published Sunday, November 20th, 2011

An 11th municipality?

Advocates for the creation of the town of "Hamilton" in the northeast end of the county admittedly want to evade the distant and dim prospect of annexation by the city of Chattanooga and the higher property taxes that might accompany such annexation. Their goal begs the sage advice: Be careful for you wish for: You may get it.

Their ideological aversion to becoming part of the city that provides the core infrastructure for their job base and public amenities, to be sure, is unhelpful on its face. The city has no current need or plan to annex the sparsely populated northeast end of the county. Yet the "Hamilton" advocates' wish for municipal autonomy feeds the mistaken notion that Chattanooga's government is wrong to want to capture its natural tax base when it does annex.

Hamilton County, moreover, surely does not need an 11th municipality, especially one myopically created for such a selfish purpose. That would just compound an already heavy burden of civic disunity and illogical, needlessly replicated municipal service bureaucracies.

Instead of more civic fracturing, what is really needed here is a cost-saving streamlining of our current excessive municipal bureaucracies, all separately maintained by 10 municipalities and the county government itself. One of each of these separate public services could serve just fine: One countywide public roads department and maintenance shop; one countywide 24/7 professional fire department; one countywide purchasing department; one countywide water utility and police department.

Of course, this would require a progressive County Commission that would embrace a county charter with the power to enact municipal-style ordinances, and the vision to consolidate core countywide urban services supported by an equitable countywide tax.

Our municipalities could keep their charters, zoning, land-use plans and municipal authority for civic enhancements.

Such a goal would not only promote orderly county growth and tax equity for all county residents. It also would enable the city to lower its tax rate, and negate the need for future annexations by Chattanooga, Collegedale and Soddy-Daisy.

Until our woefully backward-looking County Commission shows interest in embracing real leadership, this isn't likely to happen. But separatists like those in Hamilton should calculate the future cost of maintaining their own roads and providing other required municipal services and bureaucracy.

County government now unfairly uses its countywide property tax base to provide such services, but it only provides them in unincorporated areas.

Once you incorporate, you pay twice for services. That's unfair, but good luck.

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