published Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Chattanooga City Council OKs budget, still mulling salaries


by Cliff Hightower
The Chattanooga City Council is pictured in this file photo.
The Chattanooga City Council is pictured in this file photo.

TIF GRANTED

The Chattanooga City Council voted 5-2 to approve the city's first Tax Increment Financing plan for a road that will go up the side of Aetna Mountain to what is a proposed eventual "small city."

But Councilwoman Deborah Scott asked her other council members not to vote on the financing plan, which would open up the road in her district.

"When we open this door, we will open the door for other developers," she said.

TIF, which captures incremental tax revenues to pay for the road, is authorized by the state Legislature in cases where the development wouldn't happen without it.

Councilman Peter Murphy and Scott voted against the measure. Councilman Andraé McGary and Councilwoman Sally Robinson abstained.

The Chattanooga City Council is still torn on what to do about $3 million of a $209 million budget.

The Chattanooga City Council approved 7-2 Tuesday night the 2012-13 fiscal year budget, but did so with reservations.

The council has yet to decide on how to divvy up $3 million in city employee salary increases and will have a week to decide when the budget ordinance comes up again for its second and final reading.

"This in no way shows we approved a pay plan," Councilwoman Carol Berz, chairwoman of the Budget and Finance Committee, said after the vote.

The council has discussed the budget since Mayor Ron Littlefield released it at the beginning of May. The budget calls for no property tax increase, but sewer rates and water quality fees are expected to be hiked.

The mayor also proposed a salary increase for non-sworn employees that would be 3 percent across the board and also would include a $75 per year longevity payment for any employee who has served the city five or more years.

The cost of the civilian employee pay raises would be $1.3 million. The city also proposed to put $1.3 million into the police career ladder, which rewards officers who do training above and beyond their normal training.

But the administration has drawn some backfire from council members -- those who want a less substantial pay raise and those who want all city employees, including police and fire, to get an across-the-board pay raise.

Littlefield briefed the council Tuesday on a few options the council could consider over the next week before its second and final reading.

The first is his original plan and the other routes would consist of a 1.5 percent across-the-board pay raise, combined with longevity pay. The city also could drop longevity pay all together, which some council members have expressed interest in doing.

But he said he did not think it would be fair to give police officers and firefighters an across-the-board raise. Littlefield said those sworn personnel have received pay increases through career ladder programs.

He said there would be only a hundred policeman who would not have received a salary increase if his proposed budget is approved.

But he said those officers are not getting salary increases because they are choosing not to do anything extra.

"I have a problem with rewarding people who are content to stay where they are at," he said.

Berz said council members will be meeting with the administration individually over the next week for discussions.

At the end of the meeting, Councilman Andraé McGary said the meter is now running and decisions need to be made.

"It is time we have an honest conversation about who gets what," he said.

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