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Rome city officials talk up sales tax issues at GMA conference, hear about state of Georgia's cities

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Georgia Municipal Association

State tax laws were a hot topic for some of Rome’s city commissioners at this year’s Georgia Municipal Association annual conference.

Commissioners and administrative staff attended the event in Savannah during the last weekend of June. They attended classes on local government procedures and issues, as well as participated in sessions focused on specific areas.

“It’s always a very beneficial trip,” City Commissioner Evie McNiece said. “It’s always a time to learn something new and network with other cities. We talk about what we have in common as far as problems, or any ideas that we can bring back with us.”

McNiece is on the GMA Legislative Policy Committee and leads the group’s revenue and finance subcommittee.

The LPC met at the conference to set GMA’s priorities for the 2016 General Assembly session. McNiece said many of the goals they set have to do with the collection of sales taxes.

“We want transparency on the part of the Department of Revenue,” she said. “Cities still want answers on the formula of sales tax distribution the state uses and the data that they use.”

The Full Accountability in the Collection of Taxes Act would give local governments access to sales tax data. The bill has been introduced before but has failed to pass.

McNiece said Rome and Floyd County’s recent sales tax refund settlement ordered by the DOR is a prime example of why the act is needed.

Local officials were notified last week that they will have to repay nearly $4.5 million a local company overpaid due to an accounting error over the span of eight years.

Commissioner Buzz Wachsteter spent some of his time at the conference learning about the new excise tax levied on motor fuel sales.

The Transportation Funding Act of 2015 that went into effect last week puts a levy of 26 cents per gallon on gas, instead of the state’s 4-percent sales tax.

Supporters say it will bring in more than $800 million to improve Georgia’s aging transportation infrastructure.

“I think, for the most part, everybody has a wait-and-see attitude about it,” Wachsteter said. “It started off horribly, but it evolved into something that is, at best, OK.”

Originally, the bill would have exempted gas sales from local option sales tax. That was changed in later versions, including the one that passed the General Assembly and was signed by Gov. Nathan Deal.

“I still feel they are hanging their hat on a diminishing resource,” Wachsteter said. “With the number of hybrids that are out there, less gasoline is being sold and we need to look to other ways to fund transportation.”

Wachsteter said he also sat in on policy committees dealing with public safety — including the growing trend of having officers wear body cameras while they are on duty.

“I heard from communities who have purchased them and how the market is changing,” Wachsteter said. “A lot of communities don’t realize the cameras themselves are cheap, but the storage for the data collected until end of time is very expensive.”

Rome Police Chief Elaine Snow has indicated her department will have the devices for all officers possibly by the end of this year.

She said a company is willing to make a donation toward the purchase of the system, but that the complete system will cost more than $100,000.

The Floyd County Sheriff’s Office and Floyd County Police Department are already trying out the cameras.