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October 13, 2012

Dalton, Whitfield reach tax deal

It took nearly three months of negotiations and almost a day of intensive mediation, but the Dalton City Council and the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners agreed on Friday on how they will split Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenues over the next 10 years.

“I feel wonderful. The community won because this didn’t have to go to court,” said Dalton Mayor David Pennington.

The memorandum of understanding signed by both governments calls for Dalton to receive 32 percent of LOST revenues in 2013, with that share rising one percentage point every other year to 36 percent in 2021. The cities of Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell will respectively start at .64 percent, .826 percent and 1.684 percent, rising to .72 percent, .929 percent and 1.894 percent in 2021.

The agreement calls for Whitfield County to receive 64.851 percent in 2013, with that share dropping to 60.457 percent in 2021.

“I wasn’t there, but I’ve been informed about the agreement. I believe that the commissioners have done what is in the best interests of the county,” said Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Babb.

Babb was not present during the mediation on Friday because of a family medical issue. But he is the spokesman for the board and has led most of the discussions during the LOST negotiations.

State law requires cities and counties to renegotiate their LOST agreements every 10 years after the results of the latest census are in.

The LOST currently brings in about $17.2 million a year, and under the current LOST agreement negotiated 10 years ago the county receives 83.24 percent, Dalton gets 14.93 percent, Cohutta gets 0.38 percent, Tunnel Hill gets 0.65 percent and Varnell gets 0.8 percent.

Dalton and Whitfield County officials entered mediation on Friday about three percentage points apart. Williams S. Goodman, an Atlanta attorney serving as mediator, said he wasn’t sure if the two governments could reach an agreement on Friday but he believed it was possible.

“We’ve got a serious discussion going on. I feel optimistic, and I’m going to feel optimistic until someone tells me I shouldn’t,” Goodman said.

The agreement also calls for Dalton to pay $52.50 for each Municipal Court prisoner housed in the Whitfield County jail. The city currently does not pay a fee for its prisoners but gives the county any fines or fees assessed by the Municipal Court after conviction.

The agreement also calls for Dalton to get a share of the county’s annual road resurfacing budget equal to its share of total miles of county roads. The city will get to select which streets the county resurfaces.

And the agreement calls for the city to get the use of the commission’s chambers up to two days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for Municipal Court sessions. The city agrees to provide security and to pay a “reasonable cleaning fee weekly.”

The agreement does not include some other issues that the two sides have talked about during previous negotiations, such as merging the recreation departments and the city taking over full control of the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center.

During the mediation, Goodman urged the two sides to focus on areas where they could reach an agreement.

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