CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The task before the Cleveland City Council on Wednesday was to find a way to cut over $4.45 million from the proposed city budget and avoid a 3.5-cent property tax increase.
They did it but only after struggling.
The biggest cut is $3 million earmarked as the city share to purchase a new industrial park. The industrial park also is absent from Bradley County’s proposed budget.
But at the end of their lengthy meeting, the council approved a motion by Councilman Bill Estes that if the county will meet the city halfway they will find some way to finance the local share. Two members, Charlie McKenzie and George Poe, voted yes but added they will not back a property tax increase to do so.
Doug Berry, Chamber of Commerce vice president for economic development, commented, “I appreciate this effort. This is one way to produce a positive revenue.”
On their way to reaching a budget bottom line, council members struggled with other budget items.
The council kept budget commitments already made including $1 million for an interchange on the south side of APD 40 and $875,000 for the north side of the same interchange. They kept their $100,000 commitment to rights-of-way Durkee Road improvements at the Whirlpool site.
The council approved a $35.9 million general fund budget that keeps a property tax rate of $1.49 for each $100 of assessed property value.
The vote was five in favor and McKenzie and Poe against.
Poe explained his vote was aimed at Cleveland Utilities. The utility’s budget, which is part of the city budget document, includes a 6 percent water rate increase and a 5 percent sewer rate increase.
The council went into recess after calling CU General Manager Tom Wheeler to come in and justify the increase.
The city needs a third major water line, Wheeler said, and $10 million will be the first step in a multiyear project.
“We have tried to keep our infrastructure ahead of our growth,” Wheeler said.
That policy, he said, paved the way for industries such as Wacker Chemical and Amazon to locate here quickly.
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable raising a rate on anything right now,” Poe said.
Since the utility budget could not be separated from the city’s general fund budget, he voted no.
The council’s next regular meeting is June 27. But since there must be 12 days between the first budget vote and a final vote, the council will meet again on June 28 at 2 p.m. for that vote.
Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...