Hamilton County to propose revised sales-tax deal

Hamilton County to propose revised sales-tax deal

April 5th, 2011 by Adam Crisp in News

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger speaks to the Regional Health Council on Monday about possible plans to cut the Health Department's budget if a sales tax agreement with the city of Chattanooga expires. Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger says the county is planning a second draft of a new city-county sales-tax agreement, and he hopes its terms will allow the county and city to share sales tax money to fund specific agencies.

But Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield does not intend to renew or enter a negotiated sales tax agreement, according to spokesman Richard Beeland.

The agreement distributes sales-tax revenue collected in Hamilton County and its municipalities. The county stands to lose more than $10 million annually if the agreement is allowed to expire on May 23.

Coppinger, speaking Monday before the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Health Council, said he wants to preserve joint funding for four agencies in the new agreement: the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, Erlanger hospital, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency and Hamilton County Emergency Services.

"The city mayor has made it clear that he wants this agreement to expire, so a new agreement we don't expect will look anything like the current one," Coppinger said. "But we really want a new agreement to address some of the specific concerns such as the health department."

But Beeland said the mayor had no intention of extending the current agreement or entering a new one.

"We're not going to renew the sales-tax agreement, and we are not going into a new agreement," Beeland said Monday. "We can fund agencies as they present their proposals to the council, and the council can decide one at a time if they will approve those requests."

Coppinger said the two governments need to come to agreement before the current pact expires next month, so jointly funded agencies can continue to receive funding into the next fiscal year.

"I think it's important we start talking right now and we get an agreement that takes effect July 1," Coppinger said Monday after the health council's meeting. "That's when we need the money for budgets. We can't send a budget over there that's not balanced."

The health council unanimously voted to draft a letter supporting a resolution on the sales-tax matter, said Howard Roddy, the council's chairman.

"We will urge both the council and the commission to reach a resolution to the matter," Roddy said. "Whether that's a new agreement or some other resolution, we don't say."

Coppinger said he came before the health council to let its members know that the county wants to be at the table for a negotiated sales-tax agreement and to speak directly with council members about the issue. He said the health department receives about $4.5 million annually from the sales tax.

City Councilman Manny Rico, who sits on the health council, questioned some of Coppinger's comments but indicated he hasn't been plugged in to much of the debate between the city and county over the agreement.

"Just because it's been going for 45 years doesn't mean it's the right way to go," Rico said.