While in court, the City of Thomaston raised concerns in regards to the motion for declaratory judgment and injunction relief under the Service Delivery Strategy Act. The concerns were weather Thomaston residents have to pay for law enforcement services that the Sheriff’s Department was not providing.
Unfortunately for the city, on August 24 Senior Superior Court Judge Stephen E. Boswell denied the city’s motion, he ruled that the sheriff was independent from the county according to the Constitution of the State of Georgia. The sheriff is an elected constitutional officer and not an employee of the county commission, therefore he is subject to charge of the General Assembly, stated the Supreme Court of Georgia. According to the state law, the sheriff is responsible for keeping the peace within the county, including the unincorporated portions of Upson County and incorporated areas like Thomaston and Yatesville.
The issue raised by the city was the Sheriff’s Department being funded through the general fund of Upson County, which is supported by Thomaston taxpayers. The city’s residents are in favor of the sheriff’s department being funded through the Service Delivery Strategy Act. Under the act, the unincorporated county is set up as a special taxing district and the city as a special taxing district. As a result the city’s residents will not have to pay for portions of the Sheriff’s Departments’ duties that are not provided to city residents.
Looking at an illustration of the city’s claims, in the last fiscal year, the Sheriff’s Department budget that was allocated to the Narcotics Task Force, patrol and investigations was approximately $1,436,152.25. Based on the 35.66 percent that city residents contributed to joint projects in 2014. The city’s portion to that was $512,131.
According to Andrew Pippen, Criminal Investigations Division Commander for the Thomaston Police Department, from 2012 to 2014 the Upson County Sheriff’s Department only did one investigation within the City of Thomaston. In addition, the city also indicated that in a deposition of Sheriff Kilgore, he acknowledged that it was difficult to police the city with his existing budget.
The city residents feel that they should not contribute the $512,131 to the Sheriff’s Department through taxes paid into the county’s general fund because Thomaston has its own police force responsible for investigations and patrol, and has its own Narcotics Task Force.
Moreover, since Georgia Code states that the county cannot use its general funds to pay for services offered essentially for the benefit of unincorporated areas, the city residents were in favor of the funding for the Sheriff’s Department to be handled through the Service Delivery Strategy Act, which necessitates the county and the city to set up special taxing districts. The benefits being that the county will be in a position to collect part of the Sheriff’s Department budget through the taxing district set up in the unincorporated portion of the county.
However, while ruling on the case Judge Boswell used a 2005 opinion given by then-Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker, he also referred to the Georgia Constitution; as a result the ruling was not in favor of the City of Thomaston residents. Nevertheless, Thomaston City Attorney Joel Bentley was not impressed with the ruling and has indicated that the city is planning to appeal Judge Bosworth’s decision.