Negotiations over how to split millions of dollars in local option sales tax revenue will enter a new phase Tuesday in Catoosa County.
Officials from the two opposing sides — the county and its two incorporated cities, Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold — will go behind closed doors with a mediator to try to decide how to split 1 cent per dollar in sales tax revenue over the coming decade.
Catoosa County now gets 70 percent of LOST revenue, or roughly $6.65 million annually, while Fort Oglethorpe takes 20.5 percent, or about $1.9 million, and Ringgold gets 9.5 percent, or about $900,000.
The two sides were millions of dollars apart when negotiations began in July.
The cities sought to cut the county’s share to 61 percent and increase Fort Oglethorpe’s take to 26 percent and Ringgold’s to 13 percent. The additional 9 percent for the two cities would add up to almost $9 million over a decade.
Meanwhile, the county sought a larger share for itself: 78.62 percent, with Fort Oglethorpe getting 15.54 percent and Ringgold taking 6.84 percent. At 2011 rates, that would mean an extra $665,000 annually for the county, or $6.65 million over a decade — money the cities would give up.
Negotiators from the two sides said they believe they can reach an agreement with a mediator from the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
“I’m pretty confident that it will be worked out through mediation,” Catoosa County Commission Chairman Keith Greene said. “I’ll be surprised if it isn’t.”
Fort Oglethorpe City Manager Ron Goulart said he’s “trying to be optimistic.”
“I think we can work through this, if everybody’s reasonable about it,” he said.
If the mediation fails, the process moves to what’s described as baseball-type arbitration. A Superior Court judge from outside the region would pick one proposal or the other — not a compromise of the two — a method meant to keep either side from overreaching.
Walker County LOST negotiations also are going to mediation, but no date has been set for that process to begin. The county’s cities — LaFayette, Chickamauga, Rossville, Lookout Mountain and Fort Oglethorpe — also want to increase their share of the LOST revenue.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.