published Friday, May 11th, 2012

East Ridge budget passes first vote

East Ridge councilmen voted to pass the first reading of their $16 million budget Thursday night, ushering the city toward the final decision whether to increase taxes in favor of doing away with its garbage fee.

Incorporating the $15-a-month garbage fee into property taxes would mean a 44-cent tax hike to the city's current $1.12 rate. But City Manager Tim Gobble has stated that ultimately it will likely cut taxes for those with home appraisals at $165,000 or less, while raising the taxes for those with homes valued at a higher amount.

Mayor Brent Lambert was the lone vote against the budget ordinance, though clarifying that he approved the budget itself.

"I am in favor of the budget, but I do not support the mechanism by which it will be funded," he said. "At this point we don't quite know what the tax breakdown will be. I refuse to effectively vote a tax increase onto some folks while voting a tax break for myself."

Councilman Denny Manning also has voiced disapproval of the tax increase, saying it will hurt people on fixed incomes and with mortgages.

But after a long pause, Manning voted in favor of the first reading of the new funding procedure and the budget. He refused to comment about what tipped his decision.

Before the vote, councilmen spent nearly an hour peppering City Manager Tim Gobble and budget manager Diane Qualls about an assortment of questions about the budget.

Councilman Darwin Branam questioned whether the city was going to change a $630 line item directed toward unemployment insurance for councilmen, one of several errors the Times Free Press found in a review of an earlier copy of the budget.

Gobble said the glitch was attributed to an automatic computer program function, and that the city had been making the unnecessary payments to the state "for years."

Councilman Jim Bethune asked a number of questions about the Public Safety fund, from why the drug fund had only accrued $4,959 this year, to whether the city needed to buy a $45,000 truck to tow its HazMat trailer.

Councilman Larry Sewell scrutinized the growing amount of money the city has spent to cut the grass at Interstate 75 exit 1, suggesting the city renegotiate its contract with the state and ask for more money to provide the service.

Despite their questioning, the councilmen proposed no changes to the budget before voting.

The council is planning to hold a public budget workshop in Monday, after a hearing where it will discuss the possibility of taking back its sewer systems from the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority.

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