The City Council approved the 2018 budget on a first reading.
Ordinance highlights include changes to the property tax rate, a new senior tax freeze, an increase in police and fire department pensions, and a decrease in state sales tax on food.
“Our investments are leading to a growing prosperity and quality of life,” Mayor Andy Berke said in a prepared statement. “This budget makes key investments in safety, families, neighborhoods and our economy, which will continue to move Chattanooga forward.”
With the exception of District 1 Councilman Chip Henderson, all City Council members voted to approve the proposed budget Sept. 5. The final vote is slated for Sept. 12.
Henderson said that he had trouble passing the legislation with the proposed changes in property tax revenue. Although the 2018 budget proposes to drop tax rates from $2.309 to $2.277, the rate remains higher than the tax assessor’s certified rate of $2.05. Property taxes have also been generally increasing for many citizens as property values move upward.
“The folks I talked to in District 1 did not want the tax increase,” Henderson said.
The councilman, however, did not seem optimistic for a change to this section of the budget proposal, as this change would require heavy editing to the budget by Berke.
Several council members expressed support for a $5 million allocation for paving and major road repairs, including Henderson and District 9 Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod.
Henderson noted the irony of his no vote because of this aspect of the proposed budget.
“Of all the budgets to vote no on, I have been advocating for the $5 million in paving since I was elected four and a half years ago now,” Henderson said.
Coonrod expressed her excitement for the allocation.
“I’m excited because there are so many roads in my district that need to be paved, and it [hasn’t happened] because of the lack of funding,” Coonrod said. “These roads haven’t been taken care of, and I’m excited for that reason alone.”
Another major piece of the new budget includes a senior tax freeze for Chattanooga citizens over 65 years of age. Through this program, seniors who earn less than the county household income limit will be eligible to apply to have their tax rates permanently frozen, allowing for more financial stability.
Other budget highlights:
- Funding for 14 new positions within the Chattanooga Police Department to staff the new gun crime unit and rapid response teams
- A 2 percent cut to sales tax on food
- Repairs to the Walnut Street Bridge
- Funding for a place of remembrance for the Fallen Five killed in the July 16, 2015, terrorist attacks
- A brownfield coordinator to assess sites that could bring more residential, commercial or industrial growth to the city
- Plans to establish a partnership with Kiva, a nonprofit that provides loans at 0 percent interest to low-income entrepreneurs and students
- A $5.3 million decrease in funding to the general fund over the next three years
The full budget can be found here.
Alina Hunter-Grah is a contributing writer. She currently attends UTC, where she was previously the news editor of the student newspaper, The University Echo. Alina also worked at CNN during the summer of 2017 and is the former Chattanooga correspondent for 2nd & Church, a literary magazine based out of Nashville.