An effort to incorporate the new town of Hamilton is in full swing.
Last month, a group calling itself Friends of Hamilton chartered a civic organization to shepherd an initiative establishing the town on the November 2012 ballot. This week, members are calling on churches and businesses to help collect at least 4,000 signatures in the next nine months, roughly one-third of the estimated 12,000 registered voters who would be drawn into their proposed boundaries.
Hamilton would be "sandwiched" between Cleveland and Chattanooga in unincorporated areas of Birchwood, Harrison and Ooltewah, said Friends of Hamilton President Chris Matthews. The group is shooting to put the measure on the ballot next year to pre-empt the cities of Cleveland and Chattanooga from annexing areas near them, he said.
"That's why we're saying the time is now. The city of Cleveland has already said they want to annex all the way to the county line," Matthews said. "I've seen Chattanooga on a sprint to get out to the Bradley County line."
The group first announced its intention to incorporate in the days after Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield asked to reopen the county's urban growth plan for review. On Dec. 15, County Mayor Jim Coppinger will convene a coordinating committee to reopen the 20-year plan, passed in 2001.
State law sets out detailed requirements for a town to incorporate. The petition must be signed by 33.3 percent of registered voters in the proposed area, which must include at least 1,500 residents. The petition also must contain information about the town's services, which would include some basic services such as police and fire.
A property tax rate also must be set prior to incorporation. Though town leaders would be required to begin services upon its incorporation, the town's property tax revenues would be escrowed for a year and its sales tax would continue to go to the county for 10 years.
Municipal bonds might be an option in the meantime, Matthews said. and a finance team is considering options.
Public hearings also are required and will be scheduled, Matthews said.
Hamilton County Elections Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan said the group must turn the completed petition in to the commission before the beginning of September 2012 to get it on next year's November presidential general election ballot.
If the Friends of Hamilton are successful, Mullis-Morgan said this would be the first time in her decades at the election commission that an attempt to incorporate makes it to the ballot.
"This is a big undertaking," she said.