Sitting on his riding mower outside his house on Lake Ridge Drive, Greg Edward looks over several Middle Valley and Hidden Harbor neighborhoods that could become part of Chattanooga in the next few years.
He built his house in the county three years ago to avoid paying city taxes. But if the City Council goes along with Mayor Ron Littlefield's idea to annex large areas, Mr. Edwards could find himself paying those taxes after all.
"I don't know a soul who wants to be annexed," he said. "I'm hoping there's enough people to fight it."
Mr. Littlefield said last week he wants to move toward annexing all areas within the city's growth boundary, a 20-year, countywide plan adopted in 2001. That could mean swallowing up miles of land toward East Brainerd and Collegedale and north along Highway 58 and Hixson Pike.
Mr. Littlefield said expected residential, retail and commercial growth from the Volkswagen plant at Enterprise South industrial park is spurring the need to annex so the city can manage services effectively.
Public safety already is an issue in some neighborhoods, he said. For example, he said, Cummings Cove in Lookout Valley is partly in Chattanooga and partly in an unincorporated area. That makes it difficult to provide fire protection.
Some Hamilton County commissioners who represent areas that could be annexed said the city may not have time to develop a plan of services.
"It's a little premature," said Commissioner Larry Henry, who represents the East Brainerd area.
But Mr. Littlefield argues that now is the right time for these discussions.
"We need to establish where the fire stations are going to be and make sure those areas are adequately served," he said.
History shows he could have a fight on his hands. The last major annexation in 1972 brought in 10 communities and 32,000 people, according to newspaper archives. The annexation included large parts of Hixson, the DuPont plant, East Brainerd, Tyner, Murray Hills and Lake Hills.
Hundreds of people mobbed City Council meetings to protest, according to newspaper archives.
City officials contend annexation will improve fire protection and guarantee sewer systems. Brian Hundley, who lives in Rolling Ridge in East Brainerd, isn't convinced.
"The only thing I think it would do is raise taxes," he said.
The county property tax of $3.154 per $100 of assessed value supports schools, the jail, county parks, law enforcement and road maintenance, among other services. County residents have to contract separately for garbage pickup and most fire protection comes from volunteer departments. The county supports a network of drop-off centers for recycling.
The city tax of $2.20 per $100 of assessed value - on top of the county rate - helps pay for police, a paid fire department, parks within the city such as Coolidge and Renaissance parks and the 21st Century Waterfront, and city streets. Residents get garbage pickup, brush and trash collection and monthly curbside recycling.
In some cases, county residents see their services as better than the city's.
Ann Burke moved into the Mountain Shadows subdivision last summer in the county and said her family gets recycling pickup twice a week.
"I haven't come across anything I wished we had that we don't have," she said.
Kelly Payne lives in the Hunter Forest subdivision off Hunter Road. She said public safety isn't much of a concern.
"A policeman lives right there," she said, pointing at a neighbor's house.