published Friday, June 17th, 2011

Scapegoating the city

County Mayor Jim Coppinger has signaled for weeks that he would use the city’s decision to let a sales tax agreement expire as an excuse to slash funding for a score of vital civic agencies and the county health department. Sure enough, that’s precisely where he falsely laid the blame — on the city — for over half of the $13.7 million in cuts, and 37 lost jobs, that he unveiled in his proposed budget for county government’s new fiscal year.

Blaming the loss of the sales tax agreement is a bogus argument. Coppinger’s proposed budget fudges the figures.

Follow the money. Until this year, the county had been allowed to distribute $10.5 million in city sales tax revenue to a core group of 10 necessary civic agencies. These included Erlanger (for a fraction of its indigent care), the public library, Chambliss Children’s Home, the Joe Johnson Mental Health Center and the Regional Planning Agency.

The city, however, will continue spending more than $6 million of that same money to subsidize several of these first-tier entities. It will fully fund the library and the RPA. That leaves the tier 1 group of supported agencies losing around $4 million from the city sales tax revenue, not the $10.5 million in funding that county officials keep saying.

In addition, the county was spending an additional $3 million over and above the $10.5 million in sales tax proceeds to help a second tier group of smaller public-services agencies. Now Coppinger proposes to zero out funding for the second tier, which covers around 20 smaller agencies. The disastrous result is a net loss of $7.2 million that had gone to supported civic groups — all of which should be funded by county government through its countywide property tax base.

The county’s shell-game loss is unconscionable. As always, county government is doing less than its fair share for countywide services, while the city does more than its share.

The agencies that will lose all county funding under the proposed budget include the Speech and Hearing Center; Chambliss Children’s Home and Shelter; the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults; Fortwood Center; Johnson Mental Health Center; Orange Grove; Team Evaluation; the Children’s Advocacy Center; Aim Center, Signal Centers; Alexian Senior Neighbors; and the Chattanooga Homeless Coalition.

These agencies provide crucial aid to broken families, to abused children and mothers, to the mentally ill and the handicapped. The people they help come from all over the county. Ending funding for them is heartless and truly tragic. It literally will increase undue pain on our most vulnerable citizens, and will diminish us all.

Other agencies that would lose county funding include WTCI Public television, Friends of Moccasin Bend (Park), Allied Arts, the Urban League, Regional History Museum, the River City Co., the African-American Museum/Bessie Smith Hall. All these are critical to the civic and social fabric that nurtures the cultural spirit of the community, and boosts the community’s growth and appeal to visitors and new businesses.

County officials are simply wrong to blame the city for finally reclaiming its sales tax revenue. The expired sales tax agreement wrongly left city taxpayers paying double for countywide agencies — first through their countywide property taxes, and then through their sales tax revenue — while the other half of the county’s residents got off with paying just half of their fair share.

Coppinger apparently wants to be seen as taking a bold stand against spending and a tax increase. But his budget reveals a weak leader. Because growth always costs more than the new tax revenue it produces, the county has traditionally raised taxes, albeit modestly, every four years. The last tax increase was in 2007; one is due this year. If they were good and brave leaders, county officials would kill the cuts and rise to the tax challenge. If the cuts stand, the entire county will be poorer for it, not better.

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timbo said...

Mr. Austin, her is where your wrong. You have been building your case against the county for many articles. Your case is that the poor city residents are double-taxed and the county doesn't contribute it's fair share. Ths is simply wrong.

First of all, although the county residents use the some city services when they cross the city limit sign, they usually come to chattanooga to shop. When they shop they are also double taxed. Without county residents shopping in the city, tax revenues would be severley hurt. Also, although the city does provide employment to county resisdent, it is also true that the county provides employment for city residents. Again, when people work in the city they spend money and are taxed twice. Without the county residents, Chattanooga would no longer be able to provide the workers needed to recruit for incoming and current businesses.

In the case of the failed tax agreement. The county has cut funding for many different things that were basically for city residents. Very few people in the out-lying county use the library, Allied Arts, and many other agencies that were created by and for city residents. The Health Department is used mainly by city residents so the city need to bare most of the burden for their residents.

Alas, this is a syboiotic relationship that worked well until Littlefield.

I would assume that when Chattanooga was established way back when, one big reason was that the city resisdents wanted paved streets, better schools, etc, etc. and they were willing to pay for them. Now it seems that the ciy wants the rest of us to pay for these amenities. County residents are more than happy to have a lower tax rate and fewer of these goodies just like they did a hundred years ago.

The old city school system was a prime example. When the city wanted to combine the school systems it said there would be huge savings to the tax payer, blah, blah, blah... Did anyone in the city get a dime of tax money back? Did they reduce your property taxes? No, they took the 100 million dollars they saved and put it right into downtown development. Just like good "progressives" do. Spend every dime they have.

The reason the city got out of the city/county tax agreement was basically the fact that the city and Littlefield are poor money managers. An even bigger reason, is the millions of millions of dollars of govenment bribary the city paid VW. It was outrageous and they needed every dime they could find to live up to these commitments.

So forgive me if I take Mr. Austins "opinion" with a grain of salt. I know a con when I see one.

June 17, 2011 at 9:44 a.m.
dave said...

Amen Timbo! The tax agreement worked well for decades but our current CITY Mayor has found a way to screw things up!

June 17, 2011 at 12:02 p.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

"Because growth always costs more than the new tax revenue it produces"

This is the type of crap logic that allows government to grow with diminishing returns. It costs more because government gets less efficient as it grows. The answer then is obvious, that government should be kept small and fragmented so it can be kept accountable.

June 18, 2011 at 1:46 a.m.
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