UPDATE: Council agrees to let Chattanooga-County tax-share expire
By Greg Glover
The City Council voted, Tuesday night, to end the 45 year old shared sales tax agreement with Hamilton County, and with it, the city's monetary support of some county services.
"It couldn't be stopped, because of the unfairness of it," says City Councilman Jack Benson.
A unanimous vote settles the sales tax sharing agreement battle.
"We have answered that tonight. There will be no extension and then we'll be working, seeing how we can listen to and help agencies that may be affected," says Pam Ladd, City Council Chairwoman.
But, of those agencies, the City Council made it clear the Health Department and the hospital are the County's responsibility, by law.
"It is their department, just like we have a parks and recreation department and a police department and fire department. So, they have the full responsibility to fund that," says Benson.
According to the council members, city residents have been funding county programs at least two times.
"In the city, you pay the city property taxes and county property taxes," says Ladd.
Plus sales tax generated in the city limits.
"The city taxpayers are paying 56% of the general county budget," says Benson. "The county's gotta realize the more we annex, the less they have to support with services, but the taxes keep coming in at the same rate."
So, the council voted in line with Mayor Ron Littlefield's stance, the agreement in effect since 1966, will not be renewed.
Will the governing bodies of the city and county be able to reclaim the symbiotic working relationship that's credited with landing big industry?
"It'll take a little healing time and understanding and education," says Benson.
"I think both entities understand the importance of continuing to work together for the economic development of this community and we'll find a way to work through these other processes," says Ladd.
This means after May 23rd, the City will get control of more than $10.5 million dollars in sales tax revenues that were being redistributed to the County.
The City will not contribute to Erlanger's indigent care, to the county health department or emergency services.
The City has agreed to fund public libraries within the city limits and the regional planning agency.
By Gordon Boyd
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Where else, but the public library in downtown Chattanooga, would Hamilton County's home-schooled students be able to put together a yearbook?
"We don't necessarily have a building we can go to, or a computer lab," says Stephanie Fast, 17.
"So it's been really helpful for us all to get together."
Chattanooga sales taxes haven't paid for the Library's teen section. But Interim Director Eva Johnston says more than $2 million earmarked for library branches within city limits, will buy, and balance, a lot of books.
"We're down to the bare bones," Johnston says. "We've cut staff, we've cut hours."
"We're talking about their (City Council's) decision not to help us jointly fund the agencies that we have," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger says.
Council voted Tuesday to let a 45-year sales tax-sharing agreement expire.
Last year, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department received $4,128,700 from Chattanooga and a like amount from the County.
City Council member Deborah Scott calls that 'double taxation."
"We're already paying for the Health Department through our city and county property taxes," Scott says.
Coppinger calls that a misrepresentation.
"You only pay a sales tax once," he says. "You can't roll in property tax with sales tax."
Coppinger also takes issue, with council members taking issue, over a letter he sent to 28 agencies, warning them to prepare to do without county money, if the tax-sharing agreement expires.
Council members maintain that only ten of those agencies receive money through the tax-share.
"They (those monies) weren't earmarked for the different agencies," Coppinger counter. "It was across the board--that is factual."
Last Thursday, Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes e-mailed Eyewitness News that a loss of money 'will affect everyone in our community; residents who use direct services such as immunizations, WIC, family planning, dental or sick care will be affected more."
Tuesday, Barnes declined to comment, beyond saying that it would be 'speculation' to suggest which programs could face cuts.
The next budget year begins July 1.
Some Council members suggest that some agencies could get money through Chattanooga's General Fund, provided they demonstrate critical need and fiscal responsibility.
"I'd like to see them do a process where they're asked to cut back," Council member Pam Ladd says.
"And if we don't fund the whole amount we use it another way."
Coppinger maintains that the Health Department added a number of services to meet specific needs of Chattanooga residents.
"They (City Council) are pulling away from the enhancements," Coppinger says. "We'll get back to the minimum services we're required to provide per state statute."
Council member Scott says she's optimistic that Chattanooga residents won't bear the brunt of service cuts.
"We would hope that the County would not attempt to discriminate against a city resident because they would not be paying directly"