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Soddy Daisy Officials Make Case For 34-Cent Property Tax Increase

  • Friday, May 17, 2024
  • Gail Perry

Although the Soddy Daisy board of commissioners could not vote on the 2024-2025 budget at Thursday night’s meeting because of a technical problem in notifying the public in time, they were able to discuss it. That was expected and the city had prepared for the challenges with a packet of information for each person present that documented their reasoning for a tax increase.

The new tax rate that is being proposed for Soddy Daisy is $1.45 for every $100 of assessed property value, up from $1.11. That will mean an additional $1,225,000 for the city. For a house valued at $400,000 that will be an increase of $334 per year or $27,84 per month. For comparison, the tax rates for other municipalities in Hamilton County, currently before new rates are set, are Red Bank - $1.67, with a possible increase this year. Collegedale - $1.55, Signal Mountain - $1.70, East Ridge: $1.25, Chattanooga: $2.25 and Hamilton County $2.2373. Both Red Bank and East Ridge also have separate fees for sanitation. Excluding Chattanooga, Soddy Daisy is the largest city in square miles and number of residents in Hamilton County, except for Chattanooga and East Ridge.

Mayor Steve Everett started the discussion saying that the commission has nothing to hide, and that the workshops where department heads make requests for funding are always advertised and announced so residents can plan on attending. Those meetings are held during the day, however, when most people are not able to attend, but the reason he said is to prevent paying overtime for employees to be at the meetings.

The last time that property taxes were raised in Soddy Daisy was 2013 when the rate of $1.11 per every hundred dollars was set. Property taxes are based on the assessments assigned to the property by Hamilton County. The assigned tax rate then is adjusted so that the city does not receive more in property taxes than it did before the reappraisal. But each city has the ability to adjust that rate upward to as high as the new appraised value. In Soddy Daisy, after the appraisals in 2013, the commissioners voted to keep the tax rate at 1.11 where it was before reappraisals. Mayor Everett said, “The commission voted to keep the lower rate, but that was probably a mistake." He said he now knows that the price of things "never goes down.”

Reasons were given showing the city’s need for more income. The tax increase is needed due to increased costs of running and maintaining the city since 2013, officials said. Some examples include the fact that the city has moved from an all-volunteer fire department to employing 11 firefighters. The city has four fire engines - three of them from 1991. As the city grows, so does the call volume so additional fire personnel are needed. The fire department is in need of three additional firefighters and a new fire engine with a price that has increased by $344,000 since 3022. The large audience at the meeting was told that the number of firefighters and the type of apparatus the fire department has affects the ISO rating which sets rates for insurance for homeowners. A good ISO rating also helps attract larger businesses because they can be adequately protected, said Mayor Everett.

City hall has had the same number of employees for the last 30 years, said the mayor, and some additional employees are needed now. The city needs a codes enforcement officer, a human resources professional, two additional public works employees and a dispatcher/records person for the police department, said the mayor.

Being the largest city in Hamilton County, next to the city of Chattanooga, means there are more road miles and right-of-way to maintain. The cost of mowers, dump trucks, backhoes and other equipment has increased significantly over the past few years. And there has been no significant increase in revenue to fund the purchases. Health insurance for employees has gone from $400,000 in 2013 to over $1 million this year. City Manager Burt Johnson said that Soddy Daisy received over $10 million in grants to help infrastructure improvements but the city had to provide $2 million for the projects to receive the grants. And there are over $14 million in new infrastructure needs such as road resurfacing, bridge maintenance and creek bank stabilization, that are known for the next few years. The city will have to contribute $3 million to receive $14 million in grants for that work. “We work diligently to be good stewards of the public’s tax dollars and we do not take the thought of raising property taxes lightly,” said the city manager on behalf of the commission.

Around 10 residents spoke at the meeting, most in opposition to the tax increase. But most of them understood the need, and made suggestions. One was to postpone it until Hamilton County reappraisals are done next year because the increased value of the property would likely lead to more taxes. Another suggestion was to split the increase between this year and next. One resident said property taxes support local services and facilities such as parks but people from other cities use the facilities, including the courts. This speaker suggested if people come to Soddy Daisy and break the law, they should pay for the court costs that result from what they did. Outsiders also buy property in the city and it is used for short term vacation rentals. They pay the same property tax rate as citizens of Soddy Daisy but should pay a higher commercial rate, said one speaker.

Others, including the commissioners, would like for the city to encourage investment, development of businesses, industry and tourism that includes restaurants and a hotel, which would all increase taxes paid to the city and reduce the need for increasing property taxes for individual citizens. It was noted that sales and property taxes from Walmart, alone, adds $800,000 to the city’s revenue each year. And shopping in local stores rather than online, would also increase sales taxes received. The city has thought about buying property and marketing it themselves, but have not had luck doing it other than to local hometown builders who are interested in the success of the city. Commissioner Marcus Keith said cleaning up Soddy Daisy would help make people want to invest in the city, and that is one reason an administrative hearing officer has been hired.

Past Mayor and councilman Robert Cothran said he knows that it is hard to raise property taxes, but to get what Soddy Daisy needs, he said, “We have to give the city a raise.” And Mayor Everett said, “If I vote for an increase in property tax, it is because I think we need it, not to get re-elected.“

A special called meeting will be held on Wednesday at 7 p.m. when the first of two votes will take place for the 2024-2025 budget.

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