No tax hikes in Hamilton County budget

No tax hikes in Hamilton County budget

June 14th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

In this file photo Jim Coppinger speaks to reporters after taking the oath of office to become Hamilton County Mayor on Jan. 11, 2011.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Most Hamilton County commissioners agree there will be no tax increases in next year's budget, but it's likely they'll have to consider laying off some of the county's work force.

Commissioners will get their first official look at County Mayor Jim Coppinger's proposed 2011-12 budget Wednesday.

Coppinger has said his budget will include cuts and other cost-saving measures, including layoffs. The county has 1,855 full-time and part-time employees.

"Unfortunately, there will be some elimination of programs and jobs," he said.

The hardest-hit area could be the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, which had been funded under the now defunct 45-year-old sales tax agreement between Chattanooga and the county.

In the agreement, the city annually handed over about $10.5 million in sales tax to the county to help fund several jointly funded and quasi-governmental agencies such as the health department. The agreement ran out last month after Chattanooga decided to let it expire.

Coppinger said he started meeting with commissioners last week to brief them on the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The new budget is expected to be less than this year's $638 million budget.

Several commissioners said a tax hike is not on the table for them.

"I'm taxed out right now," Commissioner Greg Beck said Monday.

The last county tax increase came in 2007, when commissioners hiked property taxes by 26 cents, going from $2.51 per $100 of assessed value to $2.77 per $100 of assessed value.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry said Monday the budget is "one of the tightest I've seen since I've been on the County Commission."

But he said the commission will probably not be going into taxpayers' pockets to make up the difference.

"I don't see any persuasion from the commission," he said.

Commissioner Mitch McClure said he had heard the mayor planned on presenting a balanced budget.

"I interpret that to mean no tax increase," he said.

County officials said the commission plans to vote on the first reading of the budget by June 30. Henry said the commission will have a recess next week to study the budget before a vote.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CliffHightower.