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Jay Greeson

This is a busy week around the governmental buildings in Hamilton County.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke is set to reveal his proposed 2016 budget on Tuesday.

Roughly 48 hours later, leaders of various county constitutional branches will make their pitches to County Mayor Jim Coppinger on how the county should use its resources.

Coppinger's budgetary decisions have garnered more attention and focus because of the possibility of a property tax increase to fund a request to give more to schools. You may have read about it in the local paper.

As this paper's Louie Brogdon reported Sunday, Berke's plan is bigger than last year. The proposed city budget for 2016 reportedly will be increased about 1.9 percent -- $4 million -- to roughly $221 million. Berke's folks, however, believe they can fund this without asking for more from city taxpayers.

There will be an increase in sewer fees for ongoing and federally mandated sewer system repairs, but most of the redirected spending will be done through tightening other departments, Chief Operating Officer Brent Goldberg told Brogdon.

The county budget pitch on tap for this week has the looming $34 million question: Will Coppinger ask for a tax increase, and will the county commissioners be willing to approve one?

The final decisions for both proposals will be made well into June. So it's very important to remember we are in the initial stages of the procedural back and forth.

Yes, we have already heard some verbal jabs about the school system's request for added funds for a variety of items, but the first real steps start this week with Coppinger fielding the pitches from the departments.

And as we sit on the edge of the fiscal decisions for our county and city, one similarity is clear: Both Smith's proposed school budget and Berke's budget propose raises. For almost everyone.

I have questions about this, as should you. Remember, the residents of the county and city are the funding sources for these budgets. Questions, when asked civilly and respectfully, should increase the efficiency of the governmental process.

First, how can across-the-board raises be a good thing?

Be they for school employees or for city workers not bound under union agreements, it's staggering to think everyone working for the city or the school system has done raise-worthy work. This is not Upwards Government where "almost" every employee gets a raise and every kid gets a trophy.

Everyone is for better public education. But raises should be rewards, and rewards should be for doing good work, not just showing up for work.

Here's a vote for keeping the best and the brightest who contribute to our city's and our schools' goals, and even a suggestion to reward those with more than 5 percent when warranted.

It's nearly impossible to believe, however, that across-the-board raises for almost everyone, serves the goal of better schools or better city government. In fact, raises for almost everyone means a lot of folks will be getting salary increases simply as a reward for not being fired.

Sure, the city is not asking for extra taxes, but the mayor's office said clearly it will cut several departments to fund the other increases.

Among those increases are helping the police and firemen insurance and pensions, and that should be of the highest priority. We as funders of city and county government should value the effort and sacrifice put forth by all those in the police and fire departments.

But what else will be cut to give almost everyone in city government a raise? Or what will Coppinger move and shake in his county budget after School Superintendent Rick Smith asks for 5 percent raises across the board?

It's hard to know, but it should be an interesting week.

And one that will raise a lot of questions -- and eyebrows.

Jay Greeson's column appears on Page A2 on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. His sports columns appear on Tuesdays and Fridays. You can read his online column the 5-at-10 Monday through Friday at timesfreepress.com after 10 a.m. Contact him at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and follow him on Twitter at @ jgreesontfp.

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