School resource officers, ambulance station proposed in Hamilton County budget [documents]

School resource officers, ambulance station proposed in Hamilton County budget [documents]

No-tax-increase plan includes 3 percent raise for workers

May 16th, 2018 by Judy Walton in Local Regional News

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger invites a speaker to the podium during a legislative breakfast on Jan. 4, 2018 at the Doubletree Hotel.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he wants to do more for public safety and roads, along with building two new schools, in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Coppinger focused on public safety and infrastructure improvements in a budget workshop for county commissioners Tuesday morning, where he also proposed a 3 percent raise for county workers and no tax increase.

Document: Hamilton County budget workshop document

Read the Hamilton County budget workshop document

General fund revenue, projected at nearly $253 million, is up $5.4 million from last year, he said, but budget requests were running $17 million ahead of that.

Including schools, the overall budget request for fiscal 2019 is $765.5 million. That's 49 million, or 6.8 percent, higher than the current year and includes more than 100 new positions.

Not all of those requests are going to happen, Coppinger warned.

Five commissioners — Chairman Randy Fairbanks, Vice Chairman Sabrena Smedley, and commissioners Chester Bankston, Joe Graham and Greg Martin — sat with a roomful of department heads for the presentation. Commissioners Greg Beck, Tim Boyd, Jim Fields and Warren Mackey were absent.

The spending plan boasts $125 million for school construction, money raised from bonds financed by last year's tax increase.

"This commission should be proud that in the last seven years we've spent $282 million in this category" for new and improved county school buildings, Coppinger said.

In the public safety area, the mayor outlined plans to work with the county schools and the sheriff's office to add seven more school resource officers. The schools will pay their salaries while the county will buy their cars and equipment.

He said Sheriff Jim Hammond also is asking for several more personnel, including 34 in the jail, 12 patrol officers, four court officers and three criminal investigators.

"We'll review it with the sheriff and see where we can get to," he said.

Coppinger also plans to build a new ambulance station on Ooltewah-Georgetown Road, an area that's exploding with new homes. It will have two ambulances and a six-person staff, he said.

That's part of $11.9 million proposed for capital outlays for general government. That proposed spending ranges from replacement cars in the sheriff's office to jail renovations, general maintenance, and more defibrillators for schools, he said.

The public works department is asking for two maintenance workers and six employees to fill half its vacant positions. Department administrator Todd Leamon said the combined departures, along with the halting of a program that used jail inmates to pick up litter and clear brush, has made it hard to keep up with the workload.

The roads department will have an extra $311,000 in gas tax revenue to add to the $1 million it got last year, which means more road maintenance. And Coppinger is proposing a 10 percent boost in support to the county's volunteer fire departments, their first increase in 10 years.

"As an old fire chief I can attest" to the value of having those volunteers in local communities, he said.

Coppinger also had good news for county employees. Thanks at least in part to the county-operated clinic and pharmacy, health insurance costs are holding steady and there will be no premium increase for the year.

And he's proposing a 3 percent overall raise for county employees, with a floor of $1,500. Of the county's 1,770 current employees, the average salary is $43,358 and the median is $38,171. The floor would mean that anyone earning less than $50,000 would get a $1,500 raise rather than the percentage increase.

It would be the fourth year county government granted raises with an extra boost for the lowest-paid workers.

The next step in the budget process will be presentations May 30 by elected officials and supported agencies that get county money.

Coppinger said he would present the completed budget to the commission on June 6 for a vote on June 27.

"We'll sit down and work through these things together and balance it with no tax increase, and I think we can do it," he said.

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

Document: Budget presentation to commission

See the PowerPoint presentation on the schools budget.

View Document