Ringgold, Ga., wins $1 million in local option sales tax negotiation

Ringgold, Ga., wins $1 million in local option sales tax negotiation

January 13th, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

The local government in Ringgold, Ga., will get an extra $1 million in sales tax revenue.

During a special called meeting Friday morning, Catoosa County Commission Chairman Steve Henry asked his group and the Fort Oglethorpe local government to each give $500,000 to Ringgold. The money is budgeted to come from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, a 1 percent burden at the cash register. The tax takes effect next year if voters approve a referendum.

The county projects the fund will bring in $60 million over five years, which it is supposed to split with Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe. The county commission decides how all the money gets spent but wants the city councils on board to persuade voters.

Originally, the county budgeted the money based on population. The county would get $39 million, Fort Oglethorpe would get $13.5 million and Ringgold would get $7.5 million.

But Ringgold's city council members said they wanted more money. Councilman Randall Franks said much of the SPLOST money pays for sewer lines, and the city is responsible for 80 percent of the county.

"It's the county's money," he said. "It's county projects. We're basically your sewer department, in essence delivering sewer to your residents."

But Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Earl Gray said area is not as important as population. Ringgold boasts 3,600 residents; Fort Oglethorpe has 9,500. The city has to hook up each home to the sewer line. Both cities also are able to bill those customers.

"It's not about districts," Gray said. "It's about the people."

Ultimately, Gray said he would give up $500,000 of the city's SPLOST money, putting Fort Oglethorpe's projected funding at $13 million over five years. Catoosa County commissioners said the deal would also work for them. They plan to take $500,000 away from the Economic Development Authority, which planned to use the money to attract businesses.

The commissioners could not actually vote Friday. But in addition to Henry, Jeff Long and Jim Cutler said they were on board, securing a majority for a meeting in early February. Commissioners Bobby Winters and Ray Johnson opposed the deal. The county hopes to put the SPLOST referendum on the May 22 primary ballots.

Ringgold proposed four sewer projects with SPLOST money: one running down Alabama Highway, one in the Peavine Basin, one in Battlefield Estates, and one that covers Scenic Hills, Edgemon Hills and Fox Den.

After Friday's meeting, Franks said the city can afford three of those projects. They will decide which one to cut by Tuesday.

Fort Oglethorpe plans to spend $6 million on the West Chickamauga Creek Sewer Basin, as well as another $8.1 million on city operations, like new patrol cars and road paving. City officials will have to cut about $1 million off that project.

Gray said the city should get more money because it brings in about 80 percent of the county's sales tax. Winters scoffed at Gray's statement. Gray later told the Times Free Press he doesn't have a source for this figure, but his estimate is common sense: Fort Oglethorpe has Costco, Cabela's, Lowe's, Wal-Mart and plenty of other retail businesses on Battlefield Parkway.

On the county's side, Winters and Johnson both criticized the arrangement. Winters believes Ringgold should get more money. Johnson pointed out that the county already cut $3 million from its SPLOST budget during a Tuesday meeting. That money would have provided paved roads and lights to a soccer field.

"We're grownups, too," Johnson said, waving his arms in the air. "If we're unhappy with it, let's stand up and say we're unhappy."

Franks said all three governments need to come up with a clearer policy for how to divide SPLOST money. Henry agreed. He blamed the cities.

In July, the county hosted Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold for a meeting at which the city managers pitched SPLOST projects. Henry said he asked the cities to host a follow-up meeting back then, but nobody seized the torch. The next meeting turned out to be Friday, about a month before the county wants to finish the SPLOST budget.

"Years in the past it's been this city vs. this city," Henry said. "That's bull. We're all Catoosa. We need to pull together. If one city benefits, we all benefit."

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