published Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Annexation, or what?

Now that contests over the city's annexation of key Hixson neighborhoods have been settled in the city's favor, Chattanooga's leaders should go forward with annexation of similarly dense neighborhoods in East Brainerd. These neighborhoods -- Hurricane Creek, Windstone and Emerald Valley -- were considered for annexation in 2009, but action was delayed to allow county government to come to an agreement over consolidation of key urban services. Since county officials have unwisely spurned that idea, the city has no choice but to increase its boundaries to include its natural tax base.

Residents of these neighborhoods, of course, will not like the idea. But the larger rationale for the natural growth of the city's boundaries -- which has included dozens of annexations since the city officially adopted its name in 1838 -- is too compelling to ignore.

Compelling logic

If the city doesn't continue to annex urban growth areas that grow up on its borders -- and whose residents rely on the city's roads, infrastructure, public services and businesses to sustain their jobs, health care, shopping and cultural amenities -- it cannot maintain the tax base it needs to adequately sustain the demands on its infrastructure.

Without annexation to capture its natural tax base, it would have to raise the city's property tax rates disproportionately higher, forcing its existing residents to subsidize the cost of services for the neighborhoods that are not annexed.

Fairness for all

The logic of annexation is irrefutable. The city's commercial hubs and employment base would not exist if the city did not provide 24/7 professional fire service, more intensive policing, and other commercial grade services (i.e., sewers, waste disposal, roads and traffic signaling) that are necessary for insurance, security and financial viability. They also need the related urban density and customer and employee base that comes with that package. And it is that core base that generates the business and population base that sustains second-and-third tier retail businesses and shops.

Thus the people who rely on the city's vital services that are crucial to the existence of their jobs and daily life must and should pay their fair share of the city's infrastructure costs through the city's property tax base.

The argument that residents in the county's other incorporated towns and in the unincorporated areas commonly make is that they pay a fair share of the city's urban-services cost through the city-county sales tax. But that's not true, and it's especially untrue for the free-riders in the unincorporated areas. Sale tax revenue is a relatively minor part of the city's tax revenue -- and half of that sum is paid by city residents, who constitute fully half of Hamilton County's population.

So as unincorporated areas grow, the city must annex to keep from stacking an unfair share of the cost of the county's urban infrastructure onto city-only residents.

Options not supported

There are other options, of course. The fairest is creation of a metro government to apportion the cost of necessary urban infrastructure to the broad base of citizens that use it, regardless of where they live in the county. That works well in Nashville, and it keeps property taxes broadly equitably and relatively low.

Shelby County, the home of Memphis and a slew of tiny towns, has adopted a county charter to endow county government with municipal-style powers, ordinances and urban service functions and related costs. Knox County has similar powers.

County officials' myopia

Hamilton County officials, however, inexplicably remain tied to the dark ages of unmanaged and inequitably funded county government and urban infrastructure. They have adamantly refused to consider a county charter government, and the need to organize 24/7 fire departments, countywide waste disposal and comprehensive sewers and land-used planning. They refuse to chart smart planning (even for classrooms and traffic patterns) for the burgeoning growth that lies ahead for Hamilton County.

On top of that, they have refused to concede to the city's alternative need to expand its urban growth boundaries beyond those in the current growth boundary agreement. They apparently, and rather smugly, seem happy to see the city's tax base shrivel relative to urban demands. Indeed, they often act as if the city is an enemy from which they need to protect residents of unincorporated areas. Given the way they have lined up against the city's previous annexation plans, you can bet they would howl if the city became driven to impose payroll taxes on residents who live outside the city but work for employers inside the city.

Timing supports annexation

It shouldn't have to come to that, of course. But until enlightened, fair-minded, forward-looking officials take office in county government, the unresolved dilemma of how to fairly fund growth in urban services will continue to cloud the county's and the city's future. In the meantime, Chattanooga's only viable alternative is to annex the urban areas that are now included in the existing growth boundary plan.

Mayor Ron Littlefield, bound by a two-term limit and barely 10 months away from the end of his last term, has nothing to lose by annexing remaining unannexed neighborhoods on the city's boundary. He would serve Chattanooga well by taking advantage of the opportunity.

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Antagonism among authorities is a prescription for mismanagement and dissension.

Why run things properly when you can find somebody else to blame, or even exploit the conflict?

People need to have mutual goals, or at least respecting those of others.

May 29, 2012 at 12:10 a.m.
riverman said...

I live in un-incorporated NE Hamilton County. I am an advocate of a Metropolitan form of County Government and would vote for such a move. However I am not a fan of piecemeal annexation and have never figured out how one entity can annex a group of people who don't want to be annexed without a vote. I associate the term, "annex," with the event in 1938 when Hitler "annexed," his home country of Austria. Why don't we just annex North Georgia since many residents there come into Chattanooga to work?

May 29, 2012 at 11:13 a.m.

Same reason the court system exists with the power to impose its will.

Because not everybody is going to freely consent even when they're costing another. Hitler used the court system too, and he built interstates, and ate sugar. If you're going to stop something just because Hitler did it, you'll be stuck in a rut.

As for the reason North Georgia isn't subject to annexation, it's because the state of Tennessee doesn't have the authority to act beyond its borders, and no agreement with Georgia has been negotiated.

Were it to become desirable, an interstate compact could be negotiated.

May 29, 2012 at 11:54 a.m.
riverman said...

I was being facetious bulbs. But how about our water for Catoosa and Walker counties? :-))

May 29, 2012 at 11:59 a.m.
AlmostAmanda said...

I am with riverman on this one (although I think the Hitler analogy was a bit much). I, too, live in the county, and would like to see a metro government, but I don't agree that people should be forced into it without a vote. Metro government makes sense, but the people being asked to be part of it should have a choice in the matter.

May 29, 2012 at 12:27 p.m.
MasterChefLen said...

The main premise of this opininon piece (annexing for more tax base) is illegal in the state of Tennessee. The people in the unincorporated areas should have a choice by voting either yes or no. We all know that that the city of Chattanooga, will not allow that as they know the outcome will be no. In regard to the "free riders" comment, by definition, North Georgia residents would be considered "free riders".

May 29, 2012 at 1:05 p.m.
timbo said...

I will not be live in Chattanooga. I will move.

May 29, 2012 at 2:14 p.m.

I will move too. Screw this mayor and the blatant expansion of the tax base to support more of his cronyism. It isn't the city that supports the people and businesses, it is the other way around. The city doesn't produce jack that wasn't paid for by stealing from the people that live in and around it.

May 29, 2012 at 4:19 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

If Chattanooga can't work with the resources they have, then how do they expect to do better by increasing their area of responsibility?

I am beyond shocked to see the editorial suggesting that Mayor Littlefield would serve this area well in doing anything but resigning. His entire administration has been a colossal intellectual embarrassment to this area. His poor decisions are so numerous, we can't readily list them in this small space.

Basically, Mayor Littlefield has never made a good decision, ever.

We have not once heard or seen a report of him saying or doing anything smart. It's been a parade of buffoonery from Day One.

Granting an office, held repeatedly by someone like Littlefield, the opportunity to control more area and more people is outright stupid. Look how poorly he managed what he had. What if, at some point in the future, we were to get someone of Littlefield's low intelligence and poor ethics in the office of Chattanooga Mayor again?

He has done nothing -- nothing -- to suggest that he had too small of an area to lead.

Does anyone see how Chattanooga would be better served by granting Mayor Ron Littlefield another 500 square yards of land? Was he a square mile short from Nirvana? If only he had the chance to get a few more subdivisions, then everything would be alright. Is that it?

"Utopia" is a high-tax, no service subdivision just outside the city limits, begging for annex: is that what you're telling us?

Was it a lack of subdivisions that has kept him from thinking before he spoke in public, all these years?

Which neighborhood is going to bring him good judgment and ethical conduct? Was there not enough capacity to exercise intelligence in the neighborhoods already in Chattanooga? We needed two more big brick signs announcing a neighborhood name in order to make Mayor Ron Littlefield smart, is that it?

Things will not be better if they have a few more upscale homes to collect taxes from. You're not five property tax bills short of perfection in Chattanooga. Wake up! Don't elect greedy, self-paying, self-appointing cronies to office. Maybe then we can get one step closer to "below average competence."

Annexation, with no plan beyond collecting a few more bills, is not going to solve anything. A few more tax dollars won't fix stupid.

May 29, 2012 at 8:47 p.m.

AlmostAmanda, well, for metro government there would be a vote, but for annexation, it's more the the city doesn't want to keep paying for serving them without paying for them.

MasterChefLen, as the Republicans are prone to say everybody would vote to get stuff for free without paying the costs. The general hope is that you can convince people to be prudent.

328Kwebsite, if you're afraid of the dumbest among us, we'd never let anybody have a car either.

riverman, I do think water would be something they'd want.

May 30, 2012 at 12:03 a.m.
joneses said...

There is no benefit living i the city of Chattanooga versus living in the county. All that happens is the property tax is doubled and the homeowner gets nothing for his added expenses. It is a money grab plain and simple.

May 30, 2012 at 5:59 a.m.
MasterChefLen said...

It is clear that "happywithnewbulbs" is a Littlefield crony.

May 30, 2012 at 9:21 a.m.

What joneses said. I have all of the services I need right now and I pay for every one of them. HWNB, what invisible services do county dwellers in Hurricane Creek get for free from the city?

May 30, 2012 at 10:31 a.m.
smokey said...

This is for HAPPYWITHNEWBULBS you are totally WRONG you must be one of those that want everybody to suffer just because of your misfortune of living in the city. I am one of those who woke up and moved out after putting up with 13 years of living in the cityand paying double taxes to get "trash pickup". I VOTED with my FEET. Why do 58% of the CITY police live in the county because they do not want any part of the city especially if they have kids in the school system. If the CITY dwellers like your self think for ONE MINUTE that the county people are getting something for nothing you are totally incorrect. You are LUCKY to have county dwellers to support your busineses. IF you do not believe just look at the southside and several other areas that you have let go down to EMPTY areas because nobody wants to live there or open a business in these areas. ANSWER this WHY does the CITY spends MILLIONS advertiseing for TOURISTS they USE the same city facilities that the county people use. HERE we are and you do NOT have to spend a dime to get us in the city and collect ALL of our SALES tax and use our people to do the jobs that you can not find in the city dwellers. I worked in the CITY for 15 years for a SALARY a lot less than I could have got OUTSIDE of YOUR city. YOU are trying to compare us to ILLEGALS. WAKE UP and move out.

June 5, 2012 at 3:52 p.m.
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