Thursday, August 16, 2012
The Friends of Hamilton are at a crossroads.
The group is a few hundred signatures short of the estimated 1,600 it needs to get the incorporation of Hamilton, a new city that would stretch from Mahan Gap Road to the Bradley County line and from Meigs County south to the Tennessee River, on a Hamilton County ballot. The group is now faced with deciding if it has enough signatures to put the proposed city’s incorporation on the November or March ballot.
“The board is going to make a decision by Sept. 1 on whether or not we’re going to submit our petitions to the election commission for either November or March,” said FOH spokesperson Brendan Jennings. “What we’re doing right now, we have roughly the number of signatures we need, but what we’re doing is vetting these signatures.”
According to him, the Hamilton County Election Commission will only recognize signatures by registered voters in the area of incorporation that include their printed first and last name, current address, contact information and the date they signed the petition.
“Right now we’re eliminating duplicate signatures, following up with people whose addresses aren’t current or who aren’t registered to vote and getting them registered,” Jennings said. “We’re also launching four weeks of canvassing to target concentrated areas of residents in the Harrison, Georgetown and Ooltewah areas of incorporation.”
Jennings said the group is committed to getting enough signatures and making sure the signatures collected are not challenged.
“We’ve all seen what happens when signatures are challenged,” he said, referring to the effort to recall Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield. “I think we’ve got a pretty good shot at succeeding with this effort and we won’t submit the petitions unless we feel we will succeed.”
If FOH is unable to incorporate the city of Hamilton during this effort, the group probably won’t get another chance, according to Jennings. He said Tennessee state law prevents a group from attempting incorporation for four years after a failed attempt, and 2016 may be too late for a second try.
“[Last year] the city of Chattanooga wanted to reopen the urban growth boundaries. They wanted to move them north to Mahan Gap Road and that would’ve cut off any incorporation efforts,” he said, explaining that although cities can cross county lines, state law requires that cities the size of Chattanooga provide a 5-mile buffer zone from other incorporated cities. If the city of Chattanooga were to annex to Mahan Gap Road there wouldn’t be enough room within that buffer zone between Chattanooga and Cleveland to create another small city, he said.
If the incorporation efforts succeed, FOH plans to create a small city governed by people who live within the community, not 20 miles away in downtown Chattanooga, said Jennings. FOH supports a 1.25 percent per $100 assessment of real and personal property tax rate for those living in the new city and the city of Hamilton would provide its residents with police and fire services, he said.
For more information about the Friends of Hamilton or the group’s incorporation efforts visit www.friendsofhamilton.org.