Merger would ease conflicts, Dalton panel told

Merger would ease conflicts, Dalton panel told

December 8th, 2011 by Mariann Martin in News

Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb

Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

DALTON, Ga. - A merger of city and county governments would solve many of the problems facing Dalton and Whitfield County, leaders told the charter commission on Wednesday afternoon.

County Commission Chairman Mike Babb and Dalton Mayor David Pennington spoke about how consolidation would affect residents.

The commission's consolidation study could lead to a voter referendum in November 2012.

"It is time for us to get ahead of the curve, and we can do this much better as a unified government than we can do it separately," Pennington said. "If you look around our county, we are not a rural county anymore."

Whitfield County faces a budget shortfall of nearly $4 million for next year and expects to raise property taxes to plug the gap. Dalton is on much firmer financial footing, cutting property taxes and increasing its reserve fund in the last few years.

The city and county will renegotiate their local option sales tax agreement next year. The city plans to ask for more money, which will put more pressure on the already struggling county.

Under the agreement negotiated in 2002, Dalton receives nearly 15 percent of the tax, and the county gets 83 percent, with the remainder going to the small towns.

The city and county also are trying to resolve how to fund the jointly owned Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center. Under law, both governments are required to fund the center equally, but the county has said this year it does not have the money to cover its share. The city benefits more from the center, with more hotels and restaurants to collect taxes from visitors and should pay more, county officials have argued.

A consolidated government would negate the need to resolve how money is divided and who pays the bills.

"A lot of issues go away with a merger," Babb said. "The commissioners as a whole are not against a consolidated government, but we do have questions and concerns. And the people who vote on this need to know the details."