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Local municipalities in Whitfield County, Georgia, are at odds with the city of Dalton and fear that if an agreement isn't made on the county's Service Delivery Strategy, Whitfield County could lose its qualified local government status and potentially miss out on millions in state funds.

Delivery Service Strategy refers to the agreement among municipal and county governments to fund mutual services that benefit all county residents.

In a letter sent to the Dalton City Council, the Whitfield County Commission and leaders of three other municipalities urged the city to sign a recertification form before the Oct. 31 deadline.

The city of Dalton has been hesitant about signing off on the same deal that was made in 2013 when Georgia's Department of Community Affairs required counties to make sure local governments weren't duplicating services.

"The damage to the whole community by failing to certify our strategy timely is too great to risk," the letter reads. "Perhaps most importantly, losing our qualified local government status reflects poorly on our whole community."

Last fall, the city of Dalton wanted to renegotiate some of the specifics of the Service Delivery Strategy and wanted the county and its residents to pay more than it was for things such as fire service and sheriff's office operating costs.

When the issue came to a head last year, the city decided to table the issue.

At an August council meeting, city leaders voted to hire a lawyer to look at the city's options when renegotiating the Service Delivery Strategy.

Now, Whitfield County and the three other municipalities — Tunnel Hill, Varnell and Cohutta — are asking that the city sign off on the agreement and renegotiate the strategy plan at what they say is a more appropriate time.

That time would be in the next two years when the county is scheduled to renegotiate the local option sales tax agreement.

The mayor of Dalton, Dennis Mock, could not be reached for comment.

 

What the city of Dalton wants

Beginning in 1999, municipalities in Georgia were required to come up with a Service Delivery Strategy that outlines who pays for what when it comes to services that a county might share with a city, such as operating costs for law enforcement and firefighters.

In its letter, the Whitfield County Commission said that it believes that the city of Dalton wants the county to allocate a portion of its administrative costs to a special tax district "paid for only by unincorporated residents."

The letter also says that the city of Dalton wants the sheriff's office budget to be completely paid for by county residents, even though sheriffs are exempt from the Service Delivery Strategy.

"The city of Dalton has even asked Whitfield County to impose additional tax burdens on unincorporated residents without offering anything of substance in return," the letter says.

Lynn Laughter, chairwoman of the Whitfield County Commission, said that if the agreement isn't signed before Oct. 31, the county and all four municipalities in it could lose its official "qualified" designation with the state. That means Whitfield County and the cities and towns therein wouldn't be eligible for state grants.

The county annually receives about $1.3 million from the state for road improvement projects. The county wouldn't be able to receive those funds — and more — if the agreement isn't signed.

The letter also says that the commission and other municipalities are more than willing to negotiate with the city, but it doesn't want to piecemeal the process.

Instead, the commission would rather negotiate the entire comprehensive local option sales tax, a process that is required by the state at least once every 10 years.

Whitfield County is scheduled to negotiate its LOST agreement in 2021 so it is ready in 2022.

The Whitfield County Commission doesn't think this is the right time to force a renegotiation about the Service Delivery Strategy, according to the letter. If the city wants to start those talks now, the commission would be open to that. However, it does not want to start talks about only the existing Service Delivery Strategy.

"The City of Dalton should not allow the whole community to become out of compliance when there is no need to do so with regard to our existing Service Delivery Strategy," the letter states.

The city of Dalton has not sent a letter to the Whitfield County Commission, but the county is expecting one soon.

Contact Patrick Filbin at 423-757-6476 or pfilbin@timesfreepress.com.

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