Proposed Hamilton County budget foregoes raises, 'frills' to offset coronavirus, tornadoes

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 6/22/15. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger is shown in this file photo.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger's proposed fiscal year 2021 budget foregoes employee raises and "frills," bracing for the impact of the ongoing COVID- 19 pandemic and recent tornadoes in the area.

The nearly $800 million budget, which was presented to the County Commission on Wednesday, anticipates no sales tax increase and scraps $29 million in departmental requests to make up for emergency response and other costs associated with the storm and virus, which have battered the community, while trying to maintain an existing standard of service.

"We're not raising any taxes and we're not cutting any services, but we're certainly not adding much this year," Coppinger told the Times Free Press on Wednesday. "There are no frills, because we had to balance the budget with a lot of unknowns."

With uncertainty around when and to what extent the county will be reimbursed by state and federal emergency funding for some of the spring's unanticipated hardships, Coppinger said the county looked to budget conservatively to make ends meet if emergency funds are slow rolling or if the state makes further grant cuts in its own budget.

One of the biggest drawbacks in the budget is a lack of pay increases for county employees, similar to the pay freeze in the city of Chattanooga.

"You like to be able to do raises and reward hard work, especially because these people have been working really hard and working in different jobs to respond to everything going on," Coppinger said. "But we're very fortunate to not be seeing layoffs or increased insurance or pension costs, and to be able to maintain everything, even if we can't really add to it, is a good thing this year."

The general fund represents several significant revenue changes and additional grants from throughout the year including:

- Zero growth in property tax.

- Zero growth in sales taxes.

- $1.1 million decrease in gas tax.

- $300,000 decrease in all other revenues.

- $7.2 million increase in state and federal grants.

The Hamilton County Board of Education passed a similarly minimal $420 million budget late last month, also eliminating employee raises, which is reflected in the county's general budget.

The commission will vote on the proposed budget on June 24.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at or 423- 757- 6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.