Hamilton County mayor set to present balanced budget with no tax increases to commission this month

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Saturday he is set to propose a balanced budget with no tax increases to the county commission this month.

Workshops for the county budget began last week with a presentation of the schools budget and will continue on Tuesday when the commission and mayor go over requests for the general government budget.

And while the full county general operating budget won’t officially be introduced to the commission until May 24, Coppinger said there won’t be any major surprises.

“It will be a balanced budget with no tax increases or anything like that,” he told the Times Free Press. “The biggest new thing will be the federal funding.”

Hamilton County is slated to receive about $71.5 million in one-time federal COVID-19 relief funds this year, which Coppinger said will offset some of the pandemic-related expenses incurred by the county this year, heading into fiscal year 2022.

“That money comes with a lot of restrictions, but primarily it can be used for anything COVID-19 related, so there’s stuff we can do with our health department,” he said, noting that the county had added over 100 positions to the department during the pandemic. “Other than that, some of it can go for infrastructure things, such as sewer or wastewater, so we’re looking at that kind of stuff as well.

“What we’re really hoping is that the federal government will be more flexible with what we can do with it,” he added. “But this is a huge help to not just the county general government but also a big help to the taxpayers.”

Last month, the Hamilton County Board of Education also approved a $434 million balanced budget, which was presented to the commission on Tuesday.

The budget maintains the step increase and 1% raises for all staff approved in February for the FY 2021 budget, adds a step increase and 1% raise in the fiscal year 2022 budget and raises the school system’s starting wage to $13 per hour.

The step increases and a total of a 2% raise will amount to $12 million in recurring costs.

The school district will receive its own federal relief funding in three phases through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

The first round of funding is $10.9 million, which can be used until the end of fiscal year 2022. According to the district’s budget, those funds are “almost fully expended” on immediate COVID-19 related needs, including an enhanced disinfecting contract, personal protective equipment, nurse hotline staffing, and technology purchases.

Two more rounds — $40.5 million that can be used through fiscal year 2023 and $91 million that can be used through fiscal year 2024 — will also become available to the district later this year, leaving $114 million for the district to use after equitable share distributions to charter and private schools.

Both budgets will be combined and presented on May 24 at 9 a.m. and will go before the county commission during its regular meeting on June 2 at 9:30 a.m.

The commission will vote on the budget some time in June.

Staff writer Anika Chaturvedi contributed to this report.

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at [email protected] or 423-757-6592.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at [email protected] or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.