By Gary Gray
On June 1, Johnson City commissioners will hear the first of three readings on the city’s $245 million fiscal 2018 budget, which includes spending a proposed $20.1 million on capital projects.
Total expenses are a slim half percent above the current year, yet general fund revenue is budgeted at about $89 million, a more than $3 million increase over the current year. Property tax revenue is expected to increase by nearly 2 percent, and local option sales tax is showing strong growth this year with a nearly 4 percent hoped for in fiscal 2018.
More than $10 million is earmarked for Public Works’ continuing effort to build and renew infrastructure, including street resurfacing, completion of King Commons, upgrades at Knob Creek Road and Med Tech Parkway, the resurfacing of the Municipal & Safety Building parking lots, as well as a multitude of street, sidewalk and parking projects.
The city also will make its more than $8 million contribution this coming year to the new East Tennessee State University Fine and Performing Arts Center. Another $140,000 is budgeted for the city’s share of improvements at the Aerospace Park at Tri Cities Airport. The city is expected to contribute a total of $4 million to the park overall.
“The fiscal 2018 budget represents the continued commitment of our city government to deliver superior services and facilities, while striving toward excellence in efficiency and taxpayer value,” City Manager Pete Peterson said during the final budget workshop. “The proposed budget is designed to continue to meet the expectations of our citizens and address concerns outlined in the recent citizen survey.”
Johnson City Schools is budgeted at about $80.9 million, or 2 percent above the current year.
As proposed, city employees will get a 3 percent salary adjustment, which includes a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment and 2 percent merit increase. No health insurance increases are proposed.
“Our current pay plan philosophy maintains that employees should reach the midpoint of their pay grade within seven years,” Peterson said. “A recent analysis of employee tenure and current salary indicates there are about 130 employees who have the required tenure in position, but are currently below the midpoint in compensation.”
Funding for quasi-governmental agencies in fiscal 2018 is set at roughly $3 million, a 6-percent increase, which includes an additional $5,000 to feed animals in the relatively new animal shelter and about $10,000 to the Convention & Visitors Bureau. Emergency communications (911) will get an additional $35,000 to fund another dispatcher, Emergency Management Services will see an additional $81,000 to pay for the change from 24-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts for emergency medical personnel on four ambulances. The Johnson City Development Authority also will get about $44,000 to fund a downtown marketing coordinator position.
The Johnson City Public Library appropriation is about $1.9 million, a $90,000 increase which will help pay for a 3 percent salary increase. In addition, $7,000 is included for general operating increases and $37,000 in funding for the second phase of the RFID project. Also included is an additional $1,000 for the Imagination Library.
Commissioners discussed coming needs and improvements, including an effort to begin construction of new sidewalks and trails.
“Where we’re really hurting is from the center of the town north,” said Public Works Department Director Phil Pindzola. “It’s really up to you guys about where you want to be.”
There also was talk about working with First Presbyterian Church to either do a land swap, lease or purchase of church property across the street from Buffalo Wild Wings and adjacent to Mid-City Grill.
The gravel lot at the corner of Wilson Avenue and Commerce Street, which can accommodate about 20 vehicles, is being eyed by officials who hope to resurface it and use it for parking in conjunction with that around Founders Park and The Pavilion at Founders Park.
Pindzola told commissioners downtown parking at the Northeast State Community College parking lot was not being used to the city’s full advantage.
“I do think we need to look hard at the under-utilized parking at the Northeast State parking lot,” he said. “I think opening up the area near the library and along King Street (across from King Commons) would help take care of parking issues for awhile.”
Commissioners also agreed last week to earmark $281,000 from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s payment to the city for impact on the area from ongoing repairs to Boone Dam to economic development in the Med Tech Corridor.
State law allows for payments from TVA’s Impact Fee Reserve when construction projects or repairs burden communities by curtailing recreational activities.
Finance Director Janet Jennings said the payments will continue through one full year following construction, and the city likely will receive up to four years of payments.
“This money is for a short duration, and we don’t want to become dependent on this for ongoing projects,” Peterson said.
Commissioners will vote on the fiscal 2018 budget June 1. A second reading will follow on June 15, and a special called meeting likely will be needed to conclude a final reading and passage by the June 30 deadline.