Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger has been given the go-ahead to try for about $2.5 million in federal grant money.
County commissioners voted Thursday morning 8-1 to authorize the mayor to enter into a partnership agreement necessary to apply for the grant to help fund a 16-county, 40-year growth study. A final application is due today to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Chattanooga, Hamilton County and area foundations already had pledged $3 million for the effort, with the county shouldering $500,000 of that total.
"Everybody in this county pays a lot of federal taxes, and this is a way for us to recoup some of those taxes," Coppinger said of the grant, in which Hamilton County is competing with about 100 other communities nationwide.
Commissioner Tim Boyd cast the lone vote against the measure, saying he needs more information before he can support the growth plan.
"I think we need to move forward a little more carefully," Boyd said, taking issue with the amount of information he's received about the plan.
Boyd said he only received a copy of the document for the growth project this week, even though it was issued in June.
"We don't need a [request for proposals] issued in June to be just now getting to the commission," Boyd said. "I've got red ink all over it."
But he wasn't the only commissioner with questions about the study's governance structure and purpose.
Commissioner Fred Skillern, who represents the northwestern section of the county, said he wants fewer studies and more money spent now on building infrastructure such as sewer and water lines.
"I don't need a study to tell you that the 100-plus miles of road in my district that don't have running water need water; I don't need a study to tell me that the 900 miles of county roads I've got in my district don't have sewers," he said. "We know that.
"How many grants have come by this body to help me get water in my district? How many sewer grants have I voted on since I've been on this commission? None," he said. "Yet we can go do study after study after study."
Though Skillern took issue with elements of the grant, he said he'd vote for it because, if Hamilton County didn't get it, some other county would.
He also voiced concerns about the plan's governing structure, especially considering Hamilton County's size compared with most of the 15 other counties involved.
"Our unincorporated area is bigger than Rhea County or any other county," he said. "Soddy-Daisy is bigger than Sequatchie County. East Ridge is bigger than some of the other counties that are involved in this. What input are they going to have?"
Skillern wants more elected officials representing Hamilton County in the study.
Coppinger assured commissioners the study wouldn't require them to give up any power.
Last week, commissioners asked County Attorney Rheubin Taylor to insert language into their resolution guaranteeing they could veto any recommendation the study ultimately makes. The resolution passed Thursday reserves that power.