By Dave Ongie, News Editor
The Johnson City Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a budget for fiscal year 2020 during a regularly scheduled meeting last Thursday night.
Citing flat sales tax revenues, commissioners passed a balanced $248.9-million budget on third reading that is nearly $2 million smaller than last year’s budget. Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock told the public the smaller budget appears to be a direct result of online shopping.
Johnson City Schools received roughly $85.8 million in funding, a 2 percent increase from last year, but Brock warned that sagging sales tax revenue could eventually have an adverse affect on the quality of education in Johnson City’s schools.
“Growth is slow, so this is a very conservative budget with very little growth programed into it,” Brock said. “We’ve heard it said like this before – shop local. It’s affecting our local schools, because sales tax is what funds your local schools. We may be getting a little bit back through Internet sales, but we’re not getting back anything compared to what our local option sales tax produces.”
While the budget is balanced, there was a $910,737 drawdown of the fund balance in order to pay for capital projects, but city manager Pete Peterson previously said that the fund balance is still well above the city’s rainy day reserve limit of roughly $15 million.
Big-ticket items in this year’s budget included $3 million to update the city’s financial software, $500,000 to fortify the city’s data security, $500,000 for a new fire truck and a 4 percent bump in pay for all city employees as a means to recruit and retain quality personnel. The budget also includes $150,000 in additional funding to offset inflation and allow for the completion of street resurfacing projects, and it also funds the design work for the West Walnut Street corridor project.
In addition to sagging sales tax revenue, the repeal of the Hall Income Tax will also reduce the amount of money coming into the city’s coffers. In 2016, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill that aimed to reduce the Hall Income Tax – which was established in 1929 to tax capital gains – by one percent a year until it is eliminated entirely in 2022. During Thursday’s meeting, Peterson estimated the elimination of the tax will cost the city roughly $1 million.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to make that up,” Brock said.
At the outset of Thursday’s meeting, the commissioners took a few moments to honor Gary Mabrey, longtime president and CEO of the Johnson City/Washington County Chamber of Commerce. Mabrey is preparing to step aside after 31 years at the helm of the chamber, and he was honored with a proclamation, a framed photo and the first Moving Mountains Award presented by the Johnson City Commission.
Brock chuckled at the fact she was the one reading the proclamation honoring Mabrey six decades after the two attended Science Hill High School together.
“I’ve known him for almost 60 years,” Brock said. “We go back a long, long way. He may have had his madras shirt on, or his ROTC uniform, but he was always Mr. Chamber of Commerce walking down the hall. I think Gary was priming himself even in high school for the role he has served for the rest of his life.”
Mabrey was in a nostalgic mood when it was his turn to speak. He spoke about his childhood in Johnson City and finding his niche at the Chamber of Commerce.
“Thank you for letting me work for you,” he said.