published Friday, March 18th, 2011

Council members respond to Tea Party questions

by Cliff Hightower

Chattanooga Tea Party President Mark West shot the question directly at the four City Council members sitting in front of an audience of more than 100 people.

“Can you each tell me where you cut a million dollars out of the budget?” he asked.

First Councilwoman Deborah Scott talked about how it took five members to cut any part of the budget. Councilman Andraé McGary responded with his own answer.

“We all collectively cut more than a million dollars this fiscal year,” he said.

Four City Council members — Jack Benson, Carol Berz, McGary and Scott — attended the Chattanooga Tea Party meeting Tuesday night at the Home Builders Association of Southeast Tennessee.

Council members first explained the budget process and then took questions from the audience. Questions ranged from whether the city should be funding public art to how the city plans on reforming employee benefits to be more in line with the private sector.

Brandon Lewis, who started a website last year called, asked about rising employment costs for salaries, benefits and pensions.

“Age is the elephant in the room,” he said. “The benefits are out of kilter with the private sector.”

Scott replied the council reformed post-retirement benefits, stopping lifetime health enrollment for new employees. But she acknowledged more needed to be done.

“We will have to look at these things you’re looking at,” she said.

The council will meet as a full body 10 a.m. Tuesday for a budget work session regarding the 2011-12 fiscal year budget.

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