published Friday, May 14th, 2010

Agencies request more funding


by Cliff Hightower

by Dan Whisenhunt
Audio clip

Budget hearings

Agencies funded by the city and county on Thursday asked officials for $7.9 million more this year than last.

During the last day of the county's annual budget hearings, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield pressed for a merged city-county government, using the jointly funded agencies as a kicking-off point.

He said he thinks a sales tax agreement specifying how the city and county fund the agencies could be the catalyst for future metro government.

But county commissioners said the meeting was just another meeting, the same one they have every year, and should not be viewed as a vehicle driving the county toward consolidation.

At Thursday's meeting, Mr. Littlefield handed out a copy of the city and county sales tax agreement, which requires the county and city to split funding the agencies. Mr. Littlefield said the agreement expires in one year and asked that the council and commission help renegotiate the agreement.

After the meeting, he said those negotiations also could spur discussions on consolidated government.

"That is a way to get the city and the county to sit down and talk about the finances of this community," he said.

But a few county commissioners, including the new chairman, Fred Skillern, said they are not in favor of metro government.

"I'm against metro government, but I'm not against working with people," Mr. Skillern said.

Commissioner Greg Beck said viewing the annual meeting for jointly funded agencies as a stepping stone toward unifying the two bodies is reading too much into it.

"On this day it's a tradition they come together," Mr. Beck said. "Looks good, doesn't it?"

The budgets agencies presented at the meeting also received criticism from the city and the county.

"Some of that stuff I don't support," Council Chairman Manny Rico said after the meeting. "You've got to live with what you got."

The agencies asked for $4.9 million more than last year's budget from the city and more than $3 million more from the county.

The County Commission is ironing out its budget, and the City Council will begin its budget process next week.

Some of the jointly funded agencies are the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Public Library, the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority and Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga.

BY THE NUMBERS

* $16.7 million: Total jointly funded agencies' request of the city

* $10.4 million: Total jointly funded agencies' request of the county

* $4.9 million: Amount requested of city above last year's budget

* $3 million: Amount requested of county above last year's budget

Source: Joint Budget Hearings

A total of 18 agencies presented their budgets to county and city leaders Thursday morning. Fourteen asked for more city funding and nine of the agencies requested additional county money.

Some of the requests include:

* CARTA asked for $100,000 in additional funds from the county, and $2 million from the city. Tom Dugan, CARTA's executive director, said the additional county funds would help provide Care-A-Van service to the county. The money from the city would add routes to Chattanooga State Community College and Alstom, as well as pay for a new parking deck near the Bluff View Art District, he said.

* The library asked for an additional $1 million from each body for operating and capital expenses. The additional operating expenses would pay for post-employment benefits, said David Clapp, executive director of the library.

Mr. Clapp said the additional capital expense is to fix a malfunctioning elevator in the downtown branch and to update technology in the library. He said the library also wants extra funds to open all branches five days a week and keep the downtown branch open seven days a week.

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Commissioners hear plea to fund shelter

Article: County wraps first budget hearing

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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