“Until the commission has formally introduced a resolution for a tax increase, it's rumors.”
While voting Wednesday on a resolution to give the public 21 days notice of a vote on a tax increase, Hamilton County commissioners floated the possibility of that very thing this year — a tax increase.
District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd introduced a resolution at the panel's March 27 agenda meeting that would require two readings at consecutive agenda sessions of a proposed tax increase before a vote. The resolution passed 7-2 after commissioners discussed the intent and formal procedure of the policy change.
"You can skirt around the rumors of a tax increase all day long. Until the commission has formally introduced a resolution for a tax increase, it's rumors," Boyd said. " ... If this passes, this county commission is setting forth for our future that our public will have input whether positive or negative about a tax [increase]."
Earlier in Wednesday's meeting, District 4 Commissioner Warren Mackey said he expects Superintendent Bryan Johnson will ask for more money in his 2019-20 fiscal year budget.
"Hamilton County government is about to go into budget hearings. And I anticipate that the superintendent is going to say he needs more money. I hope we can give you the tools you need," Mackey told Signal Mountain Middle/High School Principal Shane Harwood.
Mackey later said he thought the commission was "getting ahead of [itself]," after Mayor Jim Coppinger asked Boyd to clarify how the resolution would affect the introduction of the county's proposed budget in June.
"One, it seems like there's an assumption we are getting a budget increase. I haven't seen the budget and until we see the budget and [the mayor] convinces us why that's there, then we're getting ahead of ourselves," Mackey said.
Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley, of District 7, said it seemed the intent was for the public good.
"What I'm hearing more than anything is this resolution is not for us. ... This is more a benefit to the public to have more time to weigh in and be made aware of an increase," she said.
Coppinger characterized a hypothetical tax increase as a "worst-case scenario," but rumors have swirled since commissioners met with school board members in December that a tax increase might be coming for Hamilton County residents.
Last week, school district Chief Financial Officer Brent Goldberg told school board members that the district could expect at least a 3% bump in revenue growth from local property taxes, but Johnson has avoided commenting on what he will be asking for from the commission this spring.
The school board only began preliminary budget talks last week at its March 28 work session.
Having approved a new transportation contract that will cost the district at least $1 million more than its current contract and awaiting the results of a half-million-dollar facilities assessment, the school board is building its budget through a "priority-based budgeting model."
The school district isn't expected to vote on a budget until May 9. Coppinger said his staff plans to present the county budget to the commission on June 5.
Boyd thanked his fellow commissioners for approving the resolution, citing votes on tax increases as among the three most important things commissioners vote on — budgets, appointments and policy.
"I think it's just good government and good policy," Boyd said.
During the meeting, the commission acknowledged Hamilton County Schools' nine students who were named National Merit Scholarship finalists.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.