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County, cities headed to mediation over lawsuit

Richmond Hill and Bryan County have agreed to go into mediation as the two governments try to end a stalemate over service delivery strategy negotiations.

The two sides, along with Pembroke, will meet in April with mediator Susan Cox, a Statesboro attorney. 

Cox was assigned the case Monday by Senior Judge John Turner from the Ogeechee Judicial District, who is presiding over a lawsuit filed in August by Richmond Hill. 

The city is suing the county over its recent millage rate increase for city residents while claiming that residents are being taxed for services they don’t receive.

Bryan County officials dispute the claim, and others – including Richmond Hill’s assertion the county illegally collected more than $12 million from 2010 to 2017 and used the money to inflate its reserves.

Also Monday, Turner issued an order temporarily suspending sanctions against the three governments while mediation takes place.

Those sanctions, which could cost local governments hundreds of thousands of dollars in state grants, were automatically imposed March 1 by the state Department of Community Affairs after Richmond Hill didn’t vote to extend the current Service Delivery Strategy between the three governments.

 Both Pembroke city council and the Bryan County Commission voted in February to extend the current agreement, which covers what services are delivered to residents by which government body.

The current agreement has been extended since 2013 and was up for renewal in the summer of 2018, but discussions between Richmond Hill and Bryan County broke down, with both side accusing the other of failing to negotiate.

 If mediation fails the three governments will wind up back in court.

Related coverage: 

City files suit against county over tax increase, SDS agreement

County responds to RH lawsuit, says still open to negotiation

County votes on tax "equalization," Richmond Hill says it will file suit

County, cities may be headed to mediation over service delivery strategy

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