How fees, unequally applied, hurt city’s economic growth

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Chris Long pauses with a campaign sign before a portrait of Martin Luther King. (Photo Facebook Chris Long)

Chris Long pauses with a campaign sign before a portrait of Martin Luther King. (Photo Facebook Chris Long)

Every two to four years politicians at all levels of government come back to the community asking once again for your vote of support.

Repeatedly plans for certain communities are dusted off and re-performed in community groups, churches, and civic halls alike trying to convince you of why they didn’t quite accomplish what they set out to do during the previous term, and to persuade you of what will be different this time.

By Chris Long / Candidate for Chattanooga mayor

I am one of those citizens that witness this charade every election year, and I am tired of it. I’m not a professional politician. I’m just a regular citizen and business owner who has witnessed how certain communities are continually overlooked and disappointed every political term.

I am running for office to bring integrity and honesty back to our local government, and to listen to the community and develop ways to improve the quality of life for everyone, not just the select few. If you are reading this, then you’re probably concerned about your community too, and doing your homework to decide which candidate deserves your vote. The following is an outline of how I want to improve your community as well, and my plan to achieve the results you deserve.

Evaluate my desires for your city and how to improve it, and balance my ideas against your own. Most importantly, compare my plan with how the three other candidates have already handled their terms while they were in office. Talk is cheap. At some point, we must be honest with ourselves as to how our current political leaders have handled your interests, and whether they can be trusted for yet another chance to get it right.

My belief is that character does matter. You can look at how any individual has managed their own lives, families, and careers and simply decide for yourself of which candidate has your best interest at heart.

How one fee causes huge problems

Water under pressure bubbles up under a stormwater drain lid. (Photo Chris Long)

Water under pressure bubbles up under a stormwater drain lid. (Photo Chris Long)

In this city, one of the core issues that cause virtually every major problem in our neighborhoods is the current rainwater runoff fees imposed by the city. These fees are imposed on churches, non-profits, local businesses, and individual housing. The mayor or other city officials such as the current city council would like you to believe that the fee is unavoidable as set forth by a consent decree that was placed on us by the federal government as a penalty for our ineffective sewer system, prior pollution violations and as a revenue generator to fund the proper repair of our poorly planned watershed system that has been in place for decades.

The fact is the rainwater runoff fee is NOT mandated by the consent decree as it is currently imposed. These fees, along with our outrageous sewer and water bills provide a huge revenue stream for city government, which they are quick to spend on projects that the consent decree does not mandate us to provide.

Ignored parts of city

The consent decree even warns of problems that are sure to occur if the consent decree is not managed properly. In Chattanooga, the administration maintains a policy that the downtown area is exempt from these fees, while the other areas are not — Alton Park, the Southside, Brainerd, Orchard Knob, Glenwood, Avondale, East Brainerd, and other areas of the city limits and county not covered by the downtown exemption.

Because of the downtown exemption, if you live, work, or worship outside of downtown you are mandated to pay these fees. Imagine what happens when a business, individual, church, or other non-profit wants to move into an area other than downtown, and how much these extra fees cause economic harm for future growth in these areas. The “new downtown” is certainly beautiful, and it has certainly contributed to the nearly $1 billion the city has collected in tourism. But understand it was built off the backs of all the citizens that don’t live or work in that area. I am going to change the structure of these fees.

This city can be compliant with the federal consent decree, clean our water, plan for future growth, be fair to churches and other non-profits, and still forego the burden that our current citizens are having to currently pay.

Housing, empowerment zones

Our community is teeming with families, both small and large, looking for suitable housing.

Current estimates have varied, but the city’s best estimate is that we are 8000-10,000 homes/housing units short of meeting the needs of the community. You may know someone on a waiting list with the Chattanooga Housing Authority, or a family simply looking for affordable housing where they can raise their family in a safe area, and have successful local schools to teach their children.

Our rainwater runoff fees contribute to very few new housing starts. A typical new subdivision development for example, with 50-75 new homes, is subject to fees reaching as much as $500,000.00 for just the permit to build. By the time the developer spreads that cost over each new home, it becomes cost prohibitive to sell those homes and still make a profit. The same holds true to new apartment complexes, and condos because they have a fee that developers building downtown do not have.

Chris Long, a former homebuilder and now an architectural consultant, chats with others prior to a mayoral debate at UTC. (Photo David Tulis)

Chris Long, a former homebuilder and now an architectural consultant, chats with others prior to a mayoral debate at UTC. (Photo David Tulis)

My plan is to utilize the current HUD designations of redevelopment areas, and create empowerment zones for many of the communities in Chattanooga. These empowerment zones will have local tax incentives to build new businesses and homes in those areas, as well of course of not having the current rainwater runoff fees that make these areas so expensive to develop.

Additionally, federal funding and grants are often available to add to the local economic incentives to encourage new housing starts for areas that have economically disadvantaged citizens looking for quality housing. We MUST address the many families that have been displaced by downtown development that are in an earnest search for housing.

Finally, I will work to re-address a true homestead exemption tax policy for homeowners of our city. We are one of the highest-taxed mid-sized cities in America. Our cumulative tax burden should be one of embarrassment, and seen as one of the greatest contributing factors that discourage new businesses and residents to relocate to our city.

Crime is high, VRI doesn’t work

Mayor Andy Berke and police chief Fred Fletcher of Chattanooga.

Mayor Andy Berke and police chief Fred Fletcher of Chattanooga.

Crime in our city has reached ridiculous proportions. One can boast all they want regarding how property crime has decreased, but when citizens of our community have to be worried about being killed or injured by gunfire in our streets, it really falls on deaf ears. This city adopted the U.S. Justice Department’s VRI (violence reduction initiative) to combat gang violence in our city.

This VRI, with minor revisions, is the same VRI currently being used in the streets of Chicago and other American cities. The essential point is that the VRI doesn’t work.

To borrow another candidate’s words, fighting crime is not a social experiment. We don’t need to hire 100 more police officers. We don’t need any new ideas on how to handle an old problem. The solution for our city is simple.

Enforcement.

We cannot tie the hands of law enforcement in this city with even more procedures or rules of engagement. We need to enforce. I will have the back of the police officers of this city. They will have the proper equipment to do their jobs to increase their chances of returning home at night. They will even have batteries for their Tasers that work.

Law enforcement officers in our city are well trained, and are more than capable of addressing the increase in violence we’ve experienced. Currently we are losing on average six officers a month. I will ensure that we align our officers to best reflect the communities that they patrol. Our crime rate is not a problem that cannot be fixed, and fixed quickly, and I will do whatever I can to help our law enforcement community keep our citizen safe.

Workforce development

There is an interesting observation that I’ve made of politicians. When I started my campaign, I wanted to have the opportunity to implement initiatives that I’ve been working on for several years. One such initiative is my plan for Workforce Development. Since I’ve been on the campaign trail and talked about my WD program, low and behold, once it caught the public’s attention, now every candidate has introduced their own plans as if they’ve been working on them for years. Study the different plans of every candidate. You’ll find most of those “original ideas” are thrown together in political self-defense and not well thought out.

My plan is simple. People, particularly our younger population, often repeat a cycle of either starting and stopping many different occupations, or some even repeat a cycle of incarceration because the choices they’ve made to make money didn’t prove very wise.

The fact is many of these people simply don’t have a work skill that they can trade in the legal open market in exchange for personal income. A college career path is not meant for everyone. Blue collar skilled laborers are some of the most income consistent, and demanded jobs in our society. My plan is not to create minimum wage jobs, but jobs that can yield many times that amount.

Skills such as welding, plumbing, heavy equipment operators and others can be taught to individuals’ tuition-free as members of our community in need of job redevelopment. In collaboration with private industry and non-profits, volunteer instructors can be employed to mentor others in the community to generate a workforce not just locally, but enabling individuals to even join trade unions for employment elsewhere.

My plan is revenue neutral, and will not create an added expense to city government. It will give many of our citizens a second chance in career choice, and even work with parole/probation units to decrease the revolving door of our incarcerated population.

Black chamber of commerce

I will work toward the creation of a black chamber of commerce for the city. Our once black COC was disbanded and merged with the current Chamber of Commerce some years ago.

Consequently, often the ideas of the black community business leaders are not equally represented across the city. A black chamber of commerce will ensure a more equal voice and business representation within the city. I believe we should strive to bring up the economic inequality of our black citizens, and even work to create black business districts and black minority banking.

The economic development of our entire city will only bring the economic strength of the entire community forward.

Title VI abuses need investigation

Prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funds. If an agency is found in violation of Title VI, that agency may lose its federal funding. —Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964.

My campaign has received numerous citizen complaints that they feel are in violation of Title VI. The Title VI provision is to ensure that any federal funding funneled to lower governments are dispersed equally among certain protected classes. Any local government group receiving funds must ensure that those funds aren’t used to discriminate. The provision goes further as to outline that even unintentional discrimination of those funds is in violation of federal law.

Our city has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure all federal funds received within the city are distributed without intentional or unintentional acts of discrimination. As mayor, I will audit the use of all federal funds to ensure compliance with federal law, and will immediately address even the appearance of discrimination of federal funds to ensure the good stewardship of those federal grants.

I want to be the Peoples Mayor. I pledge to have an open-door policy for everyone, and to visit all our communities with scheduled regularity to hear your voices of encouragement, suggestions, and complaints. I envision a city that works and gives everyone the same opportunities for success, not just the select few. Please review my ideas in earnest, and feel free to contact me directly if you’d like to talk further about our ideas for the city.

Best for the people: Accessible mayor

Let’s not repeat the cycle of continually electing officials that make promises prior to each election only to ignore our communities until the next election.

Mark Twain once wrote that “There are three great untruths in life. Lies, bigger lies, and statistics.” Smooth-talking politicians are quick to present themselves with glossy statistics and a charismatic personal

presence. Let’s make our vote count this time and elect someone that won’t forget about you or your community once they’re elected. I am asking for your vote, and an opportunity to bring positive development to each of your neighborhoods. Hold me to account, and I promise to not let you down.

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