Tornado shakes Catoosa County sales taxes

Tornado shakes Catoosa County sales taxes

June 8th, 2011 by Andy Johns in News

Carl Henson, Catoosa County's financial officer

Carl Henson, Catoosa County's financial officer

RINGGOLD, Ga. - The tornado that flattened homes and businesses across Ringgold may also have pancaked Catoosa County revenues for May.

But officials said Tuesday they hope that money made through rebuilding efforts will prop up local sales taxes until business owners can be back on their feet.

"I'm projecting that the rebuild will offset the loss," Carl Henson, Catoosa County's financial officer, said during Tuesday's County Commission meeting.

Officials are concerned about May sales tax returns, due out later this month, because many businesses damaged in the April 27 storms still have not reopened. Like most counties, Catoosa gets a significant portion of the income it uses to fund roads, schools and other services from sales tax - and businesses can't collect taxes if they aren't open.

But Henson and County Commission Chairman Keith Greene are hoping the businesses that remained open sold enough building materials, chain saws, tarpaulins and other recovery-related products to make up the loss.

"We may not see the loss as much as we thought," Greene said.

In addition to the sales tax, however, property taxes also could take a hit.

Chief Appraiser Dale McCurdy said 80 homes and 20 businesses were removed from the tax rolls because they were destroyed by storms. Property owners still must pay tax on their land, but not on the destroyed buildings.

McCurdy said losing those buildings, coupled with slipping real estate values, would mean the overall tax digest - or taxable property in the county - will be about 5 percent lower than last year's total as officials draw up next year's budget.

Commissioner Ken Marks said it's not a good time for a shortfall in tax revenue.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to cover 75 percent of the county's recovery costs, and Georgia's Emergency Management Agency will cover an additional 15 percent. But that still leaves the county to cover 10 percent and, with the bill for debris cleanup alone headed toward $5 million, the county is likely to have to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"How much is that 10 percent going to be? That's what scares me," Marks said. "Thank God for FEMA and GEMA, but there are still costs to the county."

Contact staff writer Andy Johns at ajohns@timesfree or call 423-757-6324.