Hamilton commissioner wants more votes for tax hikes

Hamilton commissioner wants more votes for tax hikes

October 24th, 2017 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Document: Tim Boyd's letter

In an Oct. 10 letter to his colleagues, Tim Boyd outlined a concept which would require the Hamilton County Commission to take two votes when it comes to passing such resolutions.

Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd wants more time and double the votes when it comes to increasing property taxes.

In an Oct. 10 letter to his colleagues, Boyd outlined a plan to require the Hamilton County Commission to take two votes when it comes to passing such resolutions. He intends to present a formal measure to the commission when it meets Wednesday.

On Monday, Boyd confirmed it will be on the commission agenda.

"This is part of my continued effort for government to be more responsible, more transparent," Boyd said, citing his months-long attempt to require more county oversight of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitor's Bureau, which is on track to receive about $8.2 million in county lodging tax revenues this year. County dollars amount to around 80 percent of the organization's budget.

A recently released state audit of the CVB recommends the agency adopt detailed policies on how it spends its money.

In the letter, Boyd compares how Chattanooga and other surrounding municipalities require two separate votes when passing budgets and tax rates.

"The two-vote practice ensures taxpayers have ample notification of a proposed property tax increase," the letter says. "This change in policy gives our constituents a minimum of three weeks to contact their respective commissioner to ask questions or voice an opinion on a proposed tax increase."

Chattanooga and other chartered cities approve budgets and set tax rates by ordinances, which require two separate votes. However, city legislative bodies regularly use ordinances for far more than just budget concerns, such as amending city codes, rezoning properties and establishing fees.

The sticking point for Boyd occurred when Mayor Jim Coppinger presented a tax hike proposal to the commission on Aug. 30, which then voted to approve it on Sept. 6. Boyd cast the only vote against the tax increase.

At the time, Boyd said there was not enough time to assess the proposal, discuss it with constituents and hold public discussion, a stance he reiterates in the letter. He cited the Labor Day holiday and SEC tournaments as hindrances to conversations.

Boyd's dissatisfaction aside, the commission used the same two-week process to vote on the tax hike as it typically does for any other item which comes before the body. Commissioners conduct an agenda session to discuss legislative measures and then vote on those items the following week.

In June, Boyd failed at an attempt to get the commission to delay its vote on the proposed 2018 budget for 30 days. Boyd cast the only vote against the budget proposal.

Only three of Boyd's fellow commissioners could be reached for comment on Monday.

Commissioner Chester Bankston said he had received Boyd's letter, but had not seen a formal resolution yet.

"As for the letter, I don't like to do anything like the city," Bankston said.

Commissioners Joe Graham and Greg Martin questioned how a two-vote procedure would effectively be different than the two-meeting method they use now.

"Its worth a discussion," Graham said. "I don't see the significance of voting twice."

While commissioners hold two meetings to discuss any given agenda matter, they discussed the possibility of a tax increase a number of times between May and September, Graham said.

"We already have a two-step process in place," Martin said. "I'll have to wait and see the details of the resolution."

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.