published Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Cleveland mayor vetoes delay of tax hearing

Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland on Wednesday vetoed a resolution City Council members passed Monday that called for a delay in next week’s hearing on the disputed division of sales tax revenue.

The Chancery Court hearing over how $689,980 in increased sales tax revenue should be split between Cleveland, Tenn., and Bradley County is set for April 21.

Though Rowland agreed with some of the sentiments expressed by Councilman Richard Banks, who authored the resolution, “I just felt like we’ve waited so long we need to get it behind us,” he said.

Both sides have prepared for next Thursday’s hearing and “I could see no benefits in delaying it,” Rowland said.

In his veto letter to council members, the mayor called a meeting for 8 a.m. Monday to ask the council to allow the court hearing to proceed.

The dispute stems from a 2009 referendum when city voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase they were told would go for capital projects. But Bradley County officials, based on a 1967 agreement on the division of sales tax collections, sued to collect part of that fund. The city contends that money belongs solely to Cleveland.

Banks introduced the resolution Monday, saying the hearing created a “cloud” over other joint efforts, specifically talks of merging city and county fire services. Those talks continued Wednesday.

Monday’s 3-2 vote was tallied with Councilmen Bill Estes and Bill Robertson absent, while Councilmen David May and Avery Johnson voted against it. Banks, Charlie McKenzie and George Poe voted in favor.

Johnson and May said Monday that they didn’t see how a delay would help.

On Wednesday, Banks said he wouldn’t seek an override.

“It takes five votes to override, and I don’t see that that will happen,” he said.

“I’m still of the opinion that both the City Council and County Commission should agree that that litigation should not influence one way or the other the major decisions that have to be made,” he said.

Banks doesn’t want the dispute to color decisions, particularly the “possible merger of emergency services, the need to acquire land for an industrial park and projects such as the connector roads at [Interstate 75] exit 20,” he said.

Banks said leaders should focus on common interests.

“We are all in this together,” he said. “We are a community, and Bradley County doesn’t end at the city line in Cleveland.”

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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