The Chattanooga City Council approved a $185 million budget with a 37-cent property tax increase on first reading Tuesday night, even as dozens of people protested the hike.
"We've tried to cut, tried to cut and we have," said Councilman Jack Benson. "I hope we can find more ways to cut further."
The council's tax increase is 27 cents lower than Mayor Ron Littlefield's initial budget proposal last month, which included a property tax increase of 64 cents per $100 of assessed value.
If approved next week on second reading, the increase will add right at $124 to the city tax bill for a $134,000 home, the median price in Chattanooga.
The vote was 6-3, with Russell Gilbert, Peter Murphy and Deborah Scott voting no.
Dozens of protesters packed the City Council meeting room, some applauding when council members cast votes against the tax increase.
Several lined up after the meeting to comment, saying they did not want any more taxes.
Lana Sutton, a Chattanooga resident and city employee, pleaded against the tax increase and for a raise for city employees.
"Who's getting raises?" she asked the council. "The people making $100,000. Say hello to the people making $100,000."
She then turned and pointed toward a group of city administrators and directors sitting on one side of the room.
The new budget does not give any raises to city employees except to fix a police department anomaly. The budget also cuts out take-home cars for those who live outside the city limits, reforms future medical benefits once retirees hit 65 and cuts money to city-funded agencies by almost $1 million.
Council members found money to keep city recreation centers open for normal hours and to keep the Frances Wyatt Recreation Center and the pool at the Carver Recreation Center off the chopping block.
Council members have tried for almost a month to reduce the mayor's proposed 33 percent property tax increase.
HOW THEY VOTED
The City Council on Tuesday approved a $185 million budget.
* Jack Benson
* Carol Berz
* Pam Ladd
* Andraé McGary
* Sally Robinson
* Manny Rico
* Russell Gilbert
* Peter Murphy
* Deborah Scott
Source: City Council
Mrs. Scott said the result still didn't go far enough.
"I think there is still room for modification and reduction," she said.
Mr. Gilbert said he wouldn't vote for a tax increase unless it included pay raises for city employees.
"I find it very difficult for me, if we're going to raise the taxes of the city, we're leaving out the backbone and the backbone is our employees," he said.
The new budget adds no new firefighters and cuts police hiring to one academy.
City officials said part of the need for the tax increase is because the city has drawn down its reserve from $41 million to $24 million over the past three years. City officials say they cannot go back to the well for fear of affecting future bond ratings.
Mark West, president of the Chattanooga Tea Party, said he thinks the city still should look at the fund.
"You don't balance your budget on the backs of people trying to make it through a rainy day themselves," he said.