A group against annexation is taking the next step in creating a new city in Hamilton County. Friends of Hamilton is sending out letters to churches urging them to support a new city they want to call, “Hamilton.”
“You go to where the people are and people go to churches, especially in this county,” said Brendan Jennings with Friends of Hamilton.
The group wants to create a new city called Hamilton in the northern part of the county. This week they sent a letter to about 30 churches in that area asking to support the new city. It would compose parts of Ooltewah and Harrison, north to Birchwood, and east toward Georgetown.
“In another 20 years we don’t know what that area is going to look like and we believe this may be the only chance for the residents and the businesses and the area to actually make sure that their voice counts,” Jennings said.
Friends of Hamilton wants churches to help them get the issue on the ballot next year. That will take signatures from residents in the proposed city limits. Jennings says some churches are on board to help, and others want to stay behind the scenes. We met Craig Brown at Ooltewah United Methodist who lives in an area that would become the city of Hamilton to get his take on the idea and the strategy.
“I would be open to the idea of it because I don’t want to be in the city of Chattanooga. So if something’s going to happen I would at least like to see and explore the Hamilton verses I know I don’t want to be in the city of Chattanooga,” said Brown.
The petitions will start circulating once the Hamilton County election commission approves it. They’ll need 4,000 signatures from registered voters in the proposed city limits to get on the ballot next November.
To learn more about the city of Hamilton and how to get involved, click here.
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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.
by Ansley Haman
An effort to incorporate the new town of Hamilton is in full swing.
Last month, a group calling itself Friends of Hamilton chartered a civic organization to shepherd an initiative establishing the town on the November 2012 ballot. This week, members are calling on churches and businesses to help collect at least 4,000 signatures in the next nine months, roughly one-third of the estimated 12,000 registered voters who would be drawn into their proposed boundaries.
Hamilton would be “sandwiched” between Cleveland and Chattanooga in unincorporated areas of Birchwood, Harrison and Ooltewah, said Friends of Hamilton President Chris Matthews. The group is shooting to put the measure on the ballot next year to pre-empt the cities of Cleveland and Chattanooga from annexing areas near them, he said.
“That’s why we’re saying the time is now. The city of Cleveland has already said they want to annex all the way to the county line,” Matthews said. “I’ve seen Chattanooga on a sprint to get out to the Bradley County line.”
The group first announced its intention to incorporate in the days after Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield asked to reopen the county’s urban growth plan for review. On Dec. 15, County Mayor Jim Coppinger will convene a coordinating committee to reopen the 20-year plan, passed in 2001.
State law sets out detailed requirements for a town to incorporate. The petition must be signed by 33.3 percent of registered voters in the proposed area, which must include at least 1,500 residents. The petition also must contain information about the town’s services, which would include some basic services such as police and fire.
A property tax rate also must be set prior to incorporation. Though town leaders would be required to begin services upon its incorporation, the town’s property tax revenues would be escrowed for a year and its sales tax would continue to go to the county for 10 years.
Municipal bonds might be an option in the meantime, Matthews said. and a finance team is considering options.
Public hearings also are required and will be scheduled, Matthews said.
Hamilton County Elections Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan said the group must turn the completed petition in to the commission before the beginning of September 2012 to get it on next year’s November presidential general election ballot.
If the Friends of Hamilton are successful, Mullis-Morgan said this would be the first time in her decades at the election commission that an attempt to incorporate makes it to the ballot.
“This is a big undertaking,” she said.