published Thursday, June 19th, 2014

$672.5 million Hamilton County budget sails to approval

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    Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger speaks in this file photo.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
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OTHER BUSINESS

On Wednesday, commissioners voted to:

• Buy a $27,671 utility vehicle from Golden Circle Ford for county emergency services.

• Agreed to transfer $8,190 from the county's confiscated narcotics fund to Chattanooga.

• Accepted a proposal from MedSafe Waste for medical and pharmaceutical waste disposal for several county departments.

• Accepted a $425,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse to fund four positions in the county's drug court program.

Without any fuss, the Hamilton County Commission approved a $672.5 million budget Wednesday.

With a little more than one month left before the Aug. 7 election, commissioners had nothing but praise for Mayor Jim Coppinger and his staff.

All county employees will get a 2.5 percent raise. And the sheriff's office will get eight new jailers and 30 new police cars. The department of education is getting $5.5 million more than last year -- because of growth -- bringing the school system's slice to $399 million. That makes up nearly 60 percent of all the county's budget.

Basically, most elected officials are happy.

But a similar scene one year ago was quite different.

When commissioners considered the current $665 million budget in June 2013, they spent hours debating. After one failed vote to defer the decision last year, that budget passed 5-4.

Then, Commissioners Chester Bankston, Greg Beck, Jim Fields, Marty Haynes and Larry Henry voted in favor. Commissioners Tim Boyd, Joe Graham, Warren Mackey and Fred Skillern voted against it.

Commissioners then accused Coppinger of rushing the budget process and not being transparent -- and of giving them too much to read in a short amount of time.

But this year, those four "no" voters were some of the budget's biggest supporters.

Skillern said he was ready to approve two weeks ago, when Coppinger first presented. And Mackey, Graham and Boyd offered nothing but praise to the mayor's management.

It was quite the sea change.

And all involved said that had a lot to do with the way the new document was put together and presented.

"The public is not going to see a lot of discussion with this budget, because as Commissioner Skillern said, it's a good budget," Boyd said. "We had lots of time to check it out."

Mackey boasted that the county gave a 2.5 percent raise to employees, while the city shelled out only an extra 1.5 percent.

Graham offered kudos to everyone who touched the budget, and especially the county's finance team.

Coppinger said in a statement after the meeting that he was pleased the budget passed so easily.

"We have held the line on taxes for the fourth year in a row. Homeowners will not have to worry about an increase in their property taxes, business owners know they can go ahead and budget for the next fiscal year and know their tax rate remains the same as it has been since I took office in 2011," he said.

Bankston, Boyd, Coppinger and Graham all face competition in August.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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