published Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Hamilton County budget battle

by Dan Whisenhunt
  • photo
    Jim Scales speaks to a meeting of the NAACP on Tuesday evening at the Glenwood Recreation Center. He discussed the school district's report card and some future plans, and answered questions from the audience.
    Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jim Scales said Tuesday that he is meeting personally with Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger about regaining control of payment-in-lieu-of-taxes money.

Scales spoke at a local NAACP meeting at the Glenwood Recreation Center in Chattanooga, but steered clear of the PILOT money question and other budget issues. He instead talked about school attendance and test scores.

He answered a question on the status of the money after the meeting. The school system wants to use the $6 million generated by the Volkswagen PILOT agreement to balance its budget, but county commissioners are holding on to all PILOT money while they decide whether to earmark it for school construction.

Coppinger said he has spoken with Scales, but said it’s ultimately going to come down to what the commission wants to do. And while the commission isn’t saying with certainty it will keep the money for school construction, there has been no action on the commission’s part to put it back in the school system’s budget.

Scales hopes he can change that.

“We’re working with the county mayor, having conversations with him to see if we can get some relief here,” Scales said.

Coppinger said he hasn’t recommended anything yet, and didn’t indicate if he would make a recommendation.

“The commission has made that decision and this has to be decided by the commission,” Coppinger said.

County Commission Chairman Larry Henry, who last week indicated it is likely the county will use the money for school construction, said Tuesday the issue is not settled. Henry said he’ll propose more talks between the commission and school board.

“You never rule out anything,” Henry said. “We’re going to have some discussions on this.”

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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