At a morning news conference to address new annexation legislation, mayoral candidate David Crockett said that city residents might need the option to separate from the county.
"One alternative is to let cities above a certain size have a right to vote to separate from the county they are in and be independent," he said. "An independent Chattanooga would pay one tax, not two; have the lowest property taxes in Hamilton County; and could invest more in its neglected communities with better roads, infrastructure, affordable housing and better schools."
Crockett's comments are in response to proposed legislation that would allow residents to vote to leave a municipality.
Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, proposed the legislation that would allow voters to say whether they want to separate from cities. Watson told The Tennessean that cities have added land and taken taxes from residents there but failed to provide adequate services to residents in the annexed areas. Residents in those areas should have the option for deannexation, he said. Click here to read more from The Tennessean.
Crockett said that the proposed legislation would hurt the city and its bond rating, and that the state has an antiquated tax system.
Mayor Andy Berke commented on the legislation and noted that it's failed in the past.
"Previous legislation would have harmed our city and citizens through untold, unintended consequences, and I'm grateful it didn't pass," he said. "We'll review this bill carefully and do what's best for Chattanooga."
He said leaders should consider every alternative to "level the playing field for taxpayers."
"You're free to live where you want, but it is not free," he said.
Crockett said if residents who live in an area annexed by a municipality have the option to vote to leave, Chattanooga city residents should have that same option.
He said he hopes to establish a respectful dialogue with leaders such as Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and state legislators on the issue.
He also criticized Berke, saying he has ignored this subject because of "political ambitions."
But Berke's campaign said Crockett is using divisive politics to win votes.
"Pitting city residents against county ones results in more time spent on political squabbles and less time spent on getting real results for taxpayers," the campaign said. "Instead, Mayor Berke is focused on how to improve our city and working with others to make progress for our entire region."
Watch his full news conference below.