The city’s proposed budget includes a tax increase to water quality management fees. (Photo: MGNOnline)

A proposed tax increase to water quality management fees in the 2018-2019 fiscal year budget would raise the fees by nearly 50 percent in the next five years.

The budget includes a proposed 9.8 percent increase to the fee—which is included on the resident’s county property tax bill—per year for the next five years.

That means the current flat fee of $126 will jump to about $190 by the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

Advertisement

The senior tax freeze program, which stops property tax rates from increasing for people 65 years of age and older, will not apply to this fee.

City Council passed the senior tax freeze program along with the 2017-2018 fiscal year budget to pair with a high property tax rate also featured in the budget.

Some elderly and low-income residents with approved applications may be eligible for fee exemptions outside of the senior tax freeze program.

The Berke administration proposed the increase to compensate for existing stormwater and water quality programs’ inflating costs, city officials said.

The fee will also help fund new programs such as residential detention pond maintenance and seriously eroded stream bank reparation.

Revenue from the proposed increase will also fund some capital projects that are needed to keep the city in compliance with an Environmental Protection Agency permit, District 1 City Councilman Chip Henderson and Public Works Administrator Justin Holland said.

Whether the city remained in compliance with the permit was a major discussion topic in November 2017 when city council approved a change to the Stay-on-Volume regulations.

To help offset the price increase in water quality fees, Henderson said he is planning to propose an alternative that would proportionately lower property tax rates that way citizens’ overall bill remained the same.

Henderson said that he has not received much feedback from his constituents on the tax increase because few residents are aware of the incoming changes, but he is worried about the backlash that might come if the budget is passed.

“I don’t think people are really aware of it because most people are paying attention to the bridge lights,” Henderson said. “I’m concerned because I know what everyone’s going to say after it [passes].”

Last week, city council members voiced disapproval about the city’s plan to allocate $4 million into a new interactive lighting system for the Walnut Street Bridge citing constituent uneasiness.

The city said it had received mixed feedback from residents about the fee increase but officials feel that it is necessary in order for the department to function properly and effectively.

“As with any major project we have received both positive and negative feedback in regards to increasing fees,” Assistant City Engineer over water quality Jim Luebbering said in an email. “We feel that the increase is needed to both maintain existing desired programs and to offer expanded programs to continue to protect water quality and provide needed flood control and safe flood conveyance throughout the city.”

Alina Hunter-Grah is a contributing writer. She is a graduate of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she received a bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in political science. Alina has over three years of journalism experience including time spent with CNN and 2nd & Church, a magazine based in Nashville, Tennessee. You can reach Alina at [email protected] or on Twitter @alinahuntergrah

Advertisement