FIRST ON 3: Hamilton County residents could see a 17% property tax increase
Hamilton County homeowners could soon be seeing a substantial increase in their property tax bills.
County Mayor Jim Coppinger tells Channel 3 that the budget plan he will present to commissioners later this month could include an increase "in the neighborhood" of 17 percent in property taxes.
For those who own a $100,000 home, the annual increase is estimated at $125 in taxes. For a $150,000 home, the tax hike could be about $188 annually. For a $200,000 home, the tax increase could be close to $250 each year.
Recently, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson announced his plan to seek an additional $34 million annually, boosting the school system budget from approximately $409 million to $443 million. Johnson said he identified "substantially more" needs that would potentially require far more money, but he prefers to submit a budget that has a "realistic" chance of approval.
Most school board members appear to be supportive of the plan, although District 1 representative Rhonda Thurman says the budget does not address needs at two schools in her district, Sale Creek Middle/High and Soddy-Daisy Middle. She says Sale Creek has long been promised a football field and Soddy-Daisy Middle is in need of exterior and interior repair. "We keep finding snakes inside that school," she said.
Dr. Johnson has requested additional funding for truant officers, school counselors, social workers, teacher pay increases, special education teachers, art teachers, and capital (facilities) improvements. He says it has been at least twelve years since the county has approved a tax increase for school operations. In 2017, commissioners voted to keep the prior tax rate rather than dropping back to the certified tax rate (after reappraisal), resulting in more than $100 million in bond money, much of which went to "get some school projects off the ground," including a new Harrison Elementary and a new East Hamilton Middle, both now in the early stages of construction.
Unlike in past years, the tax increase request does not seem to be negotiable in its amount. Sources tell Channel 3 that compromises are not being sought and that the needs are "real and urgent." In addition to extra school funding, the Sheriff's Office and other departments are saying that the annual "natural growth" of two or three percent in tax revenues are not enough.
Commissioners are believed to be split on the tax hike issue. One commissioner, who asked not to be identified, said there are "three solid votes" in favor of a tax hike, "with a chance that one or two others" may join in. The commissioner said "there are at least four solid votes against" a tax hike, and declined to make any predictions of a final vote.
That vote could come in late June. Previous county budgets that included tax hike requests have often been negotiated, whittled, and debated until June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
Coppinger said, "We're still preparing the final numbers. Nothing is set in stone yet, so I can't speculate which way it will go." He also declined to speculate on public reaction, saying, "We'll just have to wait and see how it all shakes out."