Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson spoke in favor of the school board's proposed $34 million revenue increase for next year at a meeting convened by District 8 school board member Tucker McClendon last week.
Johnson told the crowd of about 22, which included nine employees of the school system, that the budget is "a statement of values," and said the additional $34 million would fund social workers, guidance counselors, teacher support staff, truancy officers and teacher raises.
Coppinger said he believed Johnson "had gotten all he could" out of existing revenues and that the superintendent "could not take the school system to the next level" without a tax increase, which would be necessary if the county is to fully fund the school district's budget request.
About $1.7 million of capital maintenance improvements has already been approved for District 8 schools and is not dependent on the tax increase, McClendon told the group, including $1 million for improvements at East Ridge High School.
District 8 County Commissioner Tim Boyd held similar public meetings on May 16 in East Ridge and May 28 in Brainerd. McClendon was invited to attend but declined.
At Boyd's East Ridge meeting, which drew around 40 citizens, he questioned the need for the tax increase, citing a nearly 27-cent increase passed by the county commission in September 2017. He challenged many of the numbers in the proposed $443 million school budget and said he believes "that if the school system is making great progress, then let them continue that progress while living within its means. Senior citizens can't take another tax increase."
With additional tax revenues requested by the sheriff's office and rumored for county government needs, a tax increase of as much as 49 cents per $100 of assessed value could be needed. That would mean an additional $490 annually on a $100,000-valued home, an 18% increase.
Boyd, who will hold a third public meeting at 6:30 p.m. on June 13 at the Missionary Ridge Neighborhood Association meeting hall, said the addition of more than 400 school system employees represents a "staggering increase in the school system bureaucracy."
County Commission Chairman Sabrena Smedley and school board Chairman Joe Wingate, who represent the East Brainerd area, held a related joint public meeting May 28. It also showed a split between school and county officials.
Wingate voted for the school board's proposed budget and accompanying tax increase, while Smedley has said she will oppose the increase. Similarly, McClendon voted to support the tax increase, while Boyd has said he will oppose it.
Coppinger plans to present his combined county budget proposal to the commission June 5.
The East Ridge City Council got its first look at fiscal year 2019-20's no-tax-increase budget during a work session May 24.
The proposed operating budget is $13,882,744, up 1.38% from a year ago, while the total budget is $24,440,522, down 1% from this year.
The budget funds one less than the 130 full-time positions in the current fiscal year budget.
New City Manager Chris Dorsey said the budget includes a 3% raise for all employees, four new police cars, a new garbage truck and replacement equipment for the fire department.
The council will consider the budget at its meeting on June 13, with final approval set for June 27.
Collegedale commissioners were set to review their city's budget for the first time at a work session May 28, before discussing it during the June 3 and June 17 commission meetings. The city declined to discuss the budget prior to the work session.
The city of Chattanooga continues to discuss Mayor Andy Berke's "extremely tight" $687.7 million capital and operations budget, which is up 1.05% from FY2019's anticipated revenue.
The council will have more budget education sessions June 4 and 11 from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and June 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
A public hearing for the budget will be held at the June 11 council meeting at 6 p.m.
The council is expected to vote on the budget June 18 and June 25 at the 6 p.m. council meetings.
Staff writer Sarah Grace Taylor contributed to this story.
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