After weeks of deliberation and discussion, Chattanooga City Council members voted Tuesday to narrowly approve Mayor Ron Littlefield's $209 city budget for the upcoming year.
The council, which voted 5-4, was divided over a proposal by the mayor to allocate $3 million of budget funds for various forms of raises for city workers. For weeks, the council discussed how to best divvy out the funds in a way that was fair to all.
The group ultimately moved to approve Littlefield's final proposal—a combination of $1.3 million to be put toward the police career ladder program; $1.3 million for a 3 percent, across-the-board raise for unsworn city workers; and $675,000 to put toward longevity pay for employees who have worked more than five years for the city. In all, the amount for pay increases totals at approximately $3.2 million.
Voting in favor of the budget were City Council members Sally Robinson, Jack Benson, Russell Gilbert, Carol Berz and Manny Rico. Councilwomen Deborah Scott and Pam Ladd voted no out of objection to the longevity provision, and Councilmen Peter Murphy and Andraé McGary voted no after suggesting that the $1.3 million marked for 3 percent raises for unsworn civilians be stretched to cover firefighters and police officers as well, at an across-the-board rate of 1.5 percent.
Before the vote was cast, McGary said he could not vote in support of the measure after "making thorough investigation" into how involved parties would be affected.
"My concern is that we are doing what is in the best interest of all employees," McGary said. "I believe that all city employees should have a fair shake, and that is my concern. At the same time, I believe this body believes otherwise, and therefore, I certainly understand how we can come to different views on this issue. I do wish it to be said that there is a lot of thought that has gone into this."
The budget includes no tax increases.
City Council members also approved a resolution Tuesday to intervene in a pending rate hike by Tennessee American Water Company. The company has asked for a 24.9 percent increase in water rates this year, a move that constitutes the largest rate increase since the company was approved a 14.6 percent rate increase two years ago.
Before voting, council members questioned Tennessee American Water spokesman Vince Butler, who said the water company would be "happy" to discuss the increase with city officials. When asked if any discussions with the mayor's office had taken place last week, as had been suggested, Butler said no.
Council members McGary, Scott and Ladd voted against entering the case. All other council members voted in favor of the measure.
During the council's Budget and Finance Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon, Councilwoman Carol Berz said the group would be meeting next week to finalize appropriations in the city's capital budget for the upcoming fiscal year.