Catoosa County, Ringgold, Ga., at odds over sales tax

Catoosa County, Ringgold, Ga., at odds over sales tax

January 12th, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Ringgold, Ga., and Fort Oglethorpe city officials will make their pitches for $21 million today.

The two cities and Catoosa County commissioners will hold a special called meeting at 10 a.m. to discuss the upcoming Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which county administrators believe will bring in $60 million over five years. Of that money, the county is laying claim to $39 million.

And what of the rest of the money? At Tuesday's meeting, County Manager Jim Walker thought everybody was in agreement: Fort Oglethorpe would take $13.5 million, and Ringgold would take $7.5 million.

But after the meeting, Ringgold City Manager Dan Wright said his city council might not be happy with the arrangement. The Catoosa County Commission agreed to bring everybody back to the table. They hope to have a final plan for SPLOST spending by Tuesday.

Catoosa County Manager Jim Walker

Catoosa County Manager Jim Walker

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Ringgold City Manager Dan Wright speaks during a work session Monday, July 31, 2017, at the Catoosa County Colonnade in Ringgold, Ga. The Catoosa County Commission, Ringgold City Council and Fort Oglethorpe City Council held an Intergovernmental Work Session to discuss how to divide sales tax revenue, the state of the county jail and more.

Ringgold City Manager Dan Wright speaks during a...

Photo by Erin O. Smith

Ringgold Councilwoman Sara Clark and Mayor Nick Millwood talk during a work session Monday, July 31, 2017, at the Catoosa County Colonnade in Ringgold, Ga. The Catoosa County Commission, Ringgold City Council and Fort Oglethorpe City Council held an Intergovernmental Work Session to discuss how to divide sales tax revenue, the state of the county jail and more.

Ringgold Councilwoman Sara Clark and Mayor Nick Millwood...

Photo by Erin O. Smith

"What we want is to be is fair with both cities," County Commissioner Jim Cutler said in an interview Thursday.

But what is fair, exactly? Cutler declined to answer. He and the four other county commissioners should come up with a solution today, for better or worse.

SPLOST is a 1-percent sales tax that voters in the county must approve every five years. Before the election, the county and the city have to create a budget of how they will spend the extra money. Catoosa County, Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe have signed intergovernmental agreements in the past, explaining how much money each group will get.

Without an agreement, County Attorney Chad Young said, the county and cities would automatically distribute the money based on population. In this case, Catoosa County would take in 70 percent, Fort Oglethorpe would take in 20 percent and Ringgold would get the other 10 percent.

Walker, who was not county manager before the last SPLOST in 2013, used that 70-20-10 split as the basis for building this cycle's budget. That is the sticking point for Ringgold.

City Councilman Randall Franks said the county used to look at each individual project and determine which ones were most important for the region.

Councilwoman Sara Clark said using only populations is unfair. With 3,600 people, Ringgold's population is about one-third that of Fort Oglethorpe's. However, the city's area covers about 80 percent of the county's sewer lines, Councilman Larry Black said. Sewage projects account for much of the spending with SPLOST revenue.

"We are trying to be reasonable in how far the money will take us," Clark said during a special called meeting Thursday night. "It makes sense. We're not trying to eat the whole pie."

"Goodness no," Ringgold Mayor Nick Millwood said. "We're not overreaching."

The council members are aiming to increase their funding by at least $1 million. The city plans to build sewers from Highway 151 to South Little Chickamauga Creek, from the Peavine Basin to Heritage high and middle schools, in Battlefield Parkway Estates, in Scenic Hills, in Edgemon Highlands and in Fox Den.

Before Tuesday's meeting, the county budgeted to take in $42 million of the total, with the cities splitting the other $18 million. But led by Commissioner Jeff Long, the county cut about $3 million from the proposed spending: $2.2 million less for road paving and $800,000 less for lighting and a concession stand at a new soccer field coming into the Graysville community.

Long also works for the city of Fort Oglethorpe, and County Commissioner Bobby Winters took objection to his dual roles after the meeting.

"He needs to abstain on some of this stuff," Winters told the Times Free Press in an interview. "He's working for the city and being a county commissioner, too. It's kind of strange."

Long did not return a call or a text message from a reporter Thursday afternoon.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter@LetsJett.