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The group who want to keep unincorporated areas out of Chattanooga, is taking another approach. Friends of Hamilton is contacting churches in the county who may take a financial hit if their district gets annexed.Friends of Hamilton say they sent out 30 letters pointing out to churches that their expenses will be going up if the annexation proposal is successful. The letter says Bayside Baptist in Harrison, which was annexed in 2009, saw its property taxes “increase by nearly 90%..and faced storm water fees of about 12-thousand dollars”. Bayside Baptist Church leaders would not discuss those figures, but they are not completely correct. County tax assessor Bill Bennett told us the church actually owns four parcels of land, and only one—a vacant lot, is taxed. But, the church does pay about 12-thousand dollars a year in storm water fees. Friends of Hamilton president Chris Matthews says churches need to know they will face that if annexed.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, PRES. FRIENDS OF HAMILTON “Some churches in the area are looking at fees of 13-thousand dollars..in storm water run-off fees alone.”
BRENDAN JENNINGS, FRIENDS OF HAMILTON “We will have some petition drives at some of the churches up in that part of the county.”
Matthews’ group want to gather 4000 signatures from county residents before next September to put the issue on the ballot. He hopes the churches can help in several ways.
CHRIS MATTHEWS “The churches are community leaders in the area..we wanted to let them reach out to their congregation to also let them know.”
The Friends group did not provide a list of which churches were contacted but pastors we spoke with were not aware of the campaign. One church figure voiced concern that its non-profit, tax exempt status could be threatened by saying too much about the highly political annexation or incorporation ideas. Kyle Holden is president of the Hamilton County Residents Against Annexation. That group has the city’s plans tied up in court. Holden says he is sympathetic with “Friends of Hamilton”, but doesn’t think it will fit all the county residents now facing annexation.