To avoid a property tax increase for general government, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger had to slash more than $13 million from requests in the county's 2020 budget.
After weeks of speculation that he would request a 49-cent property tax increase, Coppinger introduced a budget Tuesday that calls for a 34-cent increase — earmarked for schools — and no additional taxes for the county's other operations.
"We worked really hard and [the finance] guys did magic, but we managed to make it work with no additional tax increase," Coppinger told the Times Free Press. "There are areas we had to cut some requests, and this was one of the biggest cuts I ever had to do, but we think this is the best way to get everyone what they need and prioritize education and public safety."
The $819 million budget — up $65 million, or 8.7%, from last year — grants a significant increase for schools as well as a $3.5 million, or 6.4%, increase for the sheriff's office, which includes money for new personnel and equipment, $854,000 for a 5% pay raise to all sworn personnel and $1.9 million in additional compensation to raise the salaries of more tenured personnel to balance wages.
With the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and the school district "winning the lottery," as Coppinger joked, many other government functions took big hits to their requests.
* $4.8 million was cut from capital improvements. The largest of the cuts made since the previous workshops was to capital outlay projects, including elevator upgrades, a new EMS training facility and renovations to the health department. With cuts, the capital outlay budget is down $4.8 million since the beginning of the budget process.
* $2.5 million from general government employee (non-sheriff or school) raises, which went down to 2.5% from the 5% proposed initially
* $1.5 million cut from the public works department's initial request
* $500,000 requested by the mental health court for six additional employees
* $350,000 requested by supported agencies including ArtsBuild, CARTA and the Enterprise Center
As of Wednesday afternoon, the mayor's office was unable to provide a full list of cuts accounting for the $13.5 million cut.
Other county wish list items never made it to a proposed budget, including:
* $20 million for the next installment of county jail improvements
* $70 million for two new schools
* $18 million for General Government capital projects including $1-2 million in commission projects, renovations to a former Tennessee Department of Transportation facility, the new EMS training facility and an emergency service radio tower, multiple parks and recreation capital improvement projects and renovations to health department facilities.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.