published Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Mayor asks for 64-cent property tax increase


by Cliff Hightower
Audio clip

City Council Meeting

Mayor Ron Littlefield proposed a 64-cent property tax hike Tuesday that would fund a $198.6 million budget and bring tax rates to a level not seen in nine years.

"The revenues tell a sad story," he told council members Tuesday in a conference call. "Over the last two years, we've lost almost $9 million. That's a dramatic decrease."

Mr. Littlefield's budget would fund expansion of the Chattanooga police department, bring in money to fund 128 city employee positions frozen last year and put almost $4 million toward raises for city employees.

  • photo
    Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press - New home construction has recently restarted at the end of the street in the Stonewall Farms subdivision.

His budget also calls for opening recreation centers for normal hours, funding 26 firefighters for the Enterprise South fire hall that will serve the Volkswagen plant and expanding the contract with Tri-Community Volunteer Fire Department to provide fire service for recently annexed areas.

The tax rate would go from $1.94 per $100 of assessed value to $2.57 per $100 of assessed value, or a 33 percent increase. The last time the City Council passed a property tax increase was Sept. 11, 2001, when it hiked tax rates 50 cents. At the time, it was $2.51 per $100 of assessed value. It since has come down to its current rate after two citywide property tax assessments.

City officials said the extra revenue is needed to help plug a $32.2 million gap between revenues and expenditures. Over the last two years, the city has lost $8.9 million in revenue with all sources of revenue down, except for property tax, records show.

But council members, who will be deliberating the budget in coming weeks, said afterward they did not know whether they could swallow a 64-cent increase. Councilwoman Deborah Scott said she was "in shock" to see such a budget.

"If that came before us tonight, it would be voted down by me," she said.

Councilman Jack Benson said he had no idea the mayor would ask for a 64-cent increase.

"It was more than I anticipated," he said. "I guess the work is in front of us."

Councilwoman Carol Berz, chairwoman of the council's Budget, Personnel and Finance Committee, said the council will meet again next week to begin the debate on what could be cut from the budget.

"That was just a first step," she said. "Next week will be when the interesting conversations take place."

WHAT IT PAYS FOR

Besides salaries and hiring, the mayor's budget includes a youth development program that emphasizes positive alternatives to gang activities, enhanced street maintenance, money for a new recreation center at Hixson Middle School and support for technological advancements, including a citywide wireless network.

It also funds a fully staffed in-house legal department, increases to employee pension benefits and more than $6 million for Other Post Employment Benefits.

Other Post Employment Benefits is a new federal mandate that sets up a fund for city employees similar to a pension fund, officials said. The city has paid "as you go" for the fund in the past.

Daisy Madison, the city's chief financial officer, gave council members an almost hour-long presentation on the budget. Mr. Littlefield could not attend because his wife had undergone surgery.

Ms. Madison laid out the budget and said she felt the raises were "justified."

"This is the most difficult budget I've had to work with since I've been with the city," she said.

Ms. Madison said the city has tapped into its rainy day fund over the past three years, going from a $45 million windfall in 2007 to a projected $27 million this year.

OTHER INCREASES

Additional costs went up on city services this year for residents, as well. Those include:

* $285: The average yearly sewer bill, up from $276.60 last year

* $115.20: The fee for the water quality, or stormwater, fee, up from $24 or $36 a year, depending on the size of the home

Source: Times Free Press archives

REVENUE CHANGES

City revenues showed a history of increasing then started a downward trend two years ago, records show. Revenues were:

* 2006: $159.7 million

* 2007: $167.7 million

* 2008: $173 million

* 2009: $167.6 million

* 2010: $164.9 million (projected)

Source: Chattanooga

The pay plan, implemented in late 2008 and early 2009, receives a boost with $1.9 million in cost-of-living raises, $1.9 million in performance pay and $2.1 million for police and fire salaries.

WHAT CAN BE CUT

Mr. Littlefield told the council he expected the budget to be "massaged" by council members. City officials gave the council a separate list of options of what could be cut.

The list included reducing the allocation to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority, delaying part of the pay raises, restricting employee take-home car privileges and not hiring more police officers and firefighters.

"There are all hard decisions," Ms. Madison told the council.

Sgt. Craig Joel, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said after the meeting he had mixed emotions about the proposed budget. The proposed budget adds 40 police officers and 15 civilian police workers.

But he said those things also are on the chopping block as cutting options.

"The bare minimum has been met, but those are also the first listed to be cut," he said.

He said he expects a battle within the City Council this year, especially since the department requests seem lengthier than usual.

"We'll fight for what we can get," Sgt. Joel said.

Click here to vote in our daily poll: Should property taxes be raised to fund law enforcement?

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Hitches few in budget process

Article: City faces tax hike to close fund gap

Article: Local agencies ask for $8 million more from city, county

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Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
slr3 said...

To Chattanooga City council- Vote for this increase & we will vote you out!! We need less government- not more.

May 19, 2010 at 4:25 a.m.
WEBMAN said...

THIS IS THE WORST CITY ADMINISTRATION THAT WE HAVE EVER HAD.WE NEED TO VOTE THEM ALL OUT AND GET A NEW ADMINISTRATION TO RUN THIS CITY.HOW CAN YOU KEEP ASKING THE TAX PAYERS TO FUND STUFF THAT WE CAN NOT AFFORD.SOUNDS LIKE THE CITY OF CHATTANOOGA IS HEADED TO BANKRUPTCY COURT.LOL

May 19, 2010 at 7:08 a.m.
captainrt said...

Pay for 26 new firefighters for Volkswagen? What other company has it's own private fire department? Sounds like VW is going to cost Chattanooga more than it helps. For the select few that get a job that will be great but for the tens of thousands in our area that don't, this is just bad news. We need to keep our eyes on this.

May 19, 2010 at 7:19 a.m.
OldBuckeye said...

When the mayor proposed annexation of multiple areas recently, we were assured the infrastructure was there to support these areas with services. Apparently, the money isn't even there to support existing city residents. Quit with the land grabs and maybe you'd have a more balanced budget.

May 19, 2010 at 8:12 a.m.
Sailorman said...

Have to agree with eeeeek here. When churches decided to get political, they gave up their claim to tax exempt status. But - that begs the question. Does gov really need all that money?

The age old question: Why, when budgets are tight, does gov start crying about having to cut back on police, fire fighters, teachers, etc? Anybody see a pattern here? Could it be because those put the most fear in the citizenry? Why no pay cuts? Why no elimination of programs that should never have been implemented in the first place? Can all the little fiefdoms defend their existence? Maybe it's time to try zero-based budgeting. I, for one, would love a crack at the city budget.

May 19, 2010 at 9:23 a.m.
u4icmusic said...

Get rid of Littlefield and any commisioner that votes for this tax increase. They need to cut back more.

May 19, 2010 at 9:49 a.m.

I think there is a need for the tax increase. I am a City employee and I would like to have a raise. The cost of everything goes up. Citizens want more services. More and more is demanded of City employees, yet there is never room in the budget for our pay increase. We steadily fall behind each year. Perhaps a little less given to community organizations? Stop funding CARTA, the buses are never filled. Stop the silliness of public art projects to build a legacy. But please, pay the employees a living wage, we serve the public as needed. Remember the underpaid City employee when you need your garbage picked up, or your sewers back up. There are more City employees than just firefighters and police officers. Also we live in the City and we are faced with the same tax increases.

May 19, 2010 at 11:53 a.m.
Sailorman said...

Mr corpse

I would be happy just getting back some of the 25% pay cut I, along with everybody else at our company, took to keep the doors open. Sorry very little sympathy here. Talk to Littlefield and his cronies.

You did make some good points though about some of the budget items.

(signed) scathed more than once

May 19, 2010 at 1:41 p.m.

The Mayor could save millions by FIRING himself and all the other incompetent city employees.

Remove Littlemind from the government teet.

May 19, 2010 at 2:17 p.m.

unscathed_corpse | On: May 19, 2010 at 11:53 a.m "I think there is a need for the tax increase."

I think fiscal responsibility is what is really needed. I loathe these govt workers that see the wallets of the citizenry in the city as an endless source of raises and insane retirement and other perks that honest, for profit businesses could never afford to give their employees. The reason, more and more is demanded of city employees is because our leaders can't seem to do anything but find more ways to spend more money and justify tax increases. Those of us that found ourselves in recently annexed areas were more than happy with the services we were receiving. In most cases we didn't want your city sewers anyway. We paid for trash service out of our own pockets. This sewer crap was forced upon us. I pay far more in sewer service fees than I would have paid for trash and occasional septic service. Get out of my pockets!

How about a candidate that spends their entire time in office finding ways to reduce the costs of government and enhance the ability and opportunities of the citizenry to earn more and improve their standard of living. That is my idea of a perfect candidate. The status quo has to go. Vote!

Everyone knows uncontrolled goverment spending is a cancer that eats away the health and strength of the economy as surely as any of the medical cancers do to flesh and blood.

The only way to be rid of a cancer is through agressive, early removal and attack followed by vigilance for years afterward to make sure it doesn't stealthily creep back in. Even after it is erradicated, cancer leaves scars and pain that take a long time to heal. Lets stop this cancer before it gets out of hand and kills the community we all love. Vote!

May 19, 2010 at 2:27 p.m.
Bob10 said...

anyone from tfp care to e-mail me and explain why my post was removed?

May 19, 2010 at 7:02 p.m.
shembree said...

Sure the city is not collecting as much taxes as 2 years ago - the economy has been in a slump. The mayor is acting like a spoiled child. He is saying the city will get their money, who cares about the economy. Bad time for a tax increase. Wake up and get rid of some of the free loaders on the city payroll. Operate the city like it were a business and quit playing like you are the congress.

Anyone who votes for a tax increase now is ending their political future. The "people" of Chattanooga will not stand for this.

May 20, 2010 at 5:34 a.m.
amysville said...

Um...why am I..ahem "WE" buying VW a firehouse? those guys are supposed to be helping US..not the other way around. Do we have to house them too!?!...BTW..has Littlefield ever lived hand to mouth? Just sayin'.

May 26, 2010 at 7:10 p.m.
FM_33 said...

Hey Mayor Littlefield how about a $10.00 tax hike and make us feel like we're living in the Soviet Union.

sighs..........just kidding folks.

July 1, 2010 at 11:52 a.m.
FM_33 said...

The Mayor could save millions by FIRING himself and all the other incompetent city employees.

Remove Littlemind from the government teet. Username: bookieturnersghost | On: May 19, 2010 at 2:17 p.m.


Easy said then done because he is just following orders from the good old Signal / Lookout mountain power base.

July 1, 2010 at 11:55 a.m.
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