Hamilton County votes to extend budget

Hamilton County votes to extend budget

July 1st, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

Chris Brooks, co-founder of Chattanooga Organized for Action.

The new fiscal year begins today, but Hamilton County will keep its 2011 spending plan in place for at least another few weeks.

The Hamilton County Commission voted 8-0 Thursday to approve what's known as a continuation budget until the county school system can finalize its spending blueprint. The county budget and schools budget must be approved as a whole.

"The general government portion is completed," Mayor Jim Coppinger said during Thursday's recessed commission meeting.

The county's proposed 2011-12 fiscal year budget is $624 million, with $371.9 million going to schools.

During the commission's public comment period, Chris Brooks with Chattanooga Organized for Action, a local group that advocates for citizen involvement in government, skewered commissioners for cutting county funding for social services. He noted that no commissioner attended a forum his group held last week to draw attention to the impact of the cuts.

"This commission is going to take away all funds to teen pregnancy [prevention], and that is shameful," he said.

Becky Barnes, executive director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, said the cut in funding will not mean teen pregnancy prevention moves to the backburner. The department's infant mortality and maternal/child health programs also address teen pregnancy, she said.

"The health department will always address teen pregnancy," she said.

Commissioners also took offense at Brooks' comments that they would not show up to the forum, which addressed funding for mental health services once covered by the city and county's sales tax agreement.

Commissioner Joe Graham said commissioners had made some plans months in advance for the day of the forum. In his case, he said, he had a family funeral to attend.

"To chastise all of us is wrong," he said.

Coppinger also told commissioners a few changes were made to next fiscal year's budget. He said $150,000 in revenues would come from the Hamilton County trustee's and Hamilton County clerk and master's offices.

Three positions also were being put back into the budget - a custodial job, a secretarial job for engineering and a position in the trustee's office, he said.

Compton named chief of staff

Also on Thursday, the County Commission approved 8-0 the appointment of Mike Compton as Coppinger's chief of staff.

He will be given a salary of $125,000, less than the position's normal salary of $143,000 or more, Coppinger said.

After the meeting, Compton said he would be making less than he made in his job at Walden Security but felt he needed to make less than the usual salary as the county makes budget cuts.

"I think it made a statement that government service is more valuable than money," he said.

Compton comes from Walden Security, where he served as chief administrative officer. He was chief of staff for Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker from 2001-05.

Walden Security also conducts courthouse security, but County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said there is no conflict of interest.

"Mr. Compton will have no direct communication with Walden Security," Taylor said.

Compton also disclosed that he is receiving a compensation package from Walden Security until Aug. 12.