Hamilton County Commission OKs $1 billion budget with boost to starting teacher pay | Chattanooga Times Free Press (2024)

After some back and forth with the school board, the Hamilton County Commission has approved a more than $1 billion budget that includes money to raise starting teacher pay to $50,000.

The vote was 9-1 with Commissioner David Sharpe, D-Red Bank, voting no. Commissioner Warren Mackey, D-Lake Vista, was absent.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County school board approves $663 million revised budget after county commission delayed budget vote)

The Hamilton County Board of Education had initially sent the commission a budget with more substantial pay increases for staff, a spending plan county officials said was unrealistic because of a slow growth in revenue of about $9 million. That version of the district's budget sought a $21 million increase in local funding for schools, an amount Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp has said would have required a tax increase.

County leaders instead opted to include a one-time spend of $5 million to bring starting teacher pay to $50,000. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has called on school districts across the state to raise minimum teacher salaries to $50,000 by 2026.

"I'll thank you guys for a collaborative budget process and for considering an imperfect solution for teachers but also a creative one — one that I think will forge a partnership between this body and the school board," Wamp told commissioners. "Often a compromise or a good deal doesn't feel like the perfect outcome to either party."

Commissioner Steve Highlander, R-Ooltewah, said during the meeting he's concerned about the next couple of years because Hamilton County won't have the influx of money it saw during the pandemic. Officials may be making too many unfundable commitments, he said.

Wamp said general government has been wise not to overcommit one-time COVID-19 funds to recurring expenses. The health department, for example, has sunset positions that no longer have pandemic funding attached to them.

The county's budget for next year includes a 2% raise for general government employees with a $1,000 floor. Hamilton County is also absorbing $4.2 million in additional health care costs on behalf of staff.

The budget includes funding to create a quick response team for opioid overdoses, resurfacing about 40 miles of roadways, installing reflectors on about 15 county roads and establishing a center for thriving families, which aims to connect parents and children with resources in the community. It does not contain a tax increase.

(SIGN UP: Get today's Chattanooga area news, sports and entertainment directly to your inbox. Sign up for our free newsletters at timesfreepress.com/newsletters.)

In an interview, Wamp said Hamilton County Juvenile Court will also receive a $128,000 supplement to boost pay for its staff, which is in addition to the broader 2% raise for general government staff. Wamp said the county is providing the court with about two-thirds of what it requested during budget planning, and officials intend to check in with the court in the upcoming fiscal year to assess its ongoing needs.

"They're competing basically head-to-head with the state of Tennessee in some of their job categories," Wamp told commissioners. "Because the state has provided very handsome raises in recent years, it's just become a very tough, tight environment."

Last week, the school board approved a revised budget with a $1,750 raise for employees, pay increases based on years of service and $50,000 starting pay for new teachers. Their original spending plan called for a $2,800 raise and would have also boosted compensation for classified employees like electricians and educational assistants.

Sharpe was the lone commissioner to vote no on the budget, stating he's concerned it isn't compliant with the law.

(READ MORE: Mayor Weston Wamp's budget includes school bonds, opioid response)

"There are positions needed in county government that are not being addressed or filled with this budget," Sharpe said in an interview. "I feel this budget, as I did the last budget, ... is designed largely to support the mayor's office, to serve the mayor and not the people of this county. I know there are positions in county government that are going unfilled that we desperately need to fill."

Sharpe last month suggested a revised organizational chart that would have placed many functions of county government under a chief of staff hired by the county commission. His colleagues instead decided to approve an organizational structure already implemented by Wamp's office, maintaining the mayor as the county's chief executive officer.

Commission Chair Jeff Eversole, R-Ooltewah, congratulated Wamp on his second budget as mayor, adding Wamp has a tough job.

"My caution is as we move forward, where we're investing — whether it be investing in talent, investing in people — there has to be a return," Eversole said during the meeting. "Because as Commissioner Highlander said, we don't know what two years holds for us. We don't. And we don't know what four years holds for us."

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

Hamilton County Commission OKs $1 billion budget with boost to starting teacher pay | Chattanooga Times Free Press (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Arline Emard IV

Last Updated:

Views: 5769

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (72 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Arline Emard IV

Birthday: 1996-07-10

Address: 8912 Hintz Shore, West Louie, AZ 69363-0747

Phone: +13454700762376

Job: Administration Technician

Hobby: Paintball, Horseback riding, Cycling, Running, Macrame, Playing musical instruments, Soapmaking

Introduction: My name is Arline Emard IV, I am a cheerful, gorgeous, colorful, joyous, excited, super, inquisitive person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.