Since most cities and counties in the state experienced significant population growth between 2000 and 2010, local governments are hoping to ask for and receive a bigger piece of the LOST pie.
Unlike special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) revenues that must go toward specific capital projects, LOST revenues plump up cities’ and counties’ general funds.
The last LOST negotiation was conducted in 2002, according to Fort Oglethorpe city manager Ron Goulart.
By Dec. 31, cities and counties must submit a certificate that outlines their agreed-upon distribution to the Georgia Department of Revenue, according to the Georgia Municipal Association website.
“It’s a major part of each of our budgets,” Ringgold city manager Dan Wright said. Wright said Ringgold takes in $850,000 to $900,000 from LOST each year and Fort Oglethorpe receives about $1.9 million annually from LOST.
Ringgold’s population grew by about 47 percent in the past decade, Wright said.
“We had 2,200 to 2,400 in 2000,” he said. The city has a population of 3,580 today, according to Wright.
Catoosa County manager Mike Helton said the county received $6.6 million in LOST revenues this budget year. The county currently takes in 70.06 percent of LOST revenues, Fort Oglethorpe receives 20.47 percent and Ringgold gets 9.47 percent, Helton said.
“The county sales tax is seven percent,” he said. “Of which four percent is state and three percent is county. Having LOST helps keep your ad valorem (property) tax under control.”
Over the past decade, large retailers — such as Costco, which opened in Fort Oglethorpe in October 2010 — gave LOST revenues a boost, Goulart said.
“The basic eight criteria (according to OCGA 48-8-89) that are to be utilized to help determine how the next 10 years LOST will be distributed are as follows: service delivery responsibility for daytime population, service delivery responsibility to resident population, existing service delivery responsibilities, short and long term debt, point of sale, intergovernmental agreements, tax equity and service delivery plans,” Helton explained.
“The main thing right now is to pull the numbers together and wait for the negotiations to start,” Wright said. “I’m sure it will be fair and equitable. The three governments get along and will continue to.”
Helton said the county would notify the cities when LOST negotiations will begin. He said the process must get started by July 1. Helton anticipates the county will call for LOST negotiations sometime over the next several weeks. He said he is confident the county will find “common ground” with the cities during the negotiations.
“Once we are notified it is a 60-day period in which the (cities) and the county will negotiate,” Goulart explained. If the parties can’t reach an agreement, then the cities and county would conduct a non-binding mediation over another 60-day period, he said.
“If the parties fail to resolve issues in mediation, either party could petition the superior court and that petition would be an arbitration,” Goulart said. “You would have a judge oversee the hearing. The hearing would consist of two plans; one by the county and the city would submit their proposal. Out of the two proposals the judge would select one. He would not be at liberty to combine the two proposals or expand on one of them. Whichever one he picks that would be the (LOST distribution) in place for the next 10 years.”
The county and cities have hired consultants to help in the LOST renegotiation process. Catoosa has hired Eaves Consulting Group of Dublin and Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe have hired Sutton Consulting LLC based in Flowery Branch.