Chickamauga supports excise tax, reworks charter

Chickamauga supports excise tax, reworks charter

January 16th, 2013 by Mike O'Neal in Local Regional News

Chickamauga's city charter will soon have its first complete rewrite since it was adopted in 1913.

Last week the City Council decided to hold a Monday work session to review a draft version of the new charter.

The city's form of government will be unchanged; the charter's wording will merely be clarified and written to conform to contemporary standards.

Once revisions are complete and a final draft is prepared, the City Council will forward the new charter to the local legislative delegation. They in turn will ask the state legislative counsel to put the charter into a form that can be approved by a vote by this year's legislative session.

Unrelated to the charter change, actions of the 2012 state Legislature could result in a potentially costly change in taxation.

In an effort to make Georgia more competitive with neighboring states in attracting new or expanding businesses, it was decided last year that sales taxes, both state and local, will be waived on the sale of energy used in the manufacturing or processing of goods.

This reduction of taxes - the 4 percent state tax and Walker County's two 1 percent local option taxes - will be phased in over the next four years.

While not paying tax on energy might attract business and grow the tax base in the future, short-term losses are an unknown and could force higher taxes, cutbacks on public services, or both.

Local option sales taxes allow cities and counties to defray increasing property taxes by shifting taxation onto retail sales.

While a city such as Lookout Mountain, which has no industry, will lose little, if anything, Chickamauga residents pay no city property taxes because of the taxes collected from its three main manufacturers: Synthetic Industries, Burtco and Crystal Springs Dye Works.

Anticipating the amount of lost sales tax collections poses significant problems. Industrial customers apply directly to the state's Department of Revenue for the exemption, with decisions being made on a case by case basis.

How many businesses apply for exemption, how many have their requests granted and how much all that will amount to are unknowable in advance.

To help offset revenue lost to the decline in sales tax revenue, the law allows counties to impose an energy excise tax equal to the percentage of sales tax revenue lost. The idea is that local revenue will not decline, that the amount paid in excise tax will counter the amount lost to the noncollection of sales tax.

Regardless of what happens with county taxes, manufacturers will receive the entire 4 percent reduction of state sales taxes.

If the excise tax is not imposed at the start of the four-year phase-in of the energy tax exemption, it cannot be instituted at a later time. Once imposed, the excise tax can stay constant, increase to a 2 percent maximum or be eliminated entirely any time after its first year.

That is why Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell has decided to adopt the one-half percent excise tax, at least for the time being. Doing so means the county loses no revenue on sales of energy and will actually be able to audit energy usage by each business that applies for the exemption.

While the county will impose the excise tax, cities will only get a proportional share if their City Council agrees to its imposition; otherwise, the county keeps their share of proceeds.

The Chickamauga City Council was unanimous in approving ratification of an intergovernmental agreement with the county, an agreement that specifies how the excise tax proceeds will be distributed.

The issue of taxes and their distribution is one that will remain unsettled for the foreseeable future, and not only with regards to taxes on energy.

The county and its cities have not agreed on how the local option sales tax, LOST, or the special purpose local option sales tax, SPLOST, revenue will be divvied up between the county and its four cities.

Direct negotiations and mediation failed to yield an arrangement agreeable to all parties. Chickamauga was the only city willing to continue the 80/20 split now in place - LaFayette, Lookout Mountain and Rossville wanted the county share lowered to 55 percent and rejected the county's offer of a 75/25 division.

The matter will now be decided in Superior Court, where a judge will choose one or the other proposal, although an out-of-court settlement is still a possibility.