UPDATE: Supt. Smith works to gather support for tax hike - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Supt. Smith works to gather support for tax hike

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Rick Smith Rick Smith
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - UPDATE: Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith is trying to get a tax increase approved. Monday night, the first of eleven town hall meetings was held to discuss the proposal.  "Taxes are not an easy conversation anytime with any income level," Smith said.  
The increase would amount to about $100 more a year for a $100,000 home.

District 7 School Board member Donna Horn says in the long run it really isn't that much. "That equates to a Dairy Queen Blizzard a week or a Starbucks coffee and I can sacrifice that," she said. "The money the school are getting individually each year just to get school through the year and it's just not enough."

Many agreed more needed to be done for the students to give them better opportunities, like Art and Foreign Language classes and a 5 percent raise for teachers. But they're not all so sure that a property tax increase is the way to go.

Hamilton County Commissioner Sabrena Smedley, also of District 7 says the responsibility would fall on the elderly and those living in poverty, two groups she says are already struggling. "They're going to have to prove to me there is a strong need for this for me to support such a significant tax hike," she said.

"If we could aspire to have a time where we were really serious about getting many more kids well educated, we'd change quite a bit of the outlook in Chattanooga," said Smith.

Smith will be submitting the proposal to the county commission in May.  

PREVIOUS STORY: Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith is trying to gain support for a proposed tax hike.

Smith wants to increase the current property tax rate by 40 cents. It would add more than $33 million to the district's annual budget.

Commissioner Chester Bankston represents District 9. He says a property tax hike is not the answer to the system's funding shortfalls.
“We have a lot of rental property in Hamilton County and those people don't pay for property tax. So a wheel tax is the only kind of tax I'll ever support,” Bankston said.

Smith says he needs the money to give teachers a 5% raise and add additional arts and foreign language classes to more elementary schools.

Hamilton County School Board Chairman George Ricks supports the idea by saying, “We want our schools to be the best in the state. You have to pay for education. We need better technology and we need to improve pay for our teachers.”

Bankston believes the state should foot the bill, not taxpayers. “I think the state is working on getting the fully funded BEP formula and I think that sooner or later they will. They're like everyone else, they have to find the money to do it with,” he said.

Smith will go before commissioners with his proposal during a budget hearing in May.

The schedule of community meetings to be held by Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith:

  • Monday April 6:  East Hamilton Middle/High, 6:30 p.m
  • Thurs.  April 9:  Patten Rec. Center (Lookout Valley) 7:00 p.m.
  • Tues.   April 14:  Wallace A. Smith Elem.   6:00 p.m.
  • Mon.  April 20:  Signal Mtn. Middle/High  6:00 p.m.
  • Tues.  April 21:  East Ridge High   6:30 p.m.
  • Thur.  April 23:   Hixson High  6:30 p.m.
  • Tues.  April 28:  Brainerd High  6:00 p.m.
  • Thur.  April 30:  Red Bank Middle  6:00 p.m.
  • Mon.  May 4:    Orchard Knob Elem.  6:00 p.m.
  • Tues.  May 5:   Howard High  6:30 p.m.
  • Tues.  May 12:  Soddy- Daisy High  6:00 p.m.

PREVIOUS STORY by David Carroll:  Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith will ask County Commissioners for a tax increase in May, but it's likely to be an uphill battle. 

Smith said that he will request a 40-cent property tax hike that would add more than 33 million dollars to the District's annual budget.   That would come at a cost of about $150 more per year for the average homeowner.   Smith wants to fund teacher pay increases (approximately five percent), and additional arts and foreign language classes.   Without the hike, Smith says, cuts will be necessary. He plans a series of town meetings in April in an attempt to sell his proposal to taxpayers.

Most Commissioners have said repeatedly in recent years that they are firmly against raising taxes. Several ran for their positions last year pledging no tax hikes, and some say there is enough business growth in the county to account for sufficient additional revenue to fund basic school needs.

Smith was a favorite of Board members to succeed Dr. Jim Scales in 2010, partially due to his longtime relationship with county elected officials.  

Many Board members believed Smith would have an easier time convincing Commissioners to add funding for schools than did Scales, or his predecessor, Dr. Jesse Register.  Although Smith had hinted a request for more funding in recent months, he had not made anything official until Thursday night. 

The budget request would be approximately nine percent higher than that of the current school year.
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