SMITHVILLE, GA - Lee County leaders are responding to criticism that Smithville is becoming more dangerous after losing some sales tax revenue. City leaders say they haven't been able to afford police protection for a while.
The police department was a victim when Smithville's allocation of sales tax revenue was cut in 2012. With a declining tax base and population, it may not be possible to get the department back.
Folks driving by the police department in Smithville, may not even realize it's closed. Other than overgrown weeds on the sidewalk, it looks like a working facility, but it's not. The city disbanded the police department in 2013 to save money for other priorities.
"I think we all agree that they've got to have a water system, they've got to have a sewer system, and they've got to somehow make sure their right of ways are clean," said city attorney Tommy Coleman.
The city's financial problems started when its portion of local option sales tax revenue from Lee County dropped from 11% to 6% in 2012. That cost Smithville about $200,000 a year, but county manager Ron Rabun said it was a smart decision when you look at the town's population.
"They're actually getting 6% of the LOST revenue so they're getting 3 times their size of population in revenue," said Rabun.
But Tommy Coleman argues that money taken from Smithville is still being used on public safety, as more sheriff's deputies patrol the area.
"It doesn't really make much sense for the county to have cut that much out of their budget because somebody has got to provide that service and now the sheriff is having to do it," said Coleman.
"We did not fund the sheriff two additional deputies last year and cars because Smithville went out of business," said Rabun.
Instead, Rabun says those deputies patrol both the north and south ends of the growing county.
Only time will tell if Smithville police officers will help them again.
Rabun said they will listen to anything the Sheriff or city of Smithville has to say, but right now, the county commission is not in favor of funding a police department.