published Saturday, March 5th, 2011

Mayors see different future on sales tax-sharing pact

by Dan Whisenhunt

The mayors of Hamilton County and Chattanooga on Friday offered dramatically different predictions on the fate of a decades-old sales tax agreement.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger, speaking to a Southeast Tennessee Political Action Committee luncheon, said the agreement could be salvaged if both sides are willing.

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, who attended the meeting, said that wasn’t going to happen.

“It will expire,” Littlefield said, telling reporters after the meeting the agreement would expire in May. “That doesn’t mean the city is not going to be a partner with all of these agencies.”

The agreement shares sales tax revenue between the city and the county to fund more than two dozen civic and social service agencies such as the public library. If it is allowed to expire, more than $10 million will be transferred out of the county’s budget and into the city’s.

Littlefield said agencies won’t see a funding cut.

“It’s not a short-term undertaking,” he said of the closing window to renew the agreement. And if the agreement does lapse, “the world is not going to end.”

Littlefield said he would not support a temporary extension and that there’s not a majority of votes on the City Council to extend it, either.

Coppinger, who has said he would be open to a temporary extension, said he is unsure if the city would continue to fund agencies at the same level.

“A number of agencies we need to make sure are totally funded,” Coppinger said.

For the agencies, there’s a lot riding on what happens in the next few weeks, said SETPAC member Jeff Sikes, who spoke at the meeting. Sikes also serves on the Children’s Services Advisory Committee, an advisory board for the county.

“I would implore both mayors to think about these agencies,” Sikes said.

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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