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Hamilton County taxpayers could see a 49-cent increase to their property tax rate this year. County leaders are eyeing the almost 18 percent property tax hike to fund a requested $34 million budget increase for the county school system and give more revenue to the county.

Currently, the county's property tax rate stands at $2.76 per $100 of a home's assessed value.

Mayor Jim Coppinger and Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson met with county commissioners and school board members earlier this week to discuss Johnson's budget proposal, as reported Thursday by the Times Free Press.

District 2 commissioner Chip Baker confirmed the 49-cent request and said he was not pleased with what he heard in his meeting with Coppinger and Johnson.

"I think we should be very specific about where we aim our resources," Baker said.

A 5% across-the-board pay raise for teachers and county employees is one of the requests Baker said he does not support.

Commission Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley, of District 7, also said she is not in favor of such a pay raise.

"That's hard to swallow right now," Smedley said.

In 2017, Smedley supported a 26-cent property tax rate increase the commission approved in an 8-1 vote to support $225 million in school construction and other capital needs.

"I was convinced in 2017. I was convinced of the needs and since it had been 10, 12 years since the last increase, I was convinced it was the right time for it," she said.

District 3 Commissioner Greg Martin echoed Smedley, saying a tax increase this year was "too much, too soon."

Before the 2017 vote, the county had not approved a tax increase in a decade.

District 6 Commissioner David Sharpe said some commissioners were jumping the gun by writing off a possible tax increase so quickly.

"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. "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; especially a day after the school board speaks out about what the needs are."

Johnson and the Hamilton County school board have matched the proposed budget to what the community said are its priorities, Sharpe said.

Johnson has been making a case for his $443 million proposed budget, which is expected to be approved by the school board Thursday.

The schools' budget, which is $34 million more than the district's projected revenues for 2020, includes 350 more positions such as school counselors, social workers, truancy officers and special education teachers and assistants.

The 5% pay raise for teachers includes Gov. Bill Lee's proposed 2.5% increase, and school board members emphasized their support of the proposal at a work session Thursday night.

"There's nothing in there [the budget] that isn't for the benefit of the students and the school system. If we don't get anything else, we need a 5% raise for teachers," said District 9 school board member Steve Highlander. "The single most important factor for every child's learning achievement is the teacher in the classroom."

Coppinger is expected to present his budget on June 5. Budget hearings from county departments began with Sheriff Jim Hammond's budget request on Wednesday. The sheriff has requested an additional $5 million for the next fiscal year.

Baker and his school board counterpart, Kathy Lennon, said they will hold community meetings in their district to discuss the budgets and tax implications. District 8 commissioner Tim Boyd has also called a public meeting to discuss the tax increase. It will be held at 7 p.m. on May 16 at East Ridge City Hall.

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

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