Cooper: Mayor Kelly, do not bury your request for a tax hike; Inform your constituents what you’re doing and why

Buried deep in the summary of the first budget of Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly under the heading “Summary of Income” are these words: “This household was created with a property tax rate of $ 2.25 per $ 100 of estimated value.”

Nowhere in the document does it say “tax hike,” “tax hike,” “tax hike,” or, as the newspaper so gently puts it, “a proposed $ 30 million increase in property tax revenue.”

The reality, however, is that if the budget is passed unchanged, city property taxes will rise by around 21% for many residents. For the owner of a $ 175,000 home, taxes will rise by about $ 199 a year, according to Chief of Staff Brent Goldberg.

Kelly, who was asked about the price in a virtual editorial meeting with reporters and editors of the Times Free Press last week, said, “It’s cheaper than the old price.”

Yes, if the city council approves the proposed rate of $ 2.25 per $ 100 of estimated value, it would be cheaper than the $ 2.27 rate homeowners paid this year. But 2021 was a year of revaluation for Hamilton County homes, and the new state certified price for the city is $ 1.8529.

The law does not allow homeowners to raise their taxes just because the value of their home increases. Every four years, the estimated value per $ 100 must be adjusted to keep your property taxes from increasing.

Mayors and city councilors are involved here. You can request confirmation of the new state-approved tariff or suggest a change. That’s what Kelly does.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger did just that in 2017. Instead of burying the proposed rate deep in a budget document, he stood on the district court steps with several dozen people behind him and said he wanted to keep the set rate where it was – to raise $ 25 million a year and buy bonds to get the New construction of schools, the prison and a sewage treatment plant to be paid for.

“I really believe we are at a crossroads and I think this is the right thing to do to move this county forward,” he said, knowing he probably had the votes to pass his proposal. “For me, tax increases should absolutely be a last resort and if I didn’t feel like we are at this point I certainly wouldn’t ask for that increase. But I’m afraid we’ll be missing out on a huge opportunity if” we act now Not.”

We wish Kelly had done the same because he has legitimate reasons to ask the question. Not everyone will agree, and certainly not want to see taxes rise. But he would like to bring the salaries of many city workers closer to market prices. The city can’t hire people to drive recycling trucks, guard the streets, or put out fires because they can often find better-paying jobs elsewhere.

If approved, the budget would generate an additional $ 30 per year in revenue. Of that amount, the budget would increase salaries and benefits for new and experienced firefighters to $ 10 million per year. The raise for new and seasoned cops would be $ 10 million a year. And the wage increase for other city workers would be $ 10 million a year.

The budget also sets a record $ 10 million for street paving (and forecasts the same amount for the remainder of Kelly’s tenure), an expense that, despite huge increases during former Mayor Andy Berke’s tenure, never pace with demand could hold.

Kelly, when asked about the increase in the state-set rate of $ 1.85, said that amount was “never a reality. It never really existed.” He said mayors never keep state-adjusted prices.

Unless they do. For example, Hamilton County earlier this month approved its new state certified property tax rate of $ 2.24 per $ 100 of estimated value, a decrease of 53 cents.

The city did not increase its property tax rate between 2001 and 2009 despite a revaluation in 2005, and Coppinger did not increase property tax until 2017 in the first six years of his tenure despite a revaluation in 2013.

In the last three reports, however, the city decided to change the state-certified rate. In 2010, then-Mayor Ron Littlefield requested a 64 cents increase for every $ 100 of the estimated value based on the 2009 estimate. The city council cut this demand to 37 cents and passed it 6: 3. In 2013, the city even lowered property taxes by not quite half a cent. But in 2017, the city raised taxes by nearly 22 cents per $ 100 of estimated value – an increase of about 10.7% – and beat them by 8: 1.

Kelly has already announced several worthy projects that are reflected in his budget – including the construction of a construction workers’ center and school initiative that will address the broader needs of children – and other changes that will reshape the city council to suit his and its administration’s wishes become.

He said he cut some expenses from Berke’s previous budget and ordered department heads to “dig in the couch cushions” to find savings.

In the end, we think most people are like the swear words whose contribution can be found in our Perspective section today. It said: “A tax increase of 18% for Chattanoogans is pending: I will support them when our streets become safer and streets are paved and repaired.”

We just wish Kelly had been more open about what he wanted to do. He told editors and reporters that the situation was “a little desperate” and that the tax hike “must come about”.

Tell your constituents, Mr. Mayor, and tell them why. You will be surprised how they react.