Hamilton County mayor pledges focus on roads, families, addiction in speech

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp held his second state of the county address at the Tennessee Aquarium on March 28, 2024.
Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp held his second state of the county address at the Tennessee Aquarium on March 28, 2024.

Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp's priorities for the upcoming year include investments in public schools, creating a quick response team of first responders to treat overdoses and addressing road safety needs through a combination of local, state and federal money.

Reminiscing about the partnerships that made the Tennessee Aquarium possible, Wamp said during his State of the County address he fears Chattanooga's riverfront district is on the cusp of decline, citing vacant storefronts and the end of a signature downtown music festival, Riverbend. Organizers in October said the festival was on a "temporary pause" in 2024.

Wamp made the State of the County address, the second of his term, at the aquarium. Wamp took office Sept. 1, 2022.

Taxpayer-supported developments at The Bend and in the South Broad District are sure to lure businesses and tourists to the city, he said.

"We'll never be able to recreate the magic of the Chattanooga riverfront — the Tennessee River, two iconic bridges, this world class aquarium. It's no wonder that long before we were here, the Cherokee came to the banks of this river right here," Wamp said. "In the weeks and months and years ahead, we should refuse to allow our strengths to become our weaknesses. Instead, let's lean into those strengths."

(READ MORE: Hamilton County mayor prioritizes families, future in first State of the County address)

Support for families

Wamp said the strength of the county will be measured by the well-being of families, noting the first several years of a child's life are essential for future development. The mayor intends to create a Hamilton County Center for Thriving Families, which he hopes will be a central hub for resources in the community. The new center would also boost the work of existing organizations, including Signal Centers, Chambliss Center for Children, Choices and others.

The Health Department already serves countless families through programs that don't get enough attention, he said. The agency administers a federal program — the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — that provides nutritious food, information on healthy eating and health care referrals to families with young children. It also has a pediatric dental clinic that helps thousands of children across Hamilton County.

"Whether it's transportation or housing, our intent is to support young parents and to help create a strong foundation from which families will thrive," Wamp said.

In the coming weeks, Wamp's office will bring a $3 million proposal to the County Commission to expand career and technical programming at East Ridge High School, Hixson High School, The Howard School and the Harrison Bay Future Ready Center.

Last week, Wamp said, the county closed on the Golden Gateway site, an 11-acre property that previously housed BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. The county offered $10 million for the campus with the goal of boosting career and technical education. Gov. Bill Lee recently announced state support for that project, he said.

"We're in the process of working with multiple local employers to develop partnerships in that facility that will lead to high paying jobs downtown and at The Bend with great employers in this region," the mayor said.

The state has stepped in to support a new senior center in Harrison, and the mayor said there are more facilities to come. Last year, the county announced a partnership to fund bonuses for people who consider taking on jobs as career and technical instructors in public schools. The county has provided 25 signing bonuses for new teachers and also paid 92 retention bonuses for existing employees.

(READ MORE: The Bend developers are trying to bring headquarters-type jobs to Chattanooga)

Road needs

Residential growth over the past few decades has gravitated to former farms in Apison, East Brainerd and Ooltewah, Wamp said, which has burdened small roads in that area.

"That trend has left in the process roads that, (Commissioner Steve Highlander, R-Ooltewah) will tell you, were really intended in some cases for wagons to be overwhelmed with traffic, big vehicles," Wamp said.

The county has invested in guard rails, road reflectors and driver feedback signs. The county has conducted a thorough analysis to identify roadways in need of repairs, he said.

The mayor is proposing the creation of a fund the county would seed with $5.6 million that his office believes can be leveraged into $8 million, which would support 11 large and small projects on Snow Hill Road, Hunter Road and more. Four separate projects would occur on Hunter Road, which has a accident rate nine times the state average. The largest of those would be a new intersection at Hunter Road and Lebron Sterchi Drive. The new fund would be replenished by multiple revenue streams, Wamp said, including a sports gaming tax that's already committed to infrastructure.

Opioid funds

Pointing to programs the county is funding with money from nationwide drug settlements, Wamp said the county is tackling the opioid epidemic on multiple fronts. That includes exploring a new medication assisted treatment program at the jail and creating a dedicated drug prosecutor in the office of Hamilton County District Attorney Coty Wamp, the mayor's sister.

"There's a weight to this office," Weston Wamp said. "I share this with my friends. I've never slept more poorly than I have in the last year and a half because I honestly will often wake up in the middle of the night thinking about y'all, thinking about something that we're working on together. There's kind of a nagging feeling ... that you're never doing enough."

The county is designing a quick response model to to assist people and families suffering from the effects of opioid overdoses and addiction. That would include emergencies and the lingering after effects of those incidents.

"This is an example of us leaning into our strengths," Wamp said. "In this case, it's leaning into our countywide provider of emergency medicine to go a step further as the leader of a multiagency response to an unprecedented drug epidemic."


Fundamentally, Wamp said the state of the county is complex. Enrollment in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children has increased over the past year, jumping from 6,206 monthly participants to 7,346, according to county data. The academic disparities between white and Black students has also grown in recent years, the mayor said. There has, however, been job growth in the county and clear achievements in early childhood reading and school athletics, he said.

(READ MORE: New Ooltewah housing projects spark resident concerns about growing pains)

"Even though there is much work to do, I am convinced that the state of this county is decidedly optimistic," Wamp said. "If we will channel the civic courage of those who built this community and lean into our strengths, there will be thriving families on the banks of the Tennessee River for generations to come."

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

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