Hamilton County's social service agencies took a harsh cut in funding last year when city government terminated the old city-county sales tax agreement. Though the sales tax agreement needed to be scrapped, county officials wrongly used its termination as a reason to whack their meager share of public funding for these agencies, and city government couldn't make up all of the county's vanished funding.
Now it appears that city government will reduce its funding to these agencies, collectively, from an initially proposed $873,000 down to $700,000. That would drive the agencies deeper into the hole, forcing cutbacks in the crucial services they provide.
The cuts would compromise the work of a range of well-known, highly valued organizations: the Partnership for Children, Families and Adults; the Children's Advocacy Center; Joe Johnson Mental Health Center; Homeless Healthcare; Signal Center; AIM Center; Orange Grove; Childrens Home/Chambliss Shelter; Speech and Hearing Center; Bethlehem Center; Girls, Inc.; Senior Neighbors; Community Foundation; On Point; Fortwood Center; and the Urban League.
More than a dozen of these 16 agencies provide critical help to abused children, needy families, disabled and intellectually challenged citizens, the mentally ill and handicapped, homebound elderly, ill homeless people, at-risk girls and teenagers. Without sufficient funding for staff, equipment and facilities, the agencies' capacities to serve will shrink and wither; the needs of many of those they serve will go unmet.
The government of the city of Chattanooga should contribute as much as possible to secure funding for these agencies, but so should county government. Indeed, since the clients of these agencies come from every corner of Hamilton County, so should their funding through county government's countywide tax base.
County officials would not acknowledge that responsibility last year, but that does not mean they should not consider providing support this year, or that the county's social service agencies should give them a pass. Neither government gives any hope of higher funding through a tax increase, but it is the County Commission and County Mayor Jim Coppinger who bear the moral burden of providing a fair share of funding for critical social services countywide.