Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mayor Rogero unveils spending plan, proposes property tax increase

Mayor Rogero
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero on Thursday unveiled her proposed budget, a spending plan that she says meets the demands of increasing costs tied to personnel, pensions and services, but raises the property tax rate for the first time in a decade.

"I realize that a property tax increase places a burden on property owners,” Rogero said during her presentation at Christenberry Ball Park in North Knoxville. “But I also realize the burden we place on our residents when we cut police and fire service, when we let our streets and sidewalks deteriorate, and when we stop investing in our future.”

The mayor’s budget, if approved as is by the City Council, raises Knoxville’s property tax rate by 34 cent to $2.7257 per every $100 of assessed value. That equates to an $85 a year increase in city property taxes for a residential home with an assessed value of $100,000; $127.50 increase for a $150,000 home and $1,363.85 for a $200,000 home.

City taxes were last raised in 2004 under former Mayor Bill Haslam who increased them 35 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Every penny raises about $430,000 in revenue. The new tax rate is expected to bring in about $14.5 million.

Rogero’s proposed budget centers around a $200.5 million general fund, which covers much of the day-to-day operations. That’s up about $15 million from the current fund.

Some highlights include money for sidewalks and crosswalks across Knoxville; $1.2 million for public infrastructure improvements downtown; $300,000 for continued improvements in the Magnolia Warehouse District and Corridor; $500,000 to remediate blighted and chronic problem properties; $500,000 for historic preservation projects; $1 million for greenway corridors, and improvements to Lakeshore Park, Fountain City Lake and Ijams Nature Center.

One budget addition that garnered a loud round of applause from the hundreds who attended the presentation was a $250,000 allocation for restrooms near downtown’s Market Square.

"Downtown is everybody's neighborhood as it is the cultural and economic hub of our city and region," Rogero said.

In part, the mayor was forced to raises taxes to close a $10 million gap.

The budget now covers some $23.4 million in pension contributions – up $7.4 million from the current fiscal year.

It also includes an additional $1.7 million for a 2.5 percent raise for employees who make under $100,000 annually, a salary increase that is guaranteed each year under the city’s code.

Further it adds an extra $700,000 for increased health care costs.

The mayor said she plans to keep the city’s reserve at 25 percent of the budget – roughly $50 million for this year. It currently stands at $60.1 million, but she said at this point she will not dip into it to fund the budget.

She also doesn’t plan to add debt.

Last year the city issued $31.4 million in bonds to pay for four projects, including a Public Works Complex, demolition work at Lakeshore Park, Knoxville Zoo improvements, and construction initiatives to combat flooding problems on Prosser Road.

On Thursday, Rogero said the city is better off financially that “peer cities,” adding that Knoxville is in a very strong financial position.

"Despite occasional alarmist claims to the contrary, we are not about to fall off a financial cliff like some cities have," said Rogero.

The City Council will meet later this month to go through the budget. It must be approved by June 30, the last day of the current fiscal year.

Read the transcript to Rogero's budget proposal right here.

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