published Friday, April 1st, 2011

Coppinger warns agencies of cutoff

by Dan Whisenhunt
  • photo
    In this file photo Jim Coppinger speaks to reporters after taking the oath of office to become Hamilton County Mayor on Jan. 11, 2011.
    Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Officials with two agencies that could lose money when the city-county sales-tax agreement expires in May said they’ve been warned by Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger they will get no more money from the county.

But both said they’re expecting Chattanooga to pick up the funding without a hitch.

Coppinger on Thursday released a copy of a March 25 letter he sent to more than a dozen jointly funded agencies, warning them that the city intends to let the sales-tax agreement end in May.

“I regrettably must inform you the funds your agency has received as a result of the sales tax agreement will no longer be available from Hamilton County,” he wrote.

Katie Harbison, director of development for the Children’s Home-Chambliss Shelter, said Thursday the letter was not unexpected. The agency, which provides services for children, received about $200,000 from the county last year, she said.

“We’re just hopeful we’ll be picked up by the city,” Harbison said. “We’ve talked to the city, and they’ve asked us to submit a budget proposal.”

David Turner, chairman of the board of directors for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library, said he’s received assurances that the library system would receive a full level of funding, but he wouldn’t say who gave him those assurances. Last year, the county provided about $2.7 million to the library.

“I was surprised by (the letter), but I’ve been assured that the city will come through and do everything that needs to be done,” Turner said.

On Thursday, Coppinger made his letter public shortly after county commissioners passed a resolution supporting the continuation of the sales-tax agreement.

City leaders called the move a waste of time, and Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield accused Coppinger of using scare tactics with his letter.

“I think it just needlessly spreads an atmosphere of fear and concern, particularly in the health department, which I think is going to be just fine when this gets sorted out,” Littlefield said.

He has said he wants a new agreement, and the city has assured agencies that their funding will remain level.

In other business:

• Commissioners agreed to purchase the David Brainerd School site for the Hamilton County Department of Education. The price for the school on Igou Gap Road is $3.4 million, but the commission also kicked in $100,000 for necessary upgrades. Buying the school would help alleviate overcrowding at nearby East Brainerd Elementary School.

• Commissioners next week will consider adding methamphetamine lab remediation and inmate educator services to the list of services considered to be “professional services,” which means they will not require a bid.

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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