Red Bank city commissioners have voted 3-1 to approve a proposed 57-cent increase in the municipality's property tax rate, going from $1.10 to $1.67 per $100 of assessed value, an increase of 52%.
For a $275,000 home, a homeowner would pay $1,148 per year in city taxes, up from the current $756, using the new rate, which was given preliminary approval late Tuesday.
The nearly-$9.8 million proposed, balanced budget for fiscal year 2024 is about a 15% increase from the previous year's budget of $8.3 million.
The proposed budget includes a 7% raise for all employees, aside from the city manager, at a cost of about $325,000. It also includes market adjustments in pay for some staff, including uniformed staff of the Police Department, for about $90,000.
One new police officer is funded in the budget, which also adds a part-time night shift position for the Fire Department, allowing the city to have five firefighters on duty 24/7.
The cost of adding the two new staff members funded by the general fund is $138,887.
"We've kicked the can down the road for decades," Commissioner Pete Phillips said at the meeting, referring to previous commissioners who chose not to raise property taxes. "We balanced the budget on the backs of employees that were making $11, $10 an hour. ... I don't see how we can ask our employees to live in poverty because we don't want to pay more taxes."
Mayor Hollie Berry, who was in the hospital and unable to attend or formally vote, expressed her support for the budget through communication with City Manager Martin Granum during the meeting.
Commissioner Jamie Fairbanks-Harvey, who voted no, said by phone after the meeting she supports higher pay for police officers, firefighters and public works employees, but not higher salaries for the city's administration.
About 100 people who attempted to attend the public hearing for the budget stood outside the commission chambers, which were already full more than a half hour before the meeting began.
About 40 people, including those both for and against the proposed budget and tax rate increase, commented during the meeting.
Those in favor said the city had put off raising the tax rate long enough, and they want the services the city is working to improve while also providing more parks, bike lanes and a library.
"I didn't move to a city to have a rock bottom, minimalist kind of environment in a city that operates on a survivalist budget and can't afford to hire people, to pay people to fix things or provide needed equipment and provide needed services and needed cultural activities," resident Don McKenzie said. "I moved to a city expecting to pay for what we get."
Those against the budget said they couldn't afford a significant tax increase. Many suggested raising the tax rate in smaller increments and working to cut back expenses that could be addressed later.
"This is the wrong time and too large of an increment to hit so many property (tax) paying senior citizens, and many of them are on fixed incomes. They don't have Netflix," Gina Hembree said, referring to another citizen's comment that the increased amount people would pay in property taxes was equivalent to a streaming service. "They rarely can even get their groceries. I think a more reasoned and gradual increase would have a greater reception from your citizens."
The final vote on the proposed budget and tax rate increase is set for 6 p.m. June 20. Commissioners discussed changing the venue from the commissioner chambers to accommodate residents who want to attend, but no definite change was made.
PROPERTY TAX RATES FOR HAMILTON COUNTY MUNICIPALITIES
Property tax rates for Hamilton County municipalities per $100 of a home's assessed value:
— Ridgeside: $2.55
— Chattanooga: $2.25
— Lookout Mountain: $2.02
— Signal Mountain: $1.7012
— Collegedale: $1.3897
— East Ridge: $1.25
— Soddy-Daisy: $1.159
— Red Bank: $1.10
— Walden: $0.5315
— Lakesite: $0.20