published Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Walker County. Ga., on cusp of sales tax-sharing deal

County and city officials in Walker County, Ga., are on the cusp of approving an agreement to share some $50 million worth of sales tax revenue over the next decade.

After more than a year's worth of negotiations, the two sides have tentatively decided to phase in a larger cut for the cities of local option sales tax revenues, a levy of 1 cent per $1 in sales.

The county now keeps 80 percent of local option sales tax revenue, leaving 20 percent to be divided among LaFayette, Chickamauga, Rossville, Lookout Mountain and the sliver of Fort Oglethorpe that's in Walker County.

Under the tentative agreement, the county's share will shrink to 70 percent over the next four years and the cities' portion will grow to 30 percent, county attorney Don Oliver said.

"We were able to cooperate to reach an amiable agreement," he said.

The Chickamauga City Council still has to approve the split, Oliver said, which it's expected to do Thursday night.

The LaFayette City Council at its meeting Monday night gave its blessing to the plan.

"It'll help out over the long run," Mayor Neal Florence said Tuesday.

LaFayette, which is Walker County's seat and largest city with about 7,000 people, took the lead in renegotiating the local option sales tax for Rossville and Lookout Mountain. All three cities' officials wanted the county to give up some of its 80 percent share.

Chickamauga officials sided with the county and said they were OK with the 80-20 split. Officials in Fort Oglethorpe, which is home to fewer than 1 percent of Walker County's residents, said they were willing to go along with whatever split was approved.

If the cities and county didn't reach an agreement, the matter would have gone to "baseball-style" arbitration in which each side would have made a proposal, and Senior Judge G. Grant Bradley of Cobb County would have picked one proposal or the other -- not a combination of the two.

The two sides took a final stab at mediation on July 18, when Norman S. Fletcher, a former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court who served for years as the attorney for both LaFayette and Walker County, came to LaFayette to lead a closed-door mediation session.

"I think he did help," Oliver said.

Florence said, "Judge Fletcher did a great job. But we didn't reach a decision while he was there."

More details about the tentative agreement will become public, Oliver said, after Chickamauga approves it.

Meanwhile, city and county officials in Catoosa County haven't been able to reach an agreement to split local option sales tax and are due to have a baseball-style arbitration hearing on Oct. 4, according to Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Lynn Long.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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