Email To The County Commissioners On D-Day - And Response

Saturday, June 8, 2019

It's ironic that today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day and honoring those who fought for our freedom, and yet, those are the very people who will be hurt the most by a property tax increase. Veterans, the disabled, those with limited or fixed incomes, Social Security recipients, and those who live on fixed pensions can't afford unplanned expenses when they can barely meet current financial obligations. The higher a person is above the poverty line, the easier it is to bear these tax burdens.

At the present time Jim Coppinger makes $168,348.90 per year.

47 County employees make over $100,000 per year;

14 County employees make over $90,000;

31 County employees make over $80,000;

42 County employees make over $70,000.

Bryan Johnson will make $203,437.00 in 2018/2019.

57 HCDE employees made over $100,000 this year;

66 HCDE employees made over $90,000;

74 HCDE employees made over $80,000;

71 HCDE employees made over $70,000.

While the county/school employees listed in the categories above will likely have little problem in paying an additional 13 percent on their property taxes, such a flagrantly large increase in property taxes (added to the 10 percent increase of only three years ago), will cause a serious hardship for those of lesser wealth. The salaries of the school/county employees fail to take into account the added income of spouses, partners and anyone else who may be listed on their property deed as "living owners of record", thereby sharing in payment of property taxes.

"Tax relief/exemptions" (as defined on the Hamilton County Assessor's office website) apply to only a select few (if they even know they have the option) thereby forcing persons with low or medium incomes, and those living at or below the poverty level, to make hard choices as to whether they will be able to feed themselves, put clothes on their (and their childrens) backs, pay the mortgage or rent, pay the utility bills (paying for insurance - forget about it), or pay their taxes.

The county budget proposal of $819M is up $65M (8.7 percent) from last year. The proposed school budget of $443M is up 13.6 percent from last year. At some point the School Superintendent, County Mayor, and County Commissioners need to face reality and recognize that the citizens of Hamilton county are not a bottomless "piggy bank".

In his Hamilton County Biography, Jim Coppinger notes that (as the Chattanooga Fire Chief in years 1997-2005) he: "Managed annual budgets ranging up to $26,000,000.", and "Operated (sic) under budget every year". Where is this same dedication to frugally managing other people's money - has this job become too large for one person? Rather than increasing property taxes 10 percent in 2017 and now proposing to raise taxes by 13 percent, for 2020, Misters Johnson and Coppinger need to be held accountable by the County Commission with the directive(s) to be more judicious in their use of already allocated funds and to look for ways to decrease (not increase) their budget(s) in future years.  Their individual salaries should be predicated on how well they meet those objectives.

The continued expansion of industry, retail properties and homes in Hamilton County (provided additional property tax increases don't run them off) should continue to provide sufficient, supplemental, annual tax revenue which can be allocated to the schools and county as necessary.

Randy Snorek

* * * 

Published figures indicate the median personal income in Chattanooga is a bit more than $24,000 per year; median total household income is less than $40,000 per year.  "Median" means that half of us live on less than that; half of us live with more – some with much more.

In Hamilton County, the equivalent numbers for individuals are less than $30,000 per year, and for households, about $51,000 annually. As in the city, half of us live with less than that, and half of us live with more – some, obviously, with much more.

All of those local median incomes are below the nationwide values. All of them. Yes, sadly, and it's surely a surprise to some, we here in River City are in fact below average.

With the local income numbers so readily available, how can anyone justify the incredible county government and school salaries listed by Randy Snorek? [And, of course, Chattanooga city government salaries are in the same obscene range.] It's obvious that the tail is wagging the dog here – our so-called "public servants" are in fact the local royalty.  They are our ruling class.

And even within the inflated county government salary setup, the schools personnel obviously get the really big bucks.

Some in authority will always argue that it takes that kind of money to get the best in school administration, etc. Then they turn around and decide a year or two later that they've made a mistake after all, and the only way to get past that error is to spend even more money on their next experiment. "So how's that working out for you?" is usually meant as a smart-aleck remark, but it seems absolutely appropriate here. And we all know the answer – it's not working out at all, at least not for those who actually have to pay the bills.

Are we really in competition here, do we really have to fight with other unrelated school systems near and far to get 'the best' for our local schools? Somehow it seems all we really end up with is someone else's leftovers, castoffs, or outcasts. Remember, it’s essentially illegal for a former employer to give a former employee a bad recommendation; a former boss can't tell just how bad the guy was when he worked for him. And the School Board insists on paying a premium for every new prospect. 

Mr. Johnson's annual salary is now something over $200,000, and his wife just got a new (so far unexplained) city government job making $90,000. Their household income is thus nearly $300,000 per year – almost six times the county household median, and more than seven times the city of Chattanooga average.  Doesn't that seem sort of ridiculous?

Read those salary figures in the original letter again. It's easy to see how folks with that kind of income can blithely state that another $20 or $50 or $100 per month in property taxes is no big deal -- especially since "it's for the children!" 

But when someone's entire household income is more like $20,000 or $30,000 per year, it's a whole different matter. You can’t "give up just one coffee a week” when you’re not buying any such thing in the first place. Plus, of course, anyone who can read and think clearly knows full well that the extra tax money, the extra school money, isn't really going to help the children at all.  It's not going to produce any visible results, no improved education of students, any more than the last several tax increases have done. 

Every one of those county and school salaries originally listed could be cut in half and those receiving them would still be well above all the local averages. Of course, every one of those folks would argue loud and long that cutting their pay wouldn't make any big difference in the cost of government, of education, etc. No, of course that wouldn't cure all of the ills or all of the evils involved, but it would be a good start. Surely it’s about time to start some place.

And don't pretend that individual worker education and experience justifies all of those large salaries, either. Education and experience factor into all of the various average incomes around here. Those extravagant government and school salaries raise the averages all around us, without helping most of us at all -- they actually just put more folks below the medians. The fact is, those unconscionable government and school salaries exist only because the folks in government and education have irresponsibly set them in place, not because they are mandatory and/or effective in getting good quality workers. Those high salaries are maintained and keep rising not because they are necessary or in any way justifiable, but because the government can simply set them, and then order defenseless property owners to pay up or move out. 

Every new tax increase is an indication that the government is not doing the job it’s supposed to be doing. In some cases, government does things that it should not be doing, wasting tax money. In some cases, government simply pays more than it should for things that it should be doing – again, wasting tax money. If government was doing its proper job, rather than playing Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy, etc., the local economy would grow and tax income would keep pace with government money needs.

But every time we turn around, government (and the schools) wants a bigger piece of our pie. A tax increase means that government considers itself more important than anything else we normal, ordinary peons have to deal with, and we must either pay up or move out. My property taxes are already equivalent to three large mortgage payments every year, and the county and the schools want even more. And, naturally, the city won’t be far behind.

I’ve long argued that any “public servant,” whether preacher, teacher, or politician, should be paid just the average of all his/her constituents’ income. That would help to keep them all in touch with the folks they supposedly serve. The problem is (as all of us who are supposedly being served know), it’s the “public servants” who end up setting their own pay scales, and their judgment in the matter is not to be trusted.

If someone knows of a surefire way to break this cycle of legalized theft, if someone knows how we who actually have to pay the bills can put an end to ever-increasing official extravagance, if someone knows how to demand and enforce absolute accountability in government and the schools – please step up and help us out here.  Otherwise some of us who can't pay up any more are going to have to move out.

Larry Cloud
Lookout Valley

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