This story was updated with additional information on Monday, May 24, 2021, at 6:36 p.m.
The proposed Hamilton County budget includes a 4% raise for county employees, a 5% increase to volunteer fire departments and no local tax increases.
County Mayor Jim Coppinger on Monday introduced the $833 million proposed spending plan for the budget year that will start July 1.
The new budget would rise $36 million — or about 4.6% —from the current budget, which was cautious as a result of passing in a time of crisis following local tornadoes and in the throes of COVID-19.
"Every budget has its challenges, and particularly this year, as you well know, we were challenged with COVID-19. And we still have issues with it going forward," Coppinger said in a presentation of the budget during a workshop meeting. "It's so unpredictable as to what may happen."
According to Coppinger, the county is anticipating a 2% growth in property taxes this year and projects a sales tax revenue increase similar to last year, which added an additional $2.5 million.
The county anticipates receiving an additional $71.3 million in federal COVID relief funding to cover virus-related and other expenses, which would be added later to the county's budget.
"You'll see that this budget is quite large, but then when we start talking about the local dollars don't panic over large numbers," he said. "A lot of that is going to be taken care of with grants, particularly through the federal government with this $71.3 million."
The county school district is also expecting an additional $142 million in federal funding.
In the budget, Coppinger proposes spending $4.9 million on a 4% pay increase for all county employees, with a minimum of a $2,000 increase.
"This really helps serve employees who are under $50,000, to get the $2,000 floor, to help raise their salaries," Coppinger said. "And again, to help us with recruiting and retaining."
The pay increase will also apply to Coppinger, who will make about $179,460 annually, an increase of around $6,900.
Under state law, the raise for Coppinger will also trigger raises for the mayor of Chattanooga, members of the Chattanooga City Council, the Hamilton County Board of Education and the county commissioners. The commissioners will make about an additional $975 annually, for a new salary of about $25,393.
Commissioners took the budget workshop as an opportunity to explain to the public that if the budget passes, they are not directly choosing to raise their own pay but rather just approving the presented budget.
"Just so the public understands, with us approving this budget overall, we're not saying up here, 'I make a motion to increase my pay,'" Commissioner Randy Fairbanks explained.
"That's not what we're doing."
Coppinger's proposal also includes a 5% increase for the county's volunteer fire departments. Each department, according to Coppinger, will receive a 5% increase to its county funding, with a floor of $25,000 for the three smallest departments.
The budget will be officially presented to the commission on Wednesday, and commissioners will vote on it during their regular June 16 meeting.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.