WEBCAST VIDEO: Clock Ticking on Sales Tax Agreement
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WRCB) - "It really is a time where we really need to reshuffle things," said Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield. "We need to re-sort things." That is what he wants to do by letting the 45 year old sales tax agreement expire. But, the city and the county are still far apart on many issues and the clock is ticking.
10 to 11 million dollars will be rerouted from the county coffers to the city general fund. What will become of a long list of agencies and services currently supported by the county? "There will be services that will be cut," said County Mayor Jim Coppinger, "and that causes me some concerns because I've looked at the budget very closely and they're needed services, but we will not have the money. There's a lot of talk about the fund balance that we have. Again, a lot of that money is committed and it's not a blank check just laying around."
"The same amount of money is on the table" said Littlefield, "and I have said to the county officials and others, you really just need to tell us what you need from the city...if the agency is important to the city council, I'm sure it will be funded. If it's important to the county commission, I'm sure it will be funded"
One guarantee from Wednesday's forum at Channel 3, the county will not raise property taxes to plug the revenue hole. "There is no persuasion on the Hamilton County Commission to do that," said Chairman Larry Henry. "And I'll go out on a limb and stretch it to say that probably in this term there is no persuasion to do it. By this term, I mean 2014."
City Council Chairman Manny Rico countered, "They wouldn't have to raise taxes cause, what, they got an $85 million surplus," he said with a grin. "So, that will get them on down the road until we can figure this out."
Would the county consider spending their surplus? Not ideal, said Coppinger, but not off the table either. "We'll do whatever we need to do so that we don't have to pass on any additional property tax," he explained. "I don't think we'd necessarily rule out any option that's on the table right now."
"One thing they (the county) could do to be moving in the right direction this year is say, 'We'll take over the health department,'" said Mayor Littlefield, "and then let's talk about these other agencies, some of which we might need to jointly fund or the city might take responsibility for." Mayor Coppinger believes both entities should fund the health department.
As for the idea of hiring a P.R. firm for public education, Mayor Littlefield says the idea was floated, but we've moved past that. "We need to thrash these things out, item by item," he explained. "And we need to discuss and decide what is a true county-wide responsibility."
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - As if times weren't tough enough, depending on where you live, the expiration of a 45-year-old sales tax agreement could affect some services on which you have come to rely. At the very least, it would transfer more than $10 million from county coffers to Chattanooga's general fund.
So, what happens to the programs Hamilton County and Chattanooga jointly funds?
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger says the county may have to evaluate which agencies are required by state law, and make cuts among the rest.
"We think the County should take on responsibilities in County and we'll take care of responsibilities in the City," said Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield in an online roundtable discussion presented by Channel 3 Eyewitness News and the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
"The list of jointly funded agencies is endless," said Ellis Smith of the Chattanooga Times Free Press in a recent appearance on WTCI's Tennessee Insider. "There's a lot to talk about here. They're not all gonna go away, but they may not all make it, as well."
Mayor Coppinger said all 28 social service agencies currently funded by the both the city and the county are being considered for cuts if sales tax agreement expires.
Included on that list are a lot of high profile agencies and services: Erlanger, the health department, the public library, Orange Grove, CADAS, public television and Bessie Smith Hall, just to name a few.
Coppinger says the cuts would mean county employees would lose their jobs.
But, Chattanooga City Councilman Jack Benson says is not that worried. "We'll keep the money to do it," he said. "And because of the inequity right now, we'll probably have to fund less than we pick up in increase."
Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry said county has $85.7 million in reserves, but doesn't think the county should dip into those funds to plug the budget hole if agreement expires. But he says he won't rule it out.
Red Bank's City Manager tells Eyewitness News he expects increased revenues for the city if the agreement expires. Chief Eddie Phillips from East Ridge says they will let the city and the county work this one out.
Coppinger says if the city was in any ways serious about negotiating the agreement, they would have done so.
"We put together the Amazon.com agreement in less time than we have to do this," said Mayor Coppinger.
"There have been no discussions because the City has been unwilling to discuss it," he adds.
The agreement expires in May. Then, sales tax revenues would stay where they are collected, meaning residents of lesser populated portions of Hamilton County may get the short end of the stick when it comes to services, if the county does not come up with a revenue source.
Programs jointly funded by Chattanooga and Hamilton County:
- Erlanger Hospital
- Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department
- Speech and Hearing Center
- Children's Home (Chambliss Shelter)
- J. Johnson Mental Health Center
- Veterans Service Office
- Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Civil Defense (Emergency Services)
- Chattanooga Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency
- Scenic Cities Beautiful Commission
- Chattanooga Public Library
- Social Services Administration
- Family and Children's Services
- Fortwood Center
- Orange Grove Center
- Team Evaluation
- Children's Advocacy Center
- Community Research Council
- Aim Center
- Signal Centers
- Bethlehem Community Sports Academy
- Senior Neighbors
- Allied Arts
- WTCI Public Television
- Regional History Museum
- Urban League
- African American Museum/Bessie Smith Hall