published Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Coppinger grows pessimistic about tax deal agreement

by Dan Whisenhunt
  • photo
    In this file photo Jim Coppinger speaks to reporters after taking the oath of office to become Hamilton County Mayor on Jan. 11, 2011.
    Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Within a few days, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger’s hopes for continuing a decades-old sales tax agreement with the Chattanooga appear to have dimmed.

On Friday, he sounded optimistic as he talked to the Southeast Tennessee Political Action Committee luncheon about the need to work together on the agreement. He said the existing agreement, which expires in May, could be salvaged if both sides were willing to work toward that goal. On Monday during a County Conversations meeting at Hixson Middle School, Coppinger implied the county already is considering a budget that does not include the more than $10 million it receives from the agreement.

“We’re about to take a big hit in the sales tax agreement,” Coppinger told those in attendance. “That’s $10.5 million we’re wringing our hands over right now, to come up with that money so we don’t have to go back to taxpayers and ask for money.”

Coppinger said the county would have to make “serious adjustments” to the services it provides.

Mayor Ron Littlefield said during a Hamilton County Pachyderm Club meeting on Monday that the existing agreement would expire and that a new agreement must be put in its place.

At stake is more than $10 million in the county’s budget used to fund more than two-dozen agencies such as the public library.

After the meeting, Coppinger said the county still plans to meet with Littlefield to see if there are compromises that could salvage what’s already in place.

When asked if the county was looking for ways to save money under the assumption the agreement will not be in place, he said, “We’re doing that anyway.”

County Administrator of Finance Louis Wright said the budget is typically passed by June, but he would not comment about what cost-cutting measures the county might consider.

District 3 Commissioner Mitch McClure, who was a part of the forum Monday night, said commissioners should be willing to cut their own budget to help the county save money.

“I think that we need to be open to looking at all aspects of our budget,” McClure said.

Contact staff writer Dan Whisenhunt at dwhisenhunt or 423-757-6481.

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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