County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Wednesday that 37 employees lost their jobs as a result of a $13.7 million reduction in next year’s fiscal budget.
“There are brighter days ahead for Hamilton County,” Coppinger told county commissioners. “Today is not one of those days.”
The mayor’s proposed budget includes a $7.2 million reduction in supported agencies, including a $1.5 million cut to Erlanger’s $3 million annual request and $617,000 in cuts for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.
Coppinger also said 17 vacant county positions will remain unfilled in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. The laid-off employees were notified in a meeting Wednesday morning, he said
“Let there be no doubt, it’s a bad day for Hamilton County,” Coppinger said.
The work force reductions include:
* Finance department: Three vacant positions will remain unfilled.
* Health department: 14 employee layoffs, four vacant positions to remain unfilled.
* Human services department: 20 layoffs, two vacant positions to remain unfilled.
* Public works department: One employee layoff, six positions to remain unfilled.
* Other: An indigent care supervisor and specialist laid off; a vacant human resources position and a vacant county attorney position will remain unfilled.
Coppinger also said he cut three county programs — ankle bracelets, adult home visit and parents are first teachers.
After the budget meeting, Coppinger said the county started off looking at eliminating 80 to 90 jobs but trimmed that number to 37. He said a jobs fair would be held for those county employees Monday and the hope is to shift them into other positions within the county.
Immediately after the meeting, members of Chattanooga Organized for Action — a civic group that tried to recall city Mayor Ron Littlefield — implored the commissioners to restore cut funding to several social service agencies such as the Fortwood Center and the Children’s Home/Chambliss Shelter.
Valerie Radu, head of the social work department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, read a letter demanding the county restore funding to these agencies.
One commissioner handed off Radu’s demand to Chattanooga.
“The revenue you are receiving is still there,” County Commissioner Joe Graham replied. “It just went from the county’s bank account to the city’s bank account.”
He then told the group the city should have a “surplus” of money for them after collecting $10.5 million in sales tax, the result of the expiration of a 45-year-old sales-tax agreement between the county and the city.
Chattanooga council members voted last month to end the agreement, which spelled out how the city and the county broke down their financial responsibilities for agencies jointly funded by the pair. The $10.5 million went to the county under the agreement and now goes to the city.
Radu said she did not feel her question was answered.
“Blame the city,” she said. “It’s blame the city.”
Coppinger said during and after the meeting that the loss of the sales-tax revenue led directly to the layoffs of county workers.
County Commissioner Warren Mackey told Coppinger he was glad to see the mayor come to the commission with a budget that had “no tax increase.”
“I’d like for you to talk publicly about the importance of the sales-tax agreement,” Mackey said.
“The sales-tax agreement was directly involved in the elimination of these positions,” Coppinger replied.
Coppinger said he would not dip into the county’s reserves to pay for employees because they are a recurring expense.
County officials said paying for the health department, emergency services and Erlanger hospital are expensive burdens on the county budget.
The County Commission will vote June 30 on a first reading of the budget.
Coppinger reiterated Wednesday that the cuts are the only option because a property tax increase has never been on the table.
“We’re not willing to do that,” he said.