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Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger speaks during the unveiling of plans for the new East Hamilton Middle School during a community meeting at East Hamilton Middle High School on July 10, 2018, in Chattanooga.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger will reveal his 2020 budget proposal to county commissioners at a budget workshop Tuesday.

The highly anticipated workshop could confirm weeks of speculation about a property tax rate increase to fund $34 million in additional funding for the county school district. It also will include any increases or cuts the mayor's office might request for the next fiscal year.

Coppinger presented initial budget requests from county departments and services on May 7. The requests presented sought to reduce incarceration costs, provide more money for volunteer fire departments, continue infrastructure improvements and stay the course on the county's triple-A bond rating.

After public education, "our priorities are always public safety," Coppinger said at the time. "We've got some serious issues to deal with regarding paramedics and EMTs."

Hamilton County Schools' $443 million budget request, which typically makes up at least 60% of the county's overall budget, will most likely be front and center, though. Superintendent Bryan Johnson unveiled his request to the commission on May 14, and many commissioners have already shared their thoughts.

The budget increase is solely for operational costs and includes a 5% raise for teachers, about 350 additional positions and one-to-one technology for students in schools.

Sheriff Jim Hammond has requested more than $5 million in additional funds, focused on pay raises, additional positions and equipment for his additional desired officers.

Johnson's request alone would require a 34-cent property tax rate increase, but commissioners have tossed around a 49-cent hike as the real number in recent weeks. Coppinger has remained quiet on what his request will be.

"You've shown increases all across the board and you've done every bit of that with funding you have. You stayed within your means," District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd said at the time. "I want to see more moving forward before I go back to my citizens and ask them for a tax increase. I think it's way early and way too much funding."

Boyd has spoken out openly against a tax increase, as has Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley of District 7 and District 3 Commissioner Greg Martin.

Commissioners Katherlyn Geter, Warren Mackey and David Sharpe have spoken more favorably about the need to focus on education.

"It's certainly worth a look when you know that Hamilton County has not had an increase in expenditure for per-pupil funding in 14 years," Sharpe said last month. "Being anti-tax to be anti-tax because that's just what we do in Hamilton County for 40 years doesn't seem to be the right approach."

Last year's budget for Hamilton County was $753,930,953, according to county documents.

After Tuesday's budget workshop, the mayor will officially introduce the budget at Wednesday's County Commission meeting.

From there, commissioners will not be able to vote on the budget for at least 21 days, thanks to a resolution introduced by Boyd in March. The vote now is scheduled for June 26.

In the coming weeks, several commissioners have public meetings scheduled to seek community input on the potential tax increase. County commission meetings are also open to the public. The meetings are held at 9:30 a.m. every Wednesday on the fourth floor of the Hamilton County Courthouse at 625 Georgia Ave.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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