This story was updated June 6, 2018, at 11:59 p.m.
Hamilton County commissioners on Wednesday were generally friendly when County Mayor Jim Coppinger formally presented them with the proposed 2019 budget.
Coppinger gave the highlights of a $754 million spending plan he said keeps property tax rates where they are, boosts school funding, adds seven new school resource officers and improves public safety.
The total budget is up $37 million from the current year, which ends June 30, partly because the county adjusted property tax rates last year. That rate hike raised about $3.7 million, of $5.6 million in total new revenue. Part of that is offset by a $348,000 reduction in Hall income tax revenue. That tax is being phased out.
"The priority was to make this a fiscally responsible budget," Coppinger told county commissioners at their Wednesday voting meeting. "I think we've done that. With the help of the constitutional officers, with the help of the administrators and this commission, we've put together a balanced budget with no tax increase and without having to go into reserves."
He said more than $440 million, or 64 percent, of the money will go to schools, and another 14 percent to public safety. Along with the new SROs, Coppinger wants to build a new ambulance station in the Ooltewah-Georgetown Road area and put two crime analysts at the sheriff's office, among 29 new hires in the budget.
There's a 3 percent general salary increase, though employees earning less than $50,000 a year will get a flat $1,500, which is a larger percentage.
Debt service rose by 51 percent, to pay off $125 million in bonds issued last year to build and renovate numerous county schools.facebook
The $6.2 million capital budget funds 47 new vehicles at the sheriff's office and pays for a host of safety, infrastructure and information technology needs.
And the county will have $1.3 million to spend on roads and streets, up $300,000 from the current year. That new money comes from the statewide fuel tax increase that took effect a year ago.
Coppinger pointed out that local road funding when Commissioner Warren Mackey, who called the proposed spending plan a "really, really good budget," also said more money is needed throughout the county for roads and bridges.
The mayor reminded commissioners that roads inside municipal limits are maintained by the cities and towns, and that most major arteries are under state and federal ownership.
Commissioner Tim Boyd offered congratulations for giving county general government workers a raise. But, noting the county gave Volkswagen more than $25 million in incentives a few years go, he also asked whether the mayor had dipped into reserve funds to make the budget.
No, Coppinger said. The county has paid about $26 million to VW and has about a half-million to go. But Hamilton County still has $92 million in reserves and doesn't expect to touch it barring catastrophe, he said. That well-filled reserve fund is a point of pride that officials say contributes greatly to the county's AAA bond rating.
Commissioners Joe Graham and Greg Martin praised the extensive budget workshops Coppinger holds each year. This year was the first time the county schools superintendent, rather than the mayor, presented the schools budget to the commission, and it went over well.
"Each year, [the workshops] get more in-depth and technical. I appreciate that," Graham said.
Martin urged Hamilton County residents to read the budget online and get back to their commissioners with questions or comments.
"I want to hear from people," he said. "It's very important to listen to what folks say."
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416.