A lack of a second doomed Commissioner Tim Boyd's attempt on Wednesday to require two votes to raise taxes on Hamilton County property owners.
No one spoke up to move for a vote on the resolution at the Hamilton County Commission meeting, leading Boyd to mourn the body's lack of support "for the most basic elements of transparency and good government."
He observed that the recently approved county budget included a significant property tax increase — nearly 27 cents per $100 of assessed value, raising the tax on a $150,000 home by about $100 a year — that was never publicly mentioned until just a few days before the vote in August.
In turn, Commissioner Joe Graham said Boyd might have been more in the know had he attended the many budget briefings and discussions that took place, and he accused Boyd of insulting the body.
Senior tax freeze help
Chattanooga will help those eligible for the senior tax freeze with their applications on Nov. 9 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Eastgate Senior Center, 5600 Brainerd Road, Suite C10-11, and noon to 2 p.m. Nov. 15 at John A. Patten YFD Center, 3202 Kellys Ferry Road.
The back-and-forth came at the end of an otherwise routine meeting highlighted by honoring the Signal Mountain girls golf team for winning the 2017 state golf championship.
The seven young women and their coach received a handshake from each commissioner and the mayor, along with a proclamation and several rounds of applause.
Boyd's resolution came and went in mere seconds early in the meeting, but he didn't say anything until the commissioners' comment period at the end.
"It's a very sad day for the taxpayers in Hamilton County, and it's hard for me to believe this body will not stand up for the most basic elements of transparency and good government, and on such a simple proposal," Boyd said. "I really believe my fellow commissioners would have at least had enough respect to have a deliberation of two votes for a tax increase."
Commissioner Sabrena Smedley said she thinks "all of us" support transparency, and she asked County Attorney Rheubin Taylor whether commissioners could delay or table any resolution they felt they needed more time to study. Taylor said yes.
Graham noted that cities hold at least two votes on ordinances because it's required in their municipal charters. He said the commission discussed the budget for months.
"Now, unfortunately Commissioner Boyd works in Atlanta, or the Atlanta area, and may not get to attend everything that we all get to attend," Graham said. "But there's emails, there's letters, there's newspaper, there's media; this was discussed from spring all the way to fall. ... If I'm not mistaken, Commissioner Boyd was involved in two of those conversations ... about whether to reassess the millage rate or not."
Graham also pointed out the commission has to wait at least 10 days to vote after the budget is presented.
"This is not a secret to the general public," Graham said. "So, I do applaud Commissioner Boyd for bringing this forward and I applaud him for bringing it up for discussion, because anything worthy of a discussion should be happening right here. So I applaud you for that.
"... But to belittle us or to attack us because we didn't agree with you? That, sir, is just wrong," Graham said.
Boyd countered that the process didn't work that way this year.
Commissioners voted on Mayor Jim Coppinger's $691 million budget in June, before the state set the certified tax rate. Coppinger asked for the revenue increase in August. Commissioners voted to keep the rate at $2.7652 per $100 of assessed value rather than adopt the certified rate of $2.4976.
"The workshops that the mayor had this past spring, that I attended, I took off work from my job near Atlanta to come up here and attend those workshops, [were for] a balanced budget and no tax increase.
"Balanced budget, no tax increase," Boyd repeated.
"And then two months later, all of a sudden, Wednesday before a holiday [Labor Day], and the SEC football season starting, it was proposed we have a tax increase."
Boyd has said that Mayor Jim Coppinger didn't give him a one-on-one briefing about the proposed tax increase, as he did the other eight commissioners. He said he made a motion to postpone the vote and couldn't get a second.
"And we didn't get eight days to discuss it with our constituents, we got three business days. So, those are some facts that I want to point out," Boyd said.
The county tax increase is expected to finance a $180 million general obligation bond issue for school buildings and jail expansion and a $45 million revenue bond issue to build a new sewage treatment plant in the eastern part of Hamilton County.
Chattanooga City Council members also voted to raise rates this year to raise about $23 million for city needs. That panel set the tax rate at $2.277 per $100 of assessed value. That's nearly 22 cents above the state- certified rate of $2.0573.
State law says local governments might rake in windfalls from growth in property values. After the every-four-year property reappraisals, governments must reset their tax rates so they collect the same amount of revenue as before.
When property values increase, rates fall. So by not matching the lower certified number, governments effectively increase taxes even if the rate stays the same.
The Chattanooga City Council voted this year to freeze property taxes for low-income seniors and disabled people, and Hamilton County commissioners voted to take part in a state property tax relief program for such people, using county matching funds.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416.
This story was updated Nov. 1 at 11:55 p.m. with more information.