Thursday, April 28, 2016

County property tax collections up

Knox County property tax collections are up again this year, reaching what could possibly be an all-time high, but officials say there’s still more money to go after.

The county Trustee’s Office closed the books Feb. 29 on the current tax season, bringing in $249 million from property owners who paid before the deadline.

That amounted to a roughly 96.5 percent collection rate from taxes tied to some 206,000 parcels throughout the county.

But, Trustee Ed Shouse says there’s still about $6 million in outstanding taxes, and those who haven’t paid up now also owe an additional 18 percent penalty fee.

“Every year there’s an increase (in collections),” said Shouse, who wrapped up his first full tax season as trustee. “I can’t speak definitely whether it’s record breaking or not, but it’s a good number for us to work at every year and we’ll try to improve it every year . . . . I can’t promise you we will, but we’ll do our very best.”

Collections – mostly due to overall natural growth in the county – continue to rise.

For example, the office last year collected $247 million by the end of February deadline. Five year ago, it brought in $231 million.

“Frankly having an extra day to pay your taxes helped,” Shouse added, referring to leap year. “Every four years you’re going to get an extra day – that helped. And I think we were more aggressive in the way we sent notices out, processing and returning mail – common sense things. Using Google, KGIS and just trying to find people’s correct address.”

Full story RIGHT HERE.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Proposed budget: No tax increase

Rogero
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero unveiled her proposed budget on Wednesday, a $302.68 million spending plan that doesn’t include a tax increase but features funding dedicated to a number of major initiatives including streetscapes and community service organizations.

The overall budget is about a 4.5 percent increase from the current one, but officials said the additional revenues came from natural growth.

In addition, the budget includes a $212.5 million general fund - which covers most of the city's day-to-day operations - that is an almost 3 percent from the current budget.

The plan will cover the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Rogero, during her presentation at Zoo Knoxville, emphasized the momentum and economic development occurring across the city – and also the need to ensure that all residents share in the growing prosperity.

“Stronger, safer neighborhoods are more than quality police and fire protection and more than bricks and mortar,” Rogero said, speaking to a crowd of hundredse. “Strengthening the social fabric and ensuring success for families and youth are even more essential.”

The streetscape project for a four-block section of Magnolia Avenue from Jessamine to Bertrand streets represents the largest new capital investment in the budget, at $4.39 million.

The project was first proposed in the Magnolia Avenue Corridor Plan adopted by City Council in 2009, and has been in various stages of public input and design for the past two years. The eventual plan is to redesign all of Magnolia Avenue from downtown to Burlington, to make it more attractive and safer for local residents drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders.

Rogero also reiterated her commitment of a $250,000 capital grant to The Change Center, a new recreation and jobs center for young people on Harriet Tubman Street that was announced April 20.

She also proposed an additional $50,000 for the City’s Save Our Sons initiative to reduce violence and increase opportunities for young men and boys of color, doubling its programming capacity.

Further, she included another annual commitment of $250,000 for the Great Schools Partnership to support Community Schools in center city neighborhoods.

Among other highlights of the proposed budget:
  • $2.7 million for sidewalks and crosswalks across the city, including $750,000 for sidewalks within school Parental Responsibility Zones and another $750,000 for new sidewalk construction;
  •  $1.3 million for an advanced traffic management system (ATMS), which will allow networked, responsive timing of traffic signals to enhance traffic flow and reduce congestion and pollution;
  • A combined $1.25 million in grants to local arts, culture, community and social service nonprofit organizations;
  • $1 million for development of greenway corridors;
  • $5.8 million for the City’s annual street paving program, plus $3 million for phase 2 of the Pleasant Ridge Road project, $1.5 million for Kingston Pike improvements and $1.12 million for improvements at Merchants Drive and Clinton Highway;
  • $726,500 for economic development efforts through Innovation Valley, the Knoxville Chamber, the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and the Visit Knoxville Film Office;
  • $731,000 for homelessness efforts, in staff positions, case management contracts and grants;
  • $500,000 for the Historic Preservation Fund, to help fill financing gaps for renovation or restoration of historic properties;
  • $300,000 for public art, including $50,000 to support Dogwood Arts’ “Art in Public Places” program;
  • $200,000 toward a program for pre-arrest diversion of individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues.
Knoxville City Council will consider the budget on first reading at its May 10 meeting, followed by Council’s public budget hearing on May 17. The budget is scheduled for final adoption at Council’s June 7 meeting.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Rogero to present budget Wednesday

Rogero
Knoxville Mayor Rogero will unveil her proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year and present her "state of the city" address noon Wednesday at Zoo Knoxville.

The event is open to the public.

According to a release:

"Hundreds of community and civic leaders will hear the Mayor’s plans for continuing to strengthen the local economy, enhance neighborhoods and quality of life, and ensure a greener, more sustainable future."

Parking will be available in the zoo parking lot (which will include designated ADA parking spaces), as well as the parking lots at Chilhowee Park & Exposition Center. Buses will be shuttling guests between the Chilhowee parking lots and the event venue.

Guests should come into Zoo Knoxville using a separate, clearly marked entrance designated for the State of the City Address. Staff will be on hand to direct guests. The State of the City Address will be held in a new Zoo Knoxville event space, near Kids Cove and the carousel. A light lunch will be served.

If you plan on attending, please call the City’s 311 Call Center to RSVP or to ask questions about logistics for the event.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Mayors prepare for Hall tax cut

A move by state lawmaker to cut and eventually repeal Tennessee’s Hall income tax on stock and dividends could force local governments to either cut services or raise taxes to make up the financial difference.

Knox County and Knoxville, however, should be fine. For now.

Still, local mayors are not happy with the cut.

At issue is a tax that affects about 2 percent of the state households and mostly its wealthiest residents. The state taxes income from taxable stock dividends and certain interest.

Knox County the past five years has received between $2.2 million and $4.5 million from the tax. Knoxville during the same time period has received between $4 million to $12.5 million.

“I am opposed to the move to cut and eventually abolish the Hall tax,” Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said. “The City of Knoxville budgets about $4 million a year for Hall tax revenues. That’s the equivalent of about 10 cents on our property tax rate. In order to give what amounts to a small tax cut for the wealthiest people in the state, our Legislature is shifting millions of dollars a year in public services onto the backs of middle- and lower-income residents.”

Any amount that comes in over what the city budget gets invested directly into needed public infrastructure, like sidewalks, bridge repairs, and streetscapes.

The bill state lawmakers approved on Friday will cut the income tax this year and repeal it in 2022.

For Knox County, the immediate cut is expected to be as much as $500,000.

“In politics people are always taking credit for things but you’re not getting the full story,” Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said. “It sounds great to eliminate a tax – but you’ve got to realize – it only affects 1 percent of the population, usually the wealthiest of our population. It’s serious business. Some of these smaller communities – it could really hit them hard. And some of the bigger ones rely more heavily on it – some of our more wealthy counties.”

When asked whether the hit would affect services, Burchett said he didn’t think it would for Knox County.

“That’s why I’ve been fiscally conservative all these years,” he said. “We made cuts and we have monies that we can apply to other things. We’re not going to cut services mainly because our fiscal budgets have been incredibly conservative, and (the Knox County) Commission has done a good job on holding the line on spending.”

But, the mayor said no state legislators contacted local officials about the bill.

BY THE NUMBERS

Below is a look at the revenues received by the county and city during the past five years.

Knox County Halls tax revenues
  • 2015: $4.5 million
  • 2014: $2.2 million
  • 2013: $3.2 million
  • 2012: $2.9 million
  • 2011: $2.7 million
Knoxville Halls tax revenues
  • 2015: $8.4
  • 2014: $9.2
  • 2013: $12.5
  • 2012: $3.9
  • 2011: $7.3

Knox Commission to talk tax breaks

The Knox County Commission on Monday will decide whether to sign off on tax breaks for two major downtown developments – one that will create 100 condominiums and the other that will call for almost 150 apartments.

At issue is whether to grant a PILOT for the second phase of the Marble Alley project on State Street to help build an underground parking garage inside the apartment complex.

Under the proposal, the developers would make $51,450 payments a year for a decade instead of paying the full amount of property taxes during that time. The move saves developers money since they’re not paying additional taxes on the improvements they make to the property during construction.

The commission also will talk about whether to approve a $5 million "tax increment financing" package for the Jackson/Depot development near the Regas building.

Under the proposed plan, condo developers would pay $45,745 to the county and $69,700 to the city in taxes each year for up to 20 years. Afterward, the county would get $223,000 a year and the city would receive $262,000.

Friday, April 22, 2016

McIntyre gets sweet university gig

After eight years as Knox County Schools Superintendent, Jim McIntyre will join the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, as director of the Center for Educational Leadership effective Aug. 1.

McIntyre announced in January that he will step down from his current position in July.

Housed within the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, the center provides leadership development for the next generation of school leaders.

The position was formerly held by Autumn Tooms-Cypres, who left in 2013 for a position at Virginia Commonwealth University. The center has been directed since then by Betty Sue Sparks, associate professor of practice, and interim director Mary Lynne Derrington, assistant professor of educational administration.

"I am delighted to become part of the UT team," said McIntyre in a released statement. "Our nationally recognized flagship University is doing remarkable work in the field of education, and I look forward to joining the outstanding faculty in contributing to that effort. I can now wear my Volunteer orange with even more pride."

Established in June 2010, the Center for Educational Leadership provides rigorous training for aspiring school leaders in a way that bridges the gap between theory and practice.

The center's components include the Leadership Academy, which provides an intensive 15-month postgraduate degree program in educational administration for a select group of fellows, a professional development task force that works with aspiring and new school administrators around the state of Tennessee, and a repository that houses current research on the best practices in the field of educational leadership.

A collaboration between UT and Knox County Schools, the Leadership Academy combines graduate-level coursework with a full-time four-day-a-week leadership residency in a public school to work with a licensed principal. Graduates receive a master's or education specialist degree and a beginning instructional leader license from the state of Tennessee.

As director, McIntyre will make $180,000 annually and his contract runs through July 31, 2019.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Coker out as E-911 Center director

Bob Coker
The Knox County E-911 Board of Directors began implementing a number of changes Wednesday including cutting ties with the center’s executive director and moving toward a change that would hook its emergency responder radio system onto a state network.

The board agreed to pay Bob Coker, the E-911 Center's embattled long-time director, a $36,000 severance package that includes benefits for three months.

Alan Bull, the center’s technical services manager, will serve as interim executive director.

On Wednesday, the board also asked the county’s purchasing department to create a memorandum of understanding with the Tennessee Valley Regional Communications System, so Knox County can tap into the state's emergency network.

The plan also calls for the county to build a $1 million master site so the center can work independently if the state system goes down.

“We think this is the best option because we kind of get the best of both worlds,” said Collin Ickes, director of the Knoxville-Knox County Emergency Management Agency. “With the valley system option, that makes us part of a bigger system and you don’t have quite the same local control. But by having master site here, well, that kind of retains our own autonomy and gives us local control.”

The county could end up saving about $400,000 during the next seven years if the E-911 Center expands with the state rather than builds its own rather than buys its own digital radio system.

Monday, April 18, 2016

No state money for safety center

The state this year has declined to give Knox County money to operate a much-talked about public safety center that would serve and treat the homeless and mentally ill who are arrested for nonviolent crimes, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett confirmed to WBIR 10News.

Burchett, who had been working with Gov. Bill Haslam's office, said he was “very disappointed.”

“Obviously, this isn’t a priority with the state,” he said. “It just seems that East Tennessee usually gets the short end of the stick when it comes to funding, and this is no different.”

The mayor said state leaders told him there was less money than they initially thought in the proposed state budget. Still, Burchett said, he will try again next year.

The mayor figures the county needs about $1 million annually from the state to keep such a facility up and running yearly.

County leaders have long talked about building a facility to combat jail crowding at the main Maloneyville Road detention center, and help those with mental health issues get the care they need. But commissioners say they need the county, state and city to each chip in $1 million to get the operation up and running.

The county set aside its share several years ago, but the state and city have often hesitated to commit.

Past plans have suggested that the center would treat offenders who voluntarily stay for up to three days, and could serve about 4,000 people a year. Officials say the facility would cost about $2 million to build and then another $1.7 million annually to operate.

E-911 panel recommends cutting ties with long-time director Coker

Bob Coker
In a move that was not unexpected, a panel of emergency responders and local leaders on Monday recommended cutting ties with the embattled executive director of the Knox County E-911 Center.

In a 4-0 vote, the personnel committee for the E-911 Board of Directors agreed to pay Bob Coker three months' worth of salary, which amounts to almost $34,700.

In addition, Coker, who has come under fire for months now, will get another $1,225 to cover his unused vacation time.

The full E-911 Board of Directors meets Wednesday morning and is expected to approve the deal.
The panel also recommended placing Alan Bull, the center’s technical services manager, into the interim executive director position.

“Ultimately, we agreed it was in the best interest of all parties if we ended the contract,” said Stan Sharp, chief of the Knoxville Fire Department and chairman of the personnel committee.

Coker, the center’s director for the past decade, faced a scathing employee review, problems with the department’s dispatch system and controversy over a multi-million dollar radio contract – all within the past year.

Further, last month a number of board members expressed dissatisfaction with his overall performance and questioned his leadership.

On Monday, the panel members talked briefly about their options. They could try to fire him with cause or sign off on a proposal hammered out between Sharp and Coker.

"I think it is reasonable," said Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, a panel member. "Certainly that middle ground – whenever you have to push a termination for cause it takes time; it’s not good for the organization. And I think we’ve seen accomplishments over Mr. Coker's term and I think we’ve seen some things we’d like for improvements and this is a good middle ground."

Coker declined to comment Monday.

Coker’s current contract ends June 30, 2017 but it would automatically roll over for another year beginning July 1. The contract has a provision that the 11-member board of directors can terminate him with a majority “plus one” vote, and pay him his salary for the following six months. But, if the board finds cause to fire him, then it doesn’t have to cover his pay.

Coker, who took over the center in 2005 and earns about $130,000 annually, can step down on his own but must give a 60-day notice.

Board members during the past year have expressed disappointment in Coker a number of times. There’s been problems with the center’s $6.2 million computer-aided dispatching system, or CAD, which faced several cost overruns during its implementation.

In addition, twice last year the board declined to approve an almost $9 million contract that would replace the radio system emergency responders use to communicate between each other.

Board members also questioned whether Coker tried to influence the bidding process.

Harris Communications won the bid, but the board declined to sign off on the contract, and expressed interest in continuing to work with Motorola Solutions, which has served the center for decades.

Board members accused Coker of trying to bring Harris on board without going through an official selection process.

Coker has denied the accusations.

TODT to meet about Chapman Highway

The Tennessee Department of Transportation will host a Design Public Meeting on Thursday to gather public input on the Knox County SR-71 widening project from south of Simpson Road to Hendron Chapel Road.

The meeting will be held from 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. at the following location: Valley Grove Baptist Church 9000 Sevierville Pike Knoxville, TN 37920.

The meeting is being held to provide the public an opportunity to provide comments regarding this proposed widening project. Representatives of TDOT will be available to provide information on various aspects of this proposed project.

League of Women Voters looks to host meeting to increase voter turnout

The League of Women Voters of Knoxville/Knox County will hold a community discussion to talk about ways to increase voter participation.

 The meeting - which takes place at 6 p.m. on April 28 at Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law - comes as roughly 42 percent of the county's registered voters participated in the March primary.

The discussion will begin with a panel moderated Georgiana Vines, a veteran political columnist for The Knoxville News Sentinel.

The panel will include:
  • Cameron Brooks, Chair, Knox County Democratic Party
  • Buddy Burkhardt, Chairman, Knox County Republican Party
  • Chris Davis, Assistant Administrator of Elections, Knox County Election Commission
  • De'Ossie Dingus, Sr., President and Executive Director, Alliance House Community of Knoxville
  • Ann Strange, Voter Services Chair, League of Women Voters of Knoxville and Knox County
  • Allan Wilford, PhD Candidate, University of Tennessee, Political Science 
The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

Visitors to LMU Law are welcome to park in the faculty/staff lot, located on campus. Parking is also available in either the Walnut Street Garage at the corner of Locust Street and Summer Place, Market Square Parking Garage at the corner of Wall Avenue and Walnut Street, or the Locust Street Parking Garage at the corner of Union Avenue and Locust Street.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Thomas says he will do more than keep seat warm as interim superintendent

Buzz Thomas
Soon-to-be interim KCS Superintendent Buzz Thomas says he will be more than just a placeholder when he takes over the Knox County school system beginning in July.

In fact, Thomas said, he’s “not afraid” to make changes that could lead to “trimming some bureaucracy (and) investing more in classrooms.”

“I always think there are improvements that can be made and we’ll try to do that,” Thomas told WBIR 10News. “I said the other day, we’re not going to circle the airport for the next six to 12 months. We’re going to continue the journey. We’ve been on an upward projector, but not upward enough. So, we need to improve at a faster pace . . .  .”

Thomas will begin serving as interim superintendent July 9. Current Superintendent Jim McIntyre announced in January that he would step down this summer.

Thomas, who is currently the president of the non-profit Great Schools Partnership, is the guest on Sunday’s “Inside Tennessee,” WBIR’s political and public affairs program, which airs at 9:30 a.m.

During Sunday’s discussion, Thomas touches on a wide range of topics, including plans to boost teacher morale, a renewed focus on student reading levels, whether the next superintendent should have teaching experience and if he’s interested in the job on a permanent basis.

“I think we’ve gotten into two camps for lack of a better term,” he said. “We’ve got the pro-teacher camp and then you’ve got the pro-student achievement camp and they’re over there looking at test scores and if kids are making better (grades) on the ACT. Here’s the truth: All of us want both things.
Is there anybody who doesn’t want kids to achieve and learn so that they have a successful future? And is there anybody who doesn’t want our teachers to be happy? We want teacher morale to be high.”

Thomas added: “You want kids to learn and teachers to enjoy coming to work every day. And I think we can do that but we’ve got to get past the personality and the politics and refocus on the work”