meet the ratio.

Also on the ACC's agenda is the issuance of a new beer and wine package sales license at Fred's, 1916 Redmond Circle.

The meeting will start tonight at 6 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall, 601 Broad St., and is open to the public.


FCS wants to maximize funding for new school
• Removing the current Pepperell Middle classrooms from the system's inventory would boost state help for a new building, according to David Van Hook.

John Jackson

To maximize state funding for the construction of a new Pepperell Middle, Floyd County Schools is looking to initiate a phase out of the current school property along with removing classrooms from the system's classroom inventory of its middle schools, according to Director of Facilities David Van Hook.

Building a new Pepperell Middle is expected to cost around $20 million, and the project will receive funding from an extension of the 1-cent education local option sales tax voters approved Nov. 7. The system is eligible to receive about $10 million in state capital outlay funding, which reimburses the system, for its ELOST package, Van Hook said. This funding is how the state participates in construction projects by school systems.

Every year the system submits a local facilities plan to the state. Since the system will be building a new school, it can begin a phase out of the current school property, essentially beginning a process of telling the state the school will be replaced, Van Hook explained. It informs the state of the system's intention to not ask for any funding for the current school ever again. This means the system will get a greater reimbursement as it builds the new school.

Also folded into the phase out is taking Pepperell Middle classrooms off the middle school inventory. This drops the class room numbers, which the state looks at for its funding calculation, to a deficient level, subsequently boosting the need for capital outlay funding, Van Hook said. Superintendent John Jackson said state funding is driven by need for classroom space, and generating additional need could possibly add a million a year in state capital outlay funds.

Removing availability for funding for the current school puts the system in a position to then receive funding for building some of the new school, Van Hook said. Ultimately, the board has to make this decision to maximize state funding through this process or to just go ahead and move forward in building the school, Jackson said.

System officials are still working to finalize the site for the new school, and a number of options remain on the table. The biggest thing right now, Jackson said, is the completion of geotechnical studies to ensure a chosen site is fit for a new school.

Possibilities for locations are tearing down the current school at 200 Hughes Dairy Road and building a new one in its place — Van Hook previously said this brings into question where students will go during the build — or putting it on over 16 acres of land adjacent to Pepperell High. Other potential sites are building it adjacent to the current school or in an area near Pepperell Elementary — the schools are less than 0.2 miles apart.