East Ridge will partner with Collegedale and other Hamilton County municipalities in hiring a consultant to fight against a potential bill in the Tennessee General Assembly which could cost cities a portion of state shared tax revenues.
In Thursday’s City Council meeting, the board voted unanimously to chip in $20,000 a year for possibly two years to help hire Davis Lundy to spearhead an effort most recently raised by County Mayor Jim Coppinger asking for the state to allocate some state sales tax money to counties, not just cities.
Mayor Brent Lambert, who dominated the discussion of the issue, said if such a law was passed it would deprive East Ridge of between $500,000 and $1 million in revenue it gets from the state. He said other municipalities in the county, particularly Collegedale, would be in the same position.
“If this were to happen how would we respond?” Lambert asked the council. “Other mayors have told me that if this goes through they would have no choice but to raise taxes … or cut services.”
Lambert said he did not want to be in that position.
City Attorney Hal North read details from a contract that would retain the services of Lundy for $124,000 a year. Each city, depending upon its size, would contribute toward that amount. In the case of East Ridge, Collegedale, Soddy-Daisy and Red Bank, that amount would be $20,000. He said if other cities drop out of the agreement the cost to each individual city, including East Ridge, would rise.
Lambert said Lundy would be the person to “educate” the public about what the potential new law depriving municipalities of a portion of state shared sales taxes would mean to them. He said Lundy “would be the person to craft and convey that message.”
Vice Mayor Marc Gravitt, who also serves as State Representative for District 30, said that he and other local representatives have spoken with Mayor Coppinger about the issue. Gravitt said that it was not just Hamilton County that was driving the effort to get a share of the tax money but also the city of Memphis. He said it was uncertain how state representatives in more rural counties would react to any potential bill. Gravitt, who serves on the Local Government Committee in the legislature, urged the council to be “proactive” on the issue.
“I will do everything I can up there to lobby against it,” he said. “I would rather be safe than sorry.”
In Old Business, the council passed an ordinance that would allow a new LED billboard to be placed east of Interstate 75 on Ringgold Road. Lambert was the lone dissenting vote, without comment. The council unanimously passed a new ordinance dealing with development standards and the operation of open air markets.
In New Business, the council voted on first reading to move forward with rezoning of property on Roosevelt Road to allow the construction of 20 single family homes. Developer James Anderson already had the four-acre property zoned to build 29 townhouses. Discussion centered on increased traffic, but the council came to a consensus that less traffic would be created by building fewer homes.
The council passed a housekeeping budget amendment, prior to adopting resolutions which would advance state salary supplements payments to firefighters and police officers, and one that would allow insulation to be blown into the ceiling of the city’s sanitation maintenance building.
Attorney North asked that a contract that the city has with the Chattanooga Football Club Academy be amended. The club uses soccer fields at Camp Jordan for which it pays the city $3,300 per month. With the Christmas Nights of Lights scheduled for November and December, coupled with the construction activity at the park, the city does not want the football club to use the fields at night for practice. Parks & Recreation Director Stump Martin assured the council that the club would comply. The contract would allow the club out of the $3,300 payments to the city for the two months but allow the club to rent fields for $100 a day for each field.
The council got into a detailed discussion concerning a resolution that would prohibit residents from parking on the street on Altamira Drive. Councilman Larry Sewell said he didn’t understand why the council even had to deal with street parking issues, that it was the purview of the city’s street department. City Attorney North reminded Sewell that bringing such issues before the council gives an opportunity for citizens’ input on such issues. Sewell countered by saying that the street department contacts residents along streets that are being considered for “no parking” and that was an opportunity for them to voice their opinion.
Interim City Manager Mike Williams, who is also the city’s Fire Chief, told the council that street parking along Altamira poses a serious problem to emergency vehicles trying to navigate the street. The council adopted the measure with Councilman Denny Manning voting no.
The council discussed hiring a new staff member dedicated to economic development and handling Border Region Act responsibilities. City Treasurer Thad Jablonski, who had performed these tasks, recently left the city to take a job in Columbia, Tenn.
Lambert said it was his opinion that Jablonski had been overburdened and that the city would be better served by hiring not only a new Treasurer but creating a second position with a salary in the range of $50,000 to $60,000.
Lambert said it was hard to predict the future but that Exit 1 is going to become “a magnet” for economic development.
“It’s not going to get less complicated from here,” he said. “It’s a position that could pay dividends down the road.”
Gravitt stressed hiring qualified people as Treasurer and the potentially new position as an economic development director. He said it’s essential that the treasurer have experience in government accounting and not just in the private sector. “Just because someone has been a banker does not necessarily make him qualified,” Gravitt said. “It’s apples and oranges.”
Finally, the council discussed hiring a new City Manager. Councilman Sewell said he would prefer someone “local.” Attorney North read the qualifications verbatim from the City Charter. A college degree and three years of supervisory experience in government is required. The council has the latitude to include other qualifications, he said.
The East Ridge City Council will hold a Special Called Meeting on Monday, Nov. 2, to consider amending the city’s commercial sign ordinance. That meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. at City Hall.