Published Wednesday, November 9, 2011 9:14 am EST
A Tuesday night meeting at Loftis Middle School took on occasional tones of a tent revival as Hamilton County Commissioner Mitch McClure—a preacher in his professional life—addressed the nearly 200 attendees on urban growth plans.
McClure urged the crowd, made up mostly of Middle Valley area residents, to make known their displeasure with plans to review the urban growth boundaries, which are only the ground work for future annexation, he said.
“I believe in freedom of choice,” McClure told a cheering group gathered at the school’s gymnasium. “That’s what this country is all about, freedom of choice. I almost said amen, I’m about to start preaching.”
McClure invited residents from District 3, which he represents, to attend the meeting to discuss plans to convene an urban growth committee. Required in 1998 by the state constitution, the 2001 urban growth plan shows where incorporated areas plan to expand their boundaries over a 20-year period. Under state law, a review committee can be called by a request from a representative of a municipality included in the original plan. At the request of Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger has activated the process and set a meeting Dec. 15, meeting a 60 day deadline.
“This is like a hostile takeover,” Brenda Erwin said during the hour-long meeting. “It’s just laying the groundwork for annexation. We’re determined to stop it, we are going to write letters, emails and make phone calls to local and state legislators.”
Residents expressed concerns about paying more taxes and getting less services if they are annexed by the city of Chattanooga. Some said they believe the city just wants to annex them to get their property for future projects, such as a large prison, and others said they were angry that they cannot vote on the issue.
“Why are we here if we can’t vote,” said one woman. “What is the point.”
McClure, who was appointed to the District 3 seat after Jim Coppinger was selected to replace former county Mayor Claude Ramsey, told the crowd that they show strength in numbers.
McClure also made mention of a “certain City Council member who has a radio show,” who he said called Middle Valley residents hypocrites for using city services but not paying for them.
“I’m mad, that makes me mad,” he said, referring to Councilman Andrae McGary, who hosts WGOW’s Live and Local radio show.
Residents who are annexed will be forced to assume Chattanooga’s debts, McClure said. And the county has assumed the full costs of the city jail and the school system, he added.
Another woman asked, to sounds of approval from the crowd, why the city didn’t help pay for part of the schools.
But Chattanooga City Council members and other city officials said city tax payers do pay for the jail, the schools and other county services that city residents do not benefit from, such as fire service. City property owners pay county taxes, and taxes paid from city property owners make up 58 percent of the Hamilton County general budget.
Retired Dallas Bay volunteer fire Chief Al Rosamond said Tuesday’s gathering is the beginning of a grassroots effort that can stop the annexation of unincorporated areas.
“Start with the local politicians, small city and county ones, that are going to be appointing people to the urban growth committee,” Rosamond said. “Let them know if they don’t appoint someone who does what we want, we will vote them out.”
Other residents said that it will be difficult for those who live in the unincorporated areas because they cannot threaten Soddy-Daisy or Lakesite elected officials with campaigning against them.
The urban growth committee must have one representative from each incorporated community inside the county, as well as the county government. Then members of the school board and chamber of commerce must be represented, as required by the state law governing the formation of the committee. The decision to accept a plan must be unanimous.
Some residents asked if they had the one “no” vote from Coppinger, why should they worry about this plan.
McClure said turning out in large numbers would send a message to lawmakers.
“You can never have enough to be sure,” he said. “Better to have a super majority to send a message.”
Aaron Shipley, an area realtor, said residents should call Chattanooga City Council members and tell them they are against it. Those council members will take their message to Littlefield, he said.
McClure, who is running for the County Commission’s District 3 seat in a special election in 2012, said the residents must write their state legislators to get the law changed to allow citizen votes on urban growth plans and annexation plans.