published Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Hamilton budget waiting on schools

by Cliff Hightower
  • 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.

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Hamilton County commissioners won’t be voting on the 2012 budget this morning after all.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Wednesday he will ask county commissioners to approve a continuing budget for the fiscal year that begins Friday.

He said the state comptroller’s office told county officials the school board’s budget must be included, and the schools budget isn’t ready yet.

“Nothing’s going to change,” Coppinger said.

Christy Jordan, director of accounting and finance for the Hamilton County Department of Education, said administrators plan to present a budget July 14 and hope the school board can vote on it by July 21.

“We hope to have a budget in a month,” she said.

Once that happens, the commission will immediately act to approve next fiscal year’s budget, Coppinger said.

The county’s proposed 2011-12 budget is $624 million, with $371.9 million going to schools. Earlier, county officials said the commission might vote today on a budget without the schools portion.

The continuing budget extends the 2011 spending plan into the coming year.

The school system also is operating on a continuing budget as it struggles to resolve a $14.3 million shortfall.

Coppinger said the county’s general fund budget is “ready to go.” He said that doesn’t mean the county is trying to push the school board.

“We’re not trying to rush or dictate to them,” he said.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry said Wednesday he’s not surprised the budget vote can’t take place without school funding included.

He said most commissioners seem to be comfortable with the general fund budget. Once the school board approves its budget, they may have some more questions, he said.

He said governments pass continuation budgets all the time that just use present funding to keep services going, he said.

That’s been true since he’s been a commissioner, he said.

“We’ve had more continuations than fiscal year closeouts,” Henry said.

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