published Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Sales tax plan up for vote

by Dan Whisenhunt

Hamilton County commissioners this morning will consider a resolution to renew a decades-old sales tax agreement with Chattanooga, but city officials said there is no chance that will happen.

The 45-year-old sales tax agreement supports more than a dozen jointly funded agencies including Erlanger hospital, the health department and the public library. The agreement expires in May, and Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield has said he has no intention of trying to save it. Littlefield has said he would prefer a new agreement.

County leaders would like to renew the present agreement. If it lapses, the county could lose $10.5 million.

“They’re just wasting their time,” City Council Chairman Manny Rico said Wednesday. “We don’t have time to renegotiate it. I know the council thinks we just need to let it lapse and start over again. I don’t know of one council person who feels otherwise.”

City leaders have said the agreement is unfair to Chattanooga residents who support joint agencies both through their property taxes and the sales tax agreement.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry, who is spearheading today’s resolution, said Wednesday the vote will be a symbolic gesture.

“It’s showing our support of the sales tax agreement,” Henry said. “That’s what it boils down to.”

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger defended the proposed resolution.

“I never think the process working is a waste of time,” Coppinger said. “Obviously the Hamilton County Commission wants to take that up. ... It doesn’t mean it’s going to have any impact.”

City Councilwoman Deborah Scott, who has been holding discussions with County Commissioner Jim Fields about the agreement, said the County Commission’s proposed action doesn’t change “the fundamental flaws in the agreement.”

“It doesn’t change the fact the agreement doesn’t work anymore,” Scott said. “It’s obsolete, and it’s unfair to the citizens of Chattanooga.”

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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