But at the end of a meeting Monday night, Aug. 27, it seemed the only agreement government representatives were able to reach was that it’s time to hire a professional mediator.
Three of Walker County’s four cities — LaFayette, Lookout Mountain and Rossville — are adamantly opposed to retaining the same percentage split the county has been using for the past two decades, with 80 percent of the LOST revenue going to the county coffers and 20 percent left for the four cities to divide amongst themselves.
Instead, the cities originally proposed a 55-45 split, and later, after a rebuttal of 75-25 by the county, said they would be OK to negotiate at a point closer to 65-35.
Only Chickamauga, represented by city manager John Culpepper, said his revenue stream is tight, but budgeted, and that asking the county to give up some of its LOST revenue to the cities would actually be detrimental to everyone.
County attorney Don Oliver estimated that county coffers would take a $250,000 to $300,000 hit should the county give even 5 percent more of its share than the 75-25 split it offered to the cities in the second round of negotiations. That money, in turn, would have to be made up elsewhere, and in a strapped economy, “elsewhere” unfortunately means through a hike in property taxes.
County commissioner Bebe Heiskell said “that’s not fair” to property owners in unincorporated Walker County.
The cities, meanwhile, stand to gain between $14,000 and $117,000 each, depending upon their respective populations.
At issue are some new regulations handed down by the state that provide a list of eight areas of consideration local governments must factor into LOST negotiations.
"I think the way that they're written indicate a favorable position for the cities," said LaFayette council member Ben Bradford. "The intent of the legislature was to give the cities more."
Unable to reach a decision Monday night, Aug. 27, and with neither side budging by Wednesday, Aug. 29, the five governments will be moving forward to hire a professional mediator, most likely from the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
LaFayette council member Chris Davis estimates the mediation will cost about $1,200 per day. He hopes the cities will only need one day to work things out with the county.
Should mediation prove unhelpful, the final step is judicial arbitration, during which no middle-ground negotiating can occur, and only one extreme point or another may be selected.
"The judge can't split the baby," Bradford said. "He's gotta pick one."
"The cities stand a significant chance of winning that arbitration," he said.