“It's been put on hold because of this LOST (local-option sales tax) negotiation,” said Walker County finance officer Greg McConnell. An official budget is “not legally required” to be approved by the first day of the new fiscal year, he said. “It'd be nice to be, but it's not legally required to be done by then.”
The county and its four cities are at an impasse regarding the division of LOST funds — a 10-year, $54 million revenue stream that requires renegotiation every decade. Walker County officials are hoping to retain the same 80-20 county-cities split that has been standard for the past two decades; three of the county's four cities, with the exception of Chickamauga, are angling for a more even distribution.
Unable to come to terms on a middle ground at multiple meetings, the negotiations have now moved into the hands of an official moderator, the identity of which has not yet been revealed.
“They supposedly have decided on a moderator,” said McConnell, adding that he does not know who the moderator is or when the next meeting will take place.
Should the county lose a portion of its 80 percent split to the cities, a good deal of number-shuffling will have to take place in the upcoming budget, said McConnell.
If the county loses some of its LOST funding, he said, “we've got such a deficit to make up on what people want that we're going to have to meet with all the department heads and elected officials and arrive at something.”
Even once the LOST is negotiated, figuring out the fiscal 2013 budget looks to be a “very very long” process, said McConnell.