published Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Council edges step closer to vote


by Cliff Hightower
Audio clip

Carol Berz

The City Council made some agreements Friday on the 2010-11 budget as it gets closer to a potential vote on whether to institute a property tax increase.

"It's a painful process," said Councilwoman Carol Berz, chairwoman of the Budget, Finance and Personnel Committee. "But it is a process."

  • photo
    The Chattanooga city council meets in this file photo.
    Photo by Dan Henry

On Friday, some steps the council agreed upon include reforming retiree medical benefits. Those currently not vested in the city's pension plan would not receive city insurance coverage past the age of 65.

Council members also agreed in informal votes to not allow take-home cars for employees who live outside city limits, give no raises except to fix a police department pay anomaly and to cut city-funded agencies by almost $1 million.

But the savings council members saw when they decided on reforming retiree medical coverage was a wash after they also decided they would not put a minimum age of 55 years old for those who could participate in the program.

City officials said there would have been a savings of about $900,000 annually if they had instituted that measure.

City Council members are discussing a budget that includes a property tax increase of 39 cent for $100 of assessed value. Mayor Ron Littlefield proposed a 64-cent property tax increase last month to fund a $198.6 million budget. But after council members said they couldn't support that much of a hike, he came back with the 39-cent increase.

Many council members debated on whether to set a property tax rate increase between 30 to 38 cents, hand it back to the mayor and let him work on it.

Councilman Manny Rico led the charge, suggesting the council look at 35 cents.

"This is bull," he said. "We could be here all year."

But that fell through as some council members argued it was their job to set the budget, not the mayor's.

Council members informally voted to set a goal of voting on a first reading on the budget by Tuesday.

Mr. Littlefield pressed council members to consider his original 64-cent property tax hike proposal.

IF YOU GO

The City Council will meet 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the City Council building to talk about possible cuts to city departments.

"Let me say again, I think you adopt an ordinance that adopts 64 cents," he said. "I think that is in the best interest of the city."



AGREEMENTS

The City Council agreed on a series of measures Friday for the city's budget:

* Keeping some city-funded agencies at the same level as last year and cutting $100,000 collectively from others.

* Give no city employee raises except to fix a police department pay anomaly.

* Give longevity pay to all city employees.

* Allow no take-home cars for city employees who live outside the city limits.

* Any employee not vested in the current pension plan will not be covered by medical insurance past age 65.

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