published Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

The county tax scam

Before they say another word against the city's annexation plans, county commissioners should just stand and declare that they are blatant hypocrites when it comes to their anti-annexation arguments. They also should finally say, loud and clear, that they just don't care a hoot about tax or governmental fairness for the 71 percent of Hamilton County residents who pay municipal taxes for their urban services, as well as county property taxes which are then used to pay for the urban services of the people who live outside of the county's 10 municipalities.

And the same county commissioners who keep making their absurd arguments that annexation ought to be subject to a referendum in areas to be annexed should also say, for equality's sake, that municipal residents should get to vote on whether their county property taxes may be used to subsidize the county's urban services for residents of areas subject to annexation.

Time for fairness

Really, it's time for fairness in these arguments. County Commissioners, after all, are elected in county-wide districts. In roughly six of these nine districts, the majority of their constituents are residents of the city of Chattanooga or one of the county's other nine municipalities. Indeed Chattanooga's 170,880 residents represent more than half the county's total population of 332,848, according to Census figures through 2008.

Add in the 65,022 residents of the other nine municipalities, and the number of municipal residents in Hamilton County who pay both municipal and county property taxes totals 235,902, or 71 percent, vs. the 96,946 residents, or 29.1 percent, in unincorporated areas who pay just the single county property tax. Yet the latter receive tax subsidies for their fire service, sheriff's patrol, streets and road maintenance, and sewer bonds from municipal residents' county property taxes.

A municipal vote on taxes

Given this inequity, the County Commission should not be opposed to giving their municipal constituents attention and concern at least equal to that which they give people who oppose being annexed, but who gladly rely on municipal subsidies, plus the cities' roads and businesses for their jobs, shopping and urban amenities.

So here's a logical question for Commissioner Larry Henry, among other commissioners who say similar things: Why does he say that annexation amounts to "taxation without representation" if it's not subject to a vote, or that annexation should only be considered in the context of "government by the consent of the people."

He and other county commissioners, after all, have long refused to establish tax-service districts for unincorporated areas of the county, which is to say, unannexed areas. They don't ask residents of Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain, Walden, Signal Mountain, Collegedale, Red Bank, East Ridge, Soddy Daisy, Ridgeside or Lakesite, if they approve of their county property taxes being used to pay for the sheriff's patrol, street and road service, volunteer fire department equipment or sewer bond funds in unincorporated areas. Yet county government does not provide any of those services in incorporated municipalities, nor do they refund to the residents of these municipalities an equal pro-rata share of their county property taxes to reduce the municipal tax burden that they pay for their own similar services.

That's "taxation without representation." And County Commissioners have been doing this double whammy-double taxation scam against their municipal constituents for decades.

County dodges state law

There's even a state law that requires county governments to establish fire-tax districts or to provide urban municipalities an equal share of any money they spend on equipment for volunteer fire departments. But the Hamilton County Commission -- whose members also include Fred Skillern, Curtis Adams, Warren Mackey, Bill Hullander, Greg Beck, John Allen Brooks, Richard Casavant and Jim Coppinger -- are generally knee-jerk quick to take the anti-annexation side of the 29 percent of their constituents who get the tax subsidies from municipal taxpayers without ever thinking about eliminating the tax inequity they so willingly perpetuate.

Of course, annexation opponents like their sweetheart tax deal. And except for the fire-district tax law, county commissioners can generally evade the tax equity issue because, as an original arm of state government, they are generally prohibited from providing urban services with county funds.

A fair two-tier county tax

That prohibition does not stop them from providing a two-tier property tax -- one for municipal residents who pay for their urban services through their own municipal taxes, and an equitable higher tax for those who still live in unincorporated areas and get their urban services from their county tax.

It is that inequity -- and the justifiable discontent among municipal taxpayers -- that has long fueled metro and consolidated government referendums, for the purpose of establishing a fair tax for countywide urban services.

If we're going to have a vote on tax equity, let's vote on the issue of metro or consolidated government for countywide urban services. At its core, after all, that is the reason that state law justifiably allows municipalities to annex unincorporated areas that lie in their growth boundary areas and vastly benefit from municipal infrastructure. There's simply no need for a vote on the equity of that sort of annexation.

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Sailorman said...

Another public service announcement brought to you by Littlefield Inc.

Could someone identify all these "tax inequities" that keep being brought up? I, and probably many others, would like to see exactly what these are, city to county and vice versa, and the details thereof. Until those like the person who wrote the above article provide that, the blather is just that - blather. C'mon NFP use your journalistic skills and dig it up.

October 20, 2009 at 8:56 a.m.
nucanuck said...

Sailorman

The NFP you refer to is the other column on the right side.Those editorials are usually short and shallow,unlike the left side. You can count on the left column being carefully researched with some depth.

Re-read the above editorial,or just do a little asking around on your own,and you will find what I suspect you already know,but won't admit.

The same inequity has been addressed over and over in metro areas around the country. To not see it is to not want to see it. There's really nothing to debate.

October 20, 2009 at 11:33 a.m.
Sailorman said...

Heaven help - I referred to the wrong "side" in error. Comforting that you're watching my back.

Then you follow up with this:

"Those editorials are usually short and shallow,unlike the left side. You can count on the left column being carefully researched with some depth."

You typed that with a straight face?

Why should I do a "little asking around"? The writer of this piece titled it "The county tax scam". Talk about shallow eh? Of course it is an opinion piece which, apparently in your view, needs no factual basis despite being "carefully researched with some depth". There may well be nothing to debate. You don't know that any more than I do. I asked a question about the numbers behind the writers supposition. If you don't have the answer, as you so often don't, what you post is nothing more than uninformed opinion. JMO

By the way - who gets to decide?

October 20, 2009 at 7:10 p.m.
Gardener said...

Despite the pure utter garbage this "mayor of chattanooga manufactured" opinion piece spews the reality is quite simple.

Just as Tennessee is but one of fifty states within the USA and it's residents pay both state sales taxes (local government territory) and federal taxes (encompassing greater government territory, Chattanooga is but one of nine cities within Hamilton county, and therefore, it's residents pay both taxes to the local government's territory of the city and the greater encompassing territory of the county.

The state law does NOT require the county to establish fire tax districts, it simply allows that as an OPTION, if the county wishes to go that route.

This is yet another of Littlefield's perpetual grasping at straws justifications, First it's for safety, even though it's in the city we have see gun violence/crime this past year on a weekly if not almost daily basis; then it's for the Census federal dollars, even though forced annexations are ineligible, and now fire districts. What's next? the annexation is for the if Mars invades Chattanooga defense fund? The justifications from Littlefield and the City Council grow more ludicrous and laughable with each passing week.

Quite amazing that it is the 21st century and here in the deep south people still do not have a vote or representation.

All it will take to move the annexation issue from a decision before a chancellor to a trial by jury is one minority person in the annexed areas saying they feel they are being denied a vote and representation, and this annexation issue then becomes a violation of the Civil Rights Act, and the city council then has a new nightmare-legal battle on their hands.

The problem is really the archaic property tax system, which should be done away with and replaced by either a state income tax or a local sales tax or both, either of which would generate far more revenue, and would be fairer, as with the latter system you could not lose a paid off house over losing a job and not being able to keep up with your property tax, you simply stop paying taxes if you have no source of income.

October 20, 2009 at 8:07 p.m.

Here's a better idea.

Since the City sees the County as such a "huge burden", with those county residents all just being "freeloaders" and "leeches" according to Mayor Littlefield and the City Council, instead of trying to extend a forced citizenship to them, the City relinquishes all claims to the unincorporated areas and the growth boundary, allows the 90,000+ people in those unincorporated to incorporate as the City of Hamilton and the problem is solved. No more county government. Those of us in the city just pay our city taxes and ZERO county taxes. The county mayor and commission become the new City of Hamilton's mayor and city council. The sherrif's department then becomes the new City of Hamilton's police department and can save money by not having to patrol county wide.

Problem is the leeches on our City Council and the big LEECH in the Mayor's office need to shift their gross financial incompetence onto those county residents in a vain attempt to straighten out their screwed up budget, because they lack the ba---, um "right sutff", to make VW pay their fair share of city taxes, and prefer to let Ms. Crutchfield run all over the city tossing scrap metal on lawns and calling it "fine art" at the taxpayers expense. The annexation will only make the city tax rate go even higher because the city lacks the funds to provide the required services within 3 years as required by state law. A fact that Ron Littlefield could care less about, because in 3 years he will have reached his term limit as mayor, and it will fall to the City Council to have to clean up the pile of crap he will leave behind in the wake of his annexation bid, with us the city residents footing the cleanup bill.

I mean just look at the lame idea the City Council put forward today about encouraging police officers to sell their homes and move into crime ridden neighborhoods. Apparently, the City Council is now a plantation and police officers gotta live where the master says to live. You see ideas like this coming out of the City Council and it's crystal clear, they are desperate, grasping at straws and utterly incompetent at running this city effectively. Time to impose those term limits the Mayor has upon the City Council too, get the old-fart, career-politicians, that have been their for nearly 20 years, out and put into office some fresh new minds with more capable and practical ideas who are more progressive and ready to leave behind the dark ages concept of forced annexations, as 46 other states in our nation have done.

October 20, 2009 at 8:27 p.m.
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