Budget vote could come tonight

Budget vote could come tonight

June 29th, 2010 by Cliff Hightower and Todd South in Politics Local

City Council members could vote tonight on a proposed 2010-11 budget that could include a property tax increase, but they maintain the final budget is not set.

"It's a first reading," Councilman Jack Benson said. "It gives us a week to amend."

For weeks, the council has debated the budget for the new fiscal year, which begins Thursday. Mayor Ron Littlefield first proposed a 33 percent property tax increase, or 64 cents per $100 of assessed property value, to pay for his $198.6 million budget. Last week, he presented an alternate budget that whittled the increase down to 39 cents.

But some are not happy with his alternative budget. Chattanooga police officers and firefighters talked to the media Monday about the reduced budget could drastically affect police and fire services.

"I think it's kind of breaking a promise," said Chattanooga firefighter Jeff Eldridge and local 820 union president. "You should take care of the people who've been here."

Mr. Littlefield said Monday his initial budget proposal included raises for police officers, along with hiring more officers. He said the City Council is pushing the cuts, not him.

Even then, he said the reduced budget has not affected police as much as other areas.

IF YOU GO

The Chattanooga City Council meets 10:30 a.m. today to talk about cuts to city departments. It will reconvene at 6 p.m. for the regularly scheduled business meeting to possibly vote on the first reading of the 2010-11 fiscal year budget.

"I've had to talk to a lot of departments that are upset because they (police) are getting these benefits," he said.

CITY COUNCIL VOTE

Councilwoman Carol Berz, chairwoman of the Budget, Finance and Personnel Committee, said Monday she is unsure whether there will be a vote today.

"I think when it will go to a vote, it will pass," she said. "The question is, when will it go to a vote?"

Other council members said they think it will be Tuesday night. Council Chairman Manny Rico said right now he thinks "everyone is spinning their wheels." But after two meetings scheduled today, he thinks things will become clearer.

"Everyone knows it's going to be a 35 to 39 cent tax increase," he said.

Mr. Benson said he thinks most council members would agree to vote on some tax increase. A vote could be taken tonight and the budget could be worked on further until a second reading next week.

Councilwoman Pam Ladd said she thinks a vote tonight is "doable." But she also said she doesn't put much weight behind the idea that the budget could be amended between now and next Tuesday.

"My vote will be on the thought that we aren't going to change it," she said.

POLICE AND FIRE RESPONSE

Council members on Friday informally agreed to cut health benefits off at age 65 for employees not vested with at least 10 years of city service. In the same session council members also informally decided to end the use of police take-home cars for officers who live outside of city limits, which affects an estimated 58 percent of the police department.

Mr. Eldridge said the current 39 cent property tax rate being debated should be increased to reinstate benefits and keep fire stations open.

The mayor's newest budget proposal included shifting firefighters around within units or closing the Eastdale fire station, a decision Mr. Eldridge said would cause problems.

The reductions could hinder recruiting and retention of current safety employees, said Chattanooga police Detective Phil Grubb, International Brotherhood of Police local president.

"How are you going to get people to come here?" he said. "Because they're definitely not going to come for the salaries."

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