By Dave Ongie
The Sesquicentennial Commission did its best to alleviate any sticker shock as it unveiled a $3.5 million legacy project to Johnson City Commissioners during a presentation at an agenda review meeting last Monday night.
Three days later, City Manager Pete Peterson had identified $1.3 million to cover the city’s anticipated portion of the project, which would consist of a splash pad, a water feature and a natural adventure area that would be located in and around the new King Commons space. Additionally, Peterson shuffled $250,000 out of the general fund expenditures into the economic development reserve to accommodate a request by the committee for an additional $200,000, which would be used to fund a yearlong celebration of the city’s 150th birthday.
By the end of Thursday’s meeting, the City Commission approved the first reading of a $247 million budget for 2019 that includes no property tax increase, but would include a slight increase in solid waste and water fees for city residents if the budget is ultimately passed after a second and third reading.
For the nine-person Sesquicentennial Commission, the result on Thursday provided quite a boost as the group begins its efforts to raise $2 million in private donations to cover the bulk of the cost for the legacy project. On Monday, commissioners recommended a $450,000 allocation in the 2019 budget with $350,000 earmarked to procure planning documents for the legacy project and $100,000 to start planning monthly events to help highlight the city’s history.
Once Thursday rolled around, however, the proposed budget included a $1.3 million contribution from the city for the legacy project, which came from a $4.9 debt issuance that wasn’t included in the 2019 general fund budget.
Marcy Walker, a member of the Sesquicentennial Commission, said the job of reaching the committee’s $2 million fundraising goal can begin in earnest now that the city has committed to funding its entire portion of the legacy project. The goal is to raise $1 million from major stakeholders and another $1 million from the general public.
“Over the next couple months, we’ll have a better idea on what kind of commitments we have from individuals and from companies in the city,” Walker said during Thursday’s City Commission meeting. “I would tell you that by approving this amount, it give us a great thumbs-up. I think that will be very helpful in our fundraising.”
After City Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin questioned the need for $200,000 to stage a yearlong celebration of the city’s birthday during Monday’s presentation, commissioners proposed allocating $100,000 in the 2019 budget to get the party started with the possibility of more funds being made available in the second half of next year from the 2020 budget.
But once Peterson freed up $250,000 originally earmarked for signage by moving the expenditure to the economic development reserve fund, city commissioners agreed on Thursday to pass the full $200,000 on to the Sesquicentennial Commission. Van Brocklin once again echoed his concerns from Monday’s meeting that the money could be better spent elsewhere, but his motion to remove $100,000 from that sum didn’t receive a second.
The Sesquicentennial Committee is planning to kick off the city’s 150th birthday celebration with a New Year’s Eve party with monthly celebrations to follow in 2019 leading up to the 150th anniversary of the city’s charter on Dec. 1, 2019.
While Johnson City’s property tax will remain the lowest in the region, the cost of solid waste pickup will increase from $9 to $11 per month, and Peterson said Wednesday those in the city will see their water bills increase by about 3 percent.
If passed during the final reading the 2019 budget will be roughly $1.3 million more than last year’s budget. A 4 percent pay raise for city employees is included in the budget to help with retention and recruitment of quality workers.