May 17, 2013

Babb: Special tax district coming

Charles Oliver

— Those who own property in Whitfield County outside the Dalton city limits could get a bit of sticker shock when they get their tax bills this year.

County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Babb reminded those who attended Thursday’s Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce “State of the City and State of the County” breakfast that the county will have to set up a special tax district starting this year to fund the fire department and some other county services.

Commissioners agreed to set up the special tax district last year when they signed an agreement dividing local option sales tax (LOST) revenues with the county’s three cities. The agreement followed court decisions that counties cannot tax municipal residents to fund services that go primarily to those in unannexed parts of the county.

Since the city of Dalton provides its own fire department, the county can’t fund its fire department out of general revenues. The county must also fund its share of some jointly funded services, such as the library, from the special tax district.

Babb said it looks like the county will assess a 1.5-mill tax in the special tax district.

Varnell Mayor Dan Peeples said at the breakfast that the city has recently completed its new City Hall.

“We hope to have an open house in the next month,” he said.

The City Hall is next to the senior center that the city opened last year. Peeples said some programming is already being offered in the senior center.

“We have a senior exercise program that meets twice a week, and we have a senior line dancing class that takes place every other week,” he said. “We’d like by this time next year to have a community event planner who has something taking place every day.”

Peeples said the city also recently completed a pavilion just up the street from the senior center and City Hall.

“We are finally building a downtown Varnell,” he said.

Tunnel Hill Mayor Kenny Gowin said that city is pursuing grants that will allow it to expand sewer service.

“Currently, it runs up (Highway) 41 and up School Street by the elementary school and up (Highway) 201 to the interstate interchange,” he said. “What we hope to do is to expand it to serve some of our businesses and after that expand it to some of our residential areas.”

Gowin noted that work is being completed on a new walking trail near the Tunnel Hill battlefield and the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center.

“They are about 65 percent complete. It goes up into the woods and over a creek. It’s a beautiful walking area,” he said.

Dalton Mayor David Pennington was asked if the city plans to further increase its freeport exemption for some inventories. Voters approved freeport in 2008, and the City Council implemented a 20 percent exemption in 2009.

“We had an agreement with Dalton Public Schools that if we did this they would not raise their millage rate to make up for the revenue lost because of freeport. We also agreed that we would not go up on that freeport exemption until they were able to do that without raising general property taxes,” Pennington said. “If you are just moving taxes from one hand to the other, I’m not sure you are accomplishing a whole lot, so we are not going to do that (increase freeport) until the schools say they can do that without raising property taxes.”