City douses Walnut Street Bridge lights for now

City douses Walnut Street Bridge lights for now

June 12th, 2018 by Judy Walton in Breaking News

Walnut Street Bridge

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

Updated at 9:44 p.m. on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.

In other business

* Vice Chairman Erskine Oglesby Jr. read a resolution honoring the U.S. Navy as part of Navy Week.

* The council approved on final reading a resolution adjusting city fee

* The council also delayed for a week a proposed permit for a planned unit development for property at 1100 Lupton Drive.

The Chattanooga City Council has given itself a week's breathing room to think more about the upcoming year's budget.

POLL: Was the city right to drop the Walnut Street Bridge light plan from the budget?

After four weeks of briefings and discussions on Mayor Andy Berke's proposed $279 million spending plan, council members decided they couldn't meet their initial plan for a first-reading vote June 19 and a final vote June 26. The 2019 fiscal year starts July 1.

Instead, members voted Tuesday on an interim budget so the city could keep operating.

The agenda item called for a continuing budget from July 1 to July 15. Councilman Jerry Mitchell made a motion that the interim budget extend only from July 1-5. Members Chip Henderson, Darrin Ledford, Demetrus Coonrod and Chairman Ken Smith opposed the shortening but were outvoted by Carol Berz, Anthony Byrd, Russell Gilbert, Jerry Mitchell and Vice Chairman Erskine Oglesby Jr.

The whole council then voted to adopt the one-week delay. The schedule now calls for a first-reading vote on June 26 and final reading July 3.

Council members have expressed doubts about the budget in several areas. They're almost universally skeptical of the administration's plan to take over managing the social services portion of Berke's anti-gang initiative. They're not happy about hefty water quality fee increases for city residents on top of higher property taxes and sewer fees. And they've been slammed by constituents over the administration's proposal to spend $4 million in city and private money for interactive lighting on the Walnut Street Bridge.

That plan has been shelved, Berke's chief of staff, Stacy Richardson, told the council Tuesday morning.

Richardson said the administration hoped to have a "fully baked plan" for the council, but had more work to do on the various permits and permissions for such a project. Instead, the administration will put $1.3 million in the budget to upgrade the electrical system, "work that would have to be done regardless of the final light design."

Some Chattanooga residents who attended the public budget hearing Tuesday night had heard of the cancellation, but still rose to speak against the lighting project.

One said the historic span doesn't need "casino-carnival-style" lighting and scolded the administration for not doing a better job of getting public input. Another said, "We don't need to put peacock feathers on an eagle."

Other residents speaking at the hearing voiced concerns over annual water quality fees. If the council passes the proposed increase, the current $115 fee is scheduled to rise nearly 10 percent per year for five years, to $183. That's going to hurt the poor and people on fixed incomes, commenters and council members have said.

"Enough's enough. Time to stop," District 1 resident Chris Dooley said. "Please don't raise that fee."

Other commenters asked for more funding for Youth and Family Development Centers, which have education and recreation programs for children, and advocated investing some of the city's hefty reserves in the community.

Brad Payson, president of the Service Employees International Union, thanked the council and administration for employee raises, including an extra bump for those earning under $50,000 a year, and for funding a pay study in the coming year.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.


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