Preliminary agreement in place for North Georgia transportation sales tax

Ringgold City Council meets for a special called meeting with one agenda item: "Legislative Agenda 106." From left, Councilman Randall Franks, Councilman Larry Black, Councilwoman Sara Clark and Mayor Nick Millwood discuss changes to the city charter.

The managers of the Catoosa County, Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe local governments believe they have hammered out a deal to split sales tax revenue for transportation projects.

County Manager Alicia Vaughn said during a town hall meeting about the potential new tax Thursday night that the county would take in about 70 percent of the revenue. Fort Oglethorpe, meanwhile, would get about 20 percent, while Ringgold would take the other 10 percent.

The two city councils will vote on an intergovernmental agreement at their Dec. 10 meetings. The county commissioners would then vote on it Dec. 17. Before the tax can take effect, residents have to approve the plan on a referendum, which will take place March 19.

"It's not official," Vaughn said of the agreement between the governments, "but that's what we've proposed."

Said Ringgold City Councilman Randall Franks: "It's all been approved - in theory."

According to a presentation on Thursday night, Catoosa County maintains 426 miles of road, Fort Oglethorpe maintains 50 miles and Ringgold maintains 27 miles. Vaughn said the county projects that the new tax would bring in $60 million over five years - or $42 million for Catoosa County, $12 million for Fort Oglethorpe and $6 million for Ringgold.

If approved, the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax would be a 1 percent tax at the cash register, with the money earmarked for transportation projects. Largely, this would mean street paving and bridge repairs. But governments can also use the money for certain other projects, including sidewalk improvements and stormwater drains.

This would be the fourth 1 percent sales tax implemented by the local governments. Shoppers also pay a similar tax that is tied to capital projects like building repairs and projects for the school system.

Though intended to educate the public about the potential new burden at the cash register, Thursday's town hall was sparsely attended, with about half a dozen voters in the room at a time. Rather than sitting on the dais and fielding questions from residents, the city and county officials mingled in a room that looked like a job fair - with poster boards set up to show past road paving and sidewalk improvement projects.

On Ringgold's poster board, the city highlighted a new trail project that would run for about a mile around downtown. On Fort Oglethorpe's side, the city showed a plan to add turn lanes on Dietz Road near the new Publix, which city officials believe will cut down on traffic.

Jeff Long - a Catoosa County commissioner and Fort Oglethorpe's director of public works - said the city is awaiting a review from RoadBotics, a company that examined all of the city's roads to determine which ones need to be paved the most. Currently, the city paves about 1 mile of road a year. Long said it would take 50 years to pave each road.

With the new tax, he said, the city could pave every road within about 15 years.

"Everybody pays for this," Long said. "Whether they're from here or driving through from Kentucky or Arizona."

Thursday's event was devoid of any loud or passionate complaints about the proposal, though some members of the local Republican Party criticized the tax earlier this week. Jeff Holcomb, chairman of the party, said he believes adding another tax gives commissioners a way to spend more than they need to. He told the Times Free Press, "It's like they take [sales tax] and live off that. One day, when it goes away, the county's going to be in serious, serious trouble."

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