By Geoff Ramsey, CRS, GRI
President, Greater Chattanooga REALTORS®
On Tuesday, June 26 Chattanooga City Council members passed the first reading of Chattanooga’s 2019 budget which includes a controversial increase in water quality fees for the next five years. Residents will notice an increase on their tax bill beginning this October. Administration promised to look at the water quality fee structure to see if it can be made fairer to people with lower incomes and low-income seniors participating in the City’s tax relief program will be exempt from quality fees.
As the leading advocate for private property rights and housing issues in the Chattanooga region, Greater Chattanooga REALTORS® is committed to protecting current and future home and business owners. Part of that responsibility is protecting the dream of homeownership and paying close attention to one of today’s hottest topics: housing affordability.
Chattanooga’s continued growth can positively impact our city and its residents. But only if growth is handled responsibly and with integrity. For Chattanooga to continue thriving, it’s vital that there is cooperation and proper communication between local stakeholders and the City of Chattanooga.
The 2019 budget for the City of Chattanooga includes stormwater/land development fees that many believe could be devastating for housing affordability in our community. Pending any surprise in next Tuesday’s final vote by the City Council, Chattanooga will have the highest water quality fees in Tennessee. Not only are the proposed fee increases extreme, stakeholders were not made aware of or included in conversations regarding potential increases.
I understand fees have not increased in some time, so it may be necessary to support Chattanooga’s growth. However, proper communication needs to happen first so that the City and stakeholders can do our due diligence to make sure fee increases is the best decision for our city as well as it’s current and future residents.
It is likely that developers will seek opportunities outside Chattanooga and once again the City of Chattanooga will be left searching for new revenue streams.
There is no doubt that higher stormwater/land development fees will impact the citizens of Chattanooga. Although the City continues to say that the development community will be assessed the increased development fees. Fair enough. But let’s call a spade a spade. Ultimately, those fees will fall to those purchasing homes, goods, and services.
Let’s say a business owner with a property including storage units with 36 Equivalent Residential Units (ERUs) currently pays $4,147.20 in water quality fees. Under the City of Chattanooga’s proposed increase, that business owner will see that fee skyrocket to $6,607.44 in 2023.
To recoup the added costs, the owner will need to increase the cost of renting the units.
On Tuesday, June 19, at the City Council’s meeting, I shared the following request on behalf of Greater Chattanooga Realtors: “Vote against a budget with this fee increase included or remove the fee increase from the budget to allow the issue to be addressed separately from the City’s 2019 budget.”
We welcome the opportunity to work with the City of Chattanooga and other stakeholders regarding issues that impact development and homeownership. Issues such as an increase in stormwater and land development fees should be a conversation we have today, not four or five years from now when it will likely be too late to recover from the damage these increase fees may cause. As home prices continue to rise in the City of Chattanooga, the dream of homeownership will continue to dim for many.
The National Association of REALTORS’® tagline is The Voice for Real Estate®. As The Voice for Real Estate in Greater Chattanooga, I and my fellow Realtors promise you – our families, friends, neighbors – to continue to fight to protect the American dream of homeownership and housing affordability in our region.
It is my hope that the City of Chattanooga will be more transparent in their budgeting and decision-making process so proper due diligence can be done by stakeholders and residents can be fiscally prepared. Transparency will lead to trust and confidence in the City’s decisions and leadership.