published Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

City-county tax squabble leaves Collegedale library’s future in doubt


by Kelli Gauthier
The Collegedale Public Library is seen in Collegedale.
The Collegedale Public Library is seen in Collegedale.
Photo by John Rawlston.
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WHAT'S NEXT

The Collegedale Commission will meet to discuss the library/property tax issue at a work session at 4:30 p.m. on June 27 and will have a second hearing on the budget at a meeting on July 5.

Elected officials in Collegedale have about two weeks to get creative with their budget and find extra money to save their library.

In a surprise vote Monday night, the Collegedale Commission voted 3-2 against a 22-cent property tax increase — a move City Manager Ted Rogers said would make it impossible for the city to pay the annual operating expenses for the Collegedale branch of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library.

“That didn’t sit well with us,” said Commissioner Katie Lamb, who voted against the tax increase.

So, on advice of its attorney, Sam Elliott, the commission rescinded its vote and agreed to revisit the issue at a July 5 meeting.

When a 45-year-old sales tax agreement between Chattanooga and Hamilton County expired in May, Chattanooga agreed to bear the full operating cost of the library system. But Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield has said the city will pay only for library branches inside the city limits, which excludes only the Collegedale branch and places the responsibility for the branch’s $400,000 budget on Collegedale.

“We are in a very tough struggle right now,” said Collegedale Mayor John Turner. “We feel that [the library] is a very key part of the community out here; we’d very much like to keep it open.”

Turner said keeping the library open would take nearly 8 percent of the city’s $7 million budget.

Between now and the July 5 meeting, Lamb said, she will be trying to find ways to cut what she considers unnecessary expenses out of the city’s budget. She believes officials could get the property tax increase down to as little as 13 cents per $100 of a home’s assessed value by eliminating things such as an $8,000 projector for a City Hall conference room and $75,000 worth of security cameras for various city properties.

“There are areas where I feel like we could roll back to last year’s figures,” she said. “And probably if we rolled back and added [those cuts] up, it would be about half of what the library will cost us.”

Collegedale resident Ray Minner said that, while he would prefer no tax increase, he and his wife were prepared to support it, if it meant saving the library.

“We think it’s essential to keep it open. We don’t want Collegedale to be known as the town that used to have a library but couldn’t keep it open,” he said.

But not everyone was as supportive.

J.B. Underwood, owner of the Collegedale Exxon, attended Monday’s meeting in opposition to the tax increase.

“Government will spend every dollar that you give them. ... We need to learn to live within our means,” he said. “I don’t think it’s incumbent upon government to provide [library] services.”

Contact Kelli Gauthier at kgauthier@timesfreepress.com or 423 757-6249. Find her online at facebook.com/reportergauthier or twitter.com/gauthierkelli.

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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