Update: Property tax increase taken out of 2020 Hamilton County budget

Image: WTVC

UPDATE (12 p.m.):

Hamilton County Commissioners voted 5-4 to remove the proposed 34-cent property tax from the proposed budget.

They adjourned their meeting before voting to pass the full budget.

The budget vote will happen at a later date, but regardless of whether it passes, Hamilton County Schools will not get the $34 million that the proposed property tax would have paid for.

We called several Hamilton County School Board members for their reaction.

"I am not surprised. We just have work to do," said District 1 Commissioner Rhonda Thurman.
District 2 Commissioner Kathy Lennon told us, “I am disappointed in our commissioners that they pulled the education piece from the budget. It sent a message they don’t value education. 5 of the commissioners voting it down does NOT make sense to me. I just want to know what they want us to pull from the budget. I am just sadden by the action today.”
Commissioner Tiffanie Robinson of District 4 said, “I am very disappointed. I think the commission has misread what the community wants. The school board will have to go back to the drawing board and present a new budget.”

Now, the school district can go back to the drawing board.

They’ll get a chance to present a different budget to commissioners.

In a statement, Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson says that they remain committed to getting their students, teachers, and leaders the help they need:

“We remain committed to ensuring that our students get the resources that they need & our teachers & leaders are supported at the school level to make sure we reach the goals outlined in Future Ready 2023,” said Dr. Johnson.

You can see his full video with the statement below, or on Hamilton County School's YouTube page here.

Depend on us to keep you posted.

Watch our livestream of the meeting, and our account of what happened, below:

Below is our account of the meeting as it happened:

There is a motion to amend the 2020 budget without the 34 cent property tax increase. This was seconded by Commissioner Boyd.

Both parties that are for and against the budget will each have 20 minutes to speak to the commissioners.

School board member Joe Smith is lobbying Commissioners to vote for the tax increase.

Dupont Elementary School principal Ruthie Panni tells Commissioners to be in favor of the new budget.

Before the trial started, some Commissioners already have expressed where they stand on the new budget and potential tax increase.

The party against the budget increase is speaking now.

Brandon Jennings with the Chattanooga Tea Party says he wants to know where the comprehensive facilities plan is before seeing this budget increase.

Craig McGarvey, retired teacher says, “We can solve the behavior problem in the schools. Remove disruptive students from the classroom. This can be done with minimal funding increases.”

Dean Moorehouse, a speaker against the budget, says, "The question about this budget is not about supporting teachers, it's about operational inefficiency."

Moorehouse says in the past 10 years the school budget has grown 67 percent when the number of students has only increased 10 percent.

Moorehouse says, "Please force Hamilton county schools to become operationally efficient."

Lesley Nelson says, "The effort to pass this budget by Unified Ed talks about educational equity which is really covering up a socialist agenda to indoctrinate our children"

Both sides have each had their 20 minutes to the Commissioners. They are now asking a question about procedure. There is a motion to pass the budget without the 34 cent tax increase.

The county attorney says if the school portion of the budget is sent back to the school board to rework, the other part of the budget is not in effect until everything is passed.

The county attorney clarifies that the commission would not alter the school budget. They can say yes or no on how much funding the schools get, but not how the funding is divided. That is up to the school board to do.

Commissioner Boyd tried to end the debate by decreasing the budget by $34 million.

Commissioner Baker says he wants to support teacher raises, but not raises for overall management.

Commissioner Smedley says she will vote no on a tax increase.

By a 5 to 4 vote, the commission took the tax increase out of the budget.

Depend on us to bring you updates as we get them.

PREVIOUSLY

After weeks of debate, Hamilton County Commissioners will vote at their Wednesday meeting whether to approve 2020 budget.

If it passes, more than $819 million will be shared among several departments.

The budget includes a 34-cent property tax increase that would pay for 350 new positions at Hamilton County Schools, including counselors and truancy officers, costing a total of $443 million dollars.

Teachers would see pay raises and more than 350 new positions will be added, including counselors and truancy officers.

It would also focus on making classrooms more inclusive, addressing mental health and giving students more support.

The debate over the schools portion of the budget has not been over whether Hamilton County Schools need funding, but how to pay for its expanded 2020 budget.

The last time there was a property tax increase was in 2017 when it was 10 percent hike. It would be 13 percent this time around if the budget passes.

The average home is valued at $200,000 dollars. If there is a tax increase, the average homeowner would pay $170 more a year.

Not everyone is thrilled with this plan. Both Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson have spent the last weeks addressing those concerns.

The budget would also add $59 million to the budget of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office (HCSO).

That money would give deputies and corrections officers pay raises, as well as pay for a mental health program Sheriff Jim Hammond says will allow more aggressive recruiting and making the force diverse. The budget would also help pay for volunteer fire departments and beefing up EMS staffs.

The proposed budget also includes more than 13 million dollars in signifcant cuts.

Some include funding to CARTA, Arts Build and highway improvement projects.

Commissioners will vote on Wednesday morning.

Depend on us to keep you posted on the outcome.

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