Both Whitfield County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jevin Jensen and Dalton Mayor David Pennington said they don't want to wait until the last minute to start negotiations for the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) agreement and the Service Delivery Strategy agreement the county and local cities are required to complete this year.
Three years ago it took months of negotiations and a lawsuit by the city of Dalton before the city and Whitfield County reached a Service Delivery Strategy agreement as part of the effort to renew the county's comprehensive plan. Both men said they believe that was because local officials waited until the last minute to start the negotiations.
The LOST agreement determines how revenues from that tax is divvied up among local governments. The LOST is a 1% tax on most goods sold in a county that is used by local governments to fund operations.
Under state law, the LOST is supposed to be negotiated every 10 years after the results of the national census are in. If the county and cities can't reach an agreement, the LOST expires and local governments will lose all of that revenue.
Dalton received $6.8 million in LOST money in 2020 and was projected to receive $7.6 million in 2021. Whitfield County received $12.2 million in LOST money in 2020.
The Service Delivery Strategy agreement spells out which services each government provides and is aimed at avoiding duplication of services. State law says it must be updated every 10 years. Three years ago the city had to sign off on the county's comprehensive plan and city officials decided to use that as an opportunity to try to get more out of the service delivery agreement.
The current service delivery agreement is actually 39 separate agreements, covering areas ranging from ambulance service to zoning.
While LOST and the Service Delivery Strategy are two separate items, Jensen said he expects they will be negotiated together.
"I don't see why not," he said. "But if there's some issue on one that holds us back, we can focus on the other and get it knocked out."
The LOST agreement has to be concluded by Dec. 3, and the Service Delivery Strategy must be sent to the state Department of Community Affairs for review by Sept. 1. That could take up to 30 days, and the current agreement ends Sept. 30.
The county must send the cities in the county a letter to start the negotiations.
"We know what the deadline is," Jensen said. "We've got nine months. We need to come up with a framework because as soon as I send the letter the clock starts. Once we send the letter, we have 60 days to complete everything. I don't want to do that (send the letter) until we are almost done, just dotting the i's and crossing the t's. I think we'll send it out in May or June. I haven't spoken to any of the mayors, but I'll definitely be talking soon to David Pennington to see what he's thinking."
Jensen said he doesn't think the negotiations will be as contentious as those three years ago and believes the Service Delivery Strategy will be a "win-win" for all sides.
Pennington said he is eager to start the negotiations, adding he believes part of the reason the negotiations three years ago were so difficult was because they started so close to the deadline.
"We are ready when they are," he said. "We definitely don't want to wait until the last minute."