Arkansas Tech vs. Harding
The Hamilton County Commission is torn on Mayor Jim Coppinger's proposed 34 cent tax increase.
Coppinger's 2020 budget, proposed to the commission on Wednesday, includes a massive tax increase to benefit the county school district, which has the commission divided.
Though the budget will not be voted on until June 26 and no answers are final, many commissioners have expressed their opinions on the tax and overall budget:
District 1-Randy Fairbanks: No
Fairbanks told the Times Free Press after the meeting that he will not vote for the tax increase this soon after approving one in 2017.
"The information I've got from [my constituents] so far makes it clear that a tax increase is off the table for me this time," Fairbanks said. "I have to be sensitive to what it costs them and what they want."
Fairbanks praised Coppinger during and after the meeting for including significant funding toward the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, EMTs and volunteer fire department, without raising the tax for the county general government.
District 2-Chip Baker: Won't say
Baker vaguely agreed to stay open to the budget and possibilities at Wednesday's meeting, later telling the Times Free Press that he would not share a decision before the June 26 vote.
"With the county part of it, Mayor Coppinger took care of all of the priorities of myself and fellow commissioners," Baker said. "I look forward to working with the schools system to see if we can do some compromise if need be on some of the components of the school budget."
Baker declined to give specifics on what parts of the school budget he'd like to see change, but did say he supports teacher pay increases.
District 3-Greg Martin: Won't say
Echoing a comment he made Tuesday, Martin told the Times Free Press after the meeting that he will not share a decision on the vote until June 26.
"It's a huge budget, a huge document and I plan on taking the time to study it before I vote or make a decision," Martin said. "I will vote on this once in 21 days, not 22 times."
Martin was the only commissioner present at Wednesday's meeting who did not comment on the budget.
District 4-Warren Mackey: Yes
In what started as a salute to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Mackey said it would take "courage" for five commissioners to support the tax, but that it was a time for courage, such as when the commission voted to bring Volkswagen to Chattanooga.
"It's time to do the right thing and have courage, as those men did 75 years ago," Mackey concluded.
District 5-Katherlyn Geter: Yes
In the meeting on Wednesday, Geter thanked Coppinger and the county finance team for their Tuesday morning presentation, which she called phenomenal, before saying she was "surprised but excited" by the budget.
She then expressed her concern for the 44,000 students in the school system and came out in support of the tax, adding "now is the time to do this."
District 6-David Sharpe: Yes
Sharpe made his stance clear at the meeting Wednesday morning, saying the choice was simple.
"Do you support public education, accelerating student achievement and promoting economic growth in Hamilton County?" Sharpe asked. "If you do support those three things, it's a clear answer: You support this budget. ... I, for one, do."
Sharpe has been open to a tax increase since it was first suggested in May.
District 7-Sabrena Smedley: No
Chairwoman Smedley told the Times Free Press that she commends the mayor's budget and the superintendent's plan, but won't support a tax increase this year after voting for one in 2017 that she insisted needed to sustain the county rather than being a "Band-Aid."
"When I go to my citizens and my community and those who elected me and have entrusted me to cast a vote for them, I need to have a course of action to take to them and say 'Look, here's the problem we're facing,' and 'We have to deal with them and here's the plan going forward,'" Smedley said. "We don't have that, and to tell you the truth, because of that missing information, I really don't think we have a true idea of what the real need is yet."
District 8-Tim Boyd: No
Boyd, who has vehemently opposed a tax increase since it was suggested in May, unsurprisingly came out against the reduced increase at Wednesday's meeting, saying he is "absolutely against" an increase.
"We're not a bank and we're not going to keep giving," Boyd said of taxpayers.
District 9-Chester Bankston: Unavailable
Bankston was absent from both the Tuesday and Wednesday budget presentations for medical reasons and has not issued an opinion.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.