published Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

No tax hikes in mayor's budget


by Cliff Hightower
Revenue Projections
Revenue Projections

Chattanooga city staff handed a proposed 2011-12 fiscal year budget to the City Council on Tuesday that is $201 million and includes no property tax increases.

The budget is $16 million more than this fiscal year’s budget, an 8.7 percent increase, records show.

“As far as I’m concerned, I saw no surprises,” said Councilwoman Carol Berz, chairwoman of the Budget and Finance Committee. “It’s very straightforward.”

Daisy Madison, the city’s chief financial officer, spent 45 minutes giving a PowerPoint presentation of next fiscal year’s budget, going over highlights, expected revenues and spending.

Madison said the city could see around 3.4 percent growth in tax revenue this year. The city also will receive an additional $9.7 million in sales tax as the sales tax agreement expires next week, she said.

The highlights of the budget include spending $2.8 million in fixing pay anomalies for all city employees, including the fire department, and funding a career ladder for police officers. The budget also reflects $6 million in benefit increases because of rising pension and health costs.

Paving will get $2 million, an increase of $1 million, records show.

Almost $20 million could also be in the budget to pay for former jointly funded agencies, with the city fully funding the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Public Library and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency.

Mayor Ron Littlefield was not at the budget and finance meeting because he was attending other business.

Dan Johnson, the mayor’s chief of staff, said the proposed budget is practical.

“It’s austere, but at the same time it provides the things we need to do,” Johnson said.

Littlefield came under fire last year after proposing a 33 percent property tax increase as city revenues plummeted because of the recession. The council later lowered the amount to a 19 percent property tax hike.

Littlefield said in the past he planned no property tax increases this year. The city will be dipping into reserves, taking out $3 million to fund some programs, records show. This will be the fourth year the city has had to dip into its rainy-day funds.

Besides fixing the anomalies and funding the police career ladder, the budget does not have any pay raises for city employees and only shows hiring of 6.5 additional employees.

Councilman Jack Benson said after the meeting he thought it is a “practical budget.”

“It considers the problems in our economy and what the public will support,” he said.

He said he wished there could be pay raises for employees across all departments.

“I’m real happy we our going to live within our means,” he said.

Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said she felt it meets a lot of needs, especially for employees. But she cautioned the council has not had a chance to comb through the budget as of yet. That will happen in upcoming weeks.

She said there could be some items the council looks at and decides it does not want to spend on this coming year.

“I haven’t had a chance to look at it and see if there is anything that needs to be trimmed,” she said.

Poll
Do you support the proposed city budget?
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