published Friday, June 28th, 2013

Hamilton County Commission OKs Mayor Jim Coppinger's $665 million budget

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger comments on a portion of his budget to county commissioners in this file photo.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger comments on a portion of his budget to county commissioners in this file photo.
Photo by Tim Barber.

HOW THEY VOTED

Hamilton County commissioners split 5-4 in approving the 2014 budget:

Yes

• Chester Bankston, Greg Beck, Jim Fields, Marty Haynes and Chairman Larry Henry

No

• Tim Boyd, Joe Graham, Warren Mackey and Fred Skillern

BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

• Total 2014 budget -- $665 million, up $22 million from last year

• Hamilton County Schools budget -- $393 million, up $8.6 million from last year

• County General Fund -- $57 million, up $5.9 million

• Constitutional offices -- $51 million, up $682,000

• Sheriff's Office budget -- $28.7 million, up $829,021

Source: Hamilton County budget documents

After short but heated debate Thursday, the Hamilton County Commission accepted Mayor Jim Coppinger's $665 million 2014 budget in a 5-4 split decision. Some dissenting commissioners say they still have questions they want answered -- but Coppinger and others say all they need to do is read.

Commissioner Fred Skillern tried to defer the decision for two weeks. That move failed. He said there were still budget items he and other commissioners "need clarification on."

Skillern said a large book of detailed budget requests given to commissioners was useless because it didn't contain final numbers. And a budget summary commissioners received Thursday lacked full information about cuts and increases.

"I'd like to have a book that I can pay attention to -- in detail," Skillern said.

Commissioner Joe Graham also wanted more information before voting on the budget that starts Monday.

"You got a $655 million budget on eight or 10 pieces of paper, you don't get much detail. ... I just don't want to vote on a budget I haven't seen," he said.

But Coppinger said commissioners had all the information available -- and have for weeks. He added that county staff has met with each commissioner individually.

"All that information has been provided. They had all the decision-making information there," he said.

Commissioners do not have line-item-veto power when approving the budget. They simply vote to approve or deny what Coppinger brings.

Chairman Larry Henry, who voted to approve the budget, said finding where cuts and increases came from just took a little cross-referencing of Coppinger's budget with the big book of budget requests.

"It's not rocket science," Henry said.

The commissioners' questions didn't rattle Coppinger, he said.

"The legislative branch should be asking questions of the executive branch. That's how government is supposed to work," he said.

Graham's concern about the $20 million overall budget increase came largely from $18.8 million in state and federal money getting funneled to the school system and other departments, Coppinger said.

"We had no control over a lot of the state and federal programs," Coppinger said. "When the governor gives a raise to the teachers ... He sends the money and it goes on our budget."

The schools budget accounts for about 60 percent of the county's overall budget number.

Additionally, the budget calls for pulling $3.6 million from the fund balance to cover increased health care costs expected when parts of the Affordable Care Act go into effect.

Coppinger said commissioners were apprised of both issues.

But Skillern took issue Thursday with pulling from the county's fund balance. He said the budget shouldn't grow unless the fund balance does, too.

Coppinger said he could understand the principle, but the fund balance is in good shape.

"Since 2005, we were around about $50 million on fund balance, and since then, we're at about $104 million in FY 2012. We're using that fund balance to fill the gap left by insurance -- one time," Coppinger said.

In other business commissioners:

• Agreed to consider entering into an $11,000 contract with Russ Blakeley & Associates for health care consulting

• Agreed to consider purchasing $21,550 in digital fingerprint scanning and camera equipment for Hamilton County Juvenile Court

• Agreed to consider accepting a $75,138 bid from J&J Contractors to replace mesh ceilings in six holding cells at the Hamilton County Justice Building

• Agreed to consider signing a $588,138 waste tire recycling grant with the Tennessee Department of Environment Conservation

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6481. Follow him on Twitter at @glbrogdoniv.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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