Mayor: Foes didn't influence decision to hold taxes steady

Mayor Ron Littlefield said he doesn't plan to seek a second consecutive tax increase next year, but it's not because thousands of people signed petitions trying to oust him from office.

Littlefield said his decision-making will not be influenced by the opposition that battled him over proposed fees and tax increases, the city budget and other issues.

"We're going to do what we have to do and deal with the consequences later," Littlefield said.

BY THE NUMBERS* 14,078: Signatures on petitions to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield* $115.20: Annual water quality fee on homes, up from $24 or $36 a year* 19: Percentage of property tax increase approved by City Council after mayor proposed a 33 percent hikeSource: Times Free Press archives

Mark West, president of the Chattanooga Tea Party, which helped lead the recall effort, said Littlefield's comments make the mayor sound "naive" and "foolhardy."

"It sounds like he has very little regard to the values of his constituents and what they are going through," West said.

The mayor's proposed 33 percent property tax increase this year was one of the factors that prompted the tea party and two other groups to try to force a recall vote.

The City Council approved a 19 percent increase in June. Combined with a stormwater fee increase approved in May, the owner of an average home -- estimated at $134,000 by the Chattanooga Association of Realtors -- was hit to the tune of more than $200.

Now, with the city's economy improving, Littlefield said he thinks that property tax increase is enough to get by for another year.

"I think we're going to be OK," he said.

He pointed to the 2011 startup of Volkswagen's auto assembly plant, the expansion of Alstom and the possible coming of to the area as indications that the area's economy is improving. He said city revenues from sales and property taxes are stable.

"We'll be able to move on with the progress of the city without getting into a huge budget battle," he said.

The recall effort died in September when Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth ruled that recall petitioners didn't have enough signatures to get the issue on the November ballot.

Jim Folkner, head of the Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, said that with court cases and appeals possibly outstanding, there's good reason the mayor isn't looking for more money.

"It's wise for him to not be threatening a property tax increase," Folkner said.

But City Council members agreed that stable revenues make a property tax increase next year unlikely.

Councilwoman Carol Berz, chairwoman of the Budget, Finance and Personnel Committee, said she reviews the expenses and revenues every month.

"All indicators show we've hit the turnaround," she said. "There's not going to be a need for a property tax increase."

Council Chairman Manny Rico said he would not vote for a tax increase next year if one was presented by the administration.

"We've told them," he said. "Live within your means. I'm saying, 'You got into this mess once: don't do it again.'"