Consolidation talks still not off the ground

Consolidation talks still not off the ground

November 26th, 2010 by Cliff Hightower in News

Talks about consolidation between Chattanooga and Hamilton County could come early next year, Mayor Ron Littlefield said.

He said the dialogue could come as the city and county begin conversations over a sales tax agreement that expires in May.

"I expect an intense six months," Littlefield said last week.

City Council Chairman Manny Rico said he also thinks it's time at least to look at consolidating some departments.

"At the beginning of the year, I'm going to push it," Rico said.

TIMELINE

* April 2009: Mayor Ron Littlefield says in his inauguration speech that the city and county should look at consolidating government.

* Oct. 6, 2009: Littlefield suspends annexation to discuss consolidation.

* March 2010: City Council adjusts stormwater fee after study by an independent committee.

* April 2010: Mayor considers putting Hamilton County sheriff in charge of city police department.

* June 2010: Council approves 2010-11 fiscal year budget after long discussion.

* July 2010: Reports say county and city are talking of consolidating the Hamilton County Criminal Office and the City Court Clerk's office.

* September 2010: Littlefield recall effort goes to court and a judge rules in his favor, blocking a referendum.

* May 2011: Sales tax agreement between city and county ends.

Source: Newspaper archives

Littlefield conceded last week that the effort to get the city and county to merge was stalling.

"It is moving more slowly than I would have hoped," Littlefield said.

County Mayor Claude Ramsey, who has said he supports consolidating services where it makes sense, said this week that he's "still in the same place I've always been" on the issue.

"The opportunity is still there," he said. "It's just working out the details."

The Chattanooga mayor raised the idea of consolidating Chattanooga and Hamilton County government in early 2009. He also said the city needed to grow through annexation, and the City Council acted to annex some territory through the summer.

The move was deeply unpopular, and in October 2009, Littlefield said he would put annexations on hold as a way to bring the city and county "to the table."

But little has changed since then.

The mayor talked of putting the county sheriff in charge of the police department in April and a report leaked out in July that the Hamilton County Criminal Court and the City Court clerk's office could merge. But Littlefield appointed Chief Bobby Dodd as police chief and he said there have been no other talks between the courts.

Littlefield said that outside pressures have stalled his efforts. He faced battles over water quality, or stormwater, fees and the city's budget, he said. He then faced a recall effort.

At the same time, the county held an election for commissioners and county mayor.

"We're stretched," Littlefield said.

Once the holidays are done, all parties can talk, he said.

Commission Chairman Fred Skillern said he welcomed a dialogue, but he said county officials would not be the ones extending their hands.

"They need to come to us," he said.