We depend on local media for fair and balanced reporting and fact-based editorial opinion. Therefore, we were surprised to read the misstatements, omissions and political spin in Drew Johnson’s Oct. 27 editorial in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, apparently based on the talking points of a Signal Mountain town council candidate. We would like to set the record straight.
We were not on the council:
• In 1998, when citizens voted a ½ percent increase in sales tax to encourage the building of a high school;
• In 2001, when the town council increased taxes by 43 percent; or
• When in 2004, citizens voted by referendum to increase property taxes by up to 35 cents/$100 to contribute $7.7 million toward the construction of new schools.
We were on the council:
• In 2007, when we voted not to pay an additional $317,000, or approximately 6 percent of our budget, toward the new schools;
• In 2009, when we voted to reduce the tax rate after Hamilton County’s property value reassessment;
• In 201l, when we voted not to address rising costs and falling revenues by “raiding” our fund balance or diverting a portion of taxes earmarked by referendum to pay off the school loan; and
• When we voted instead to increase property taxes by 9.9 percent to maintain our fund balance and continue to expedite retirement of the school debt by 2016, thus saving $300,000 in interest and allowing us to reduce taxes.
The budget growth Mr. Johnson cited was not the result of “profligacy” or “a wild spending spree.” Instead, it reflects the funds assigned to the school debt, the costs of bringing annexed areas into the town, ongoing infrastructure and facility maintenance and repair, required fire safety renovations to the town’s only historical building, and the replacement of aging vehicles and equipment.
Mr. Johnson’s statement that we are “incapable of managing the town in a responsible way that respects taxpayers” is inaccurate and—frankly-- offensive. During our tenure, we recruited an efficient town manager, cut costs and deferred non-critical projects without sacrificing services to our residents. We weathered the Great Recession with a healthy fund balance and a balanced budget.
Contrary to Mr. Johnson’s charge, we believe we have not only been fiscally responsible, but we have listened to our community and acted in the best interests of the majority of our residents.
Mayor Bill Lusk
Councilwoman Annette Allen