Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Rogero to participate in U.S.- China climate-carbon summit June 7-8

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero will jet set to Beijing next week to participate in the second U.S.-China Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Summit, where mayors from the two countries will demonstrate commitment to climate action and share experiences in building low-carbon, climate-resilient communities with U.S. and Chinese state and local government, private sector, and civil society leaders, according to one of the wordiest press releases I've read.

(Yes that was all one sentence although I added the "jet set" part. Heh.)

The Summit is set for June 7-8 at the Beijing International Hotel Convention Center.

“When nations across the world committed to climate action through the Paris Agreement in December 2015, our city had already demonstrated leadership and progress in planning for a low-carbon future,” Rogero said in a statement. “The United States and China are the two largest contributors to carbon emissions globally, but we are also coming together to work toward solutions to climate change. Our work as cities will help enable both countries to meet the ambitious climate targets announced by President Obama and President Xi in November 2015 and to meet the Paris Agreement climate goals."

She added:  “That’s why local leaders from both countries are convening for the second year in a row, this year in Beijing, to demonstrate the strength of our intentions and our work to form smart cities of the future. By attending and participating in this Summit, we will share successful policies and practices that we are already implementing here in Knoxville, such as comprehensive energy efficiency improvements that reduced the energy use intensity of City buildings by more than 20 percent between 2010 and 2015.  Sharing this information will encourage stronger local action in cities across China, and we’ll hear ideas from other participants about additional steps we can take to make Knoxville more sustainable and resilient.”
Rogero’s invitation from the White House to participate in the summit follows the City of Knoxville’s commitment to local climate action here in Knoxville as well as a strong commitment by the Compact of Mayors, a global coalition of over 500 mayors and city officials pledging to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, enhance resilience to climate change, and track progress transparently. Erin Gill, Director of the City’s Office of Sustainability, will also attend to participate in Summit proceedings.

Gay St. 700 block project delayed

The city has pushed back completion of its $1.5 million downtown rehabilitation project along the 700 block of Gay Street, so that local cable and internet providers can install the needed infrastructure to create easier access and service for the nearby buildings.

The city extended the date from mid-June to July 31 as Knoxville officials coordinate with AT&T, WOW!, and Comcast,  said Jim Hagerman, the city’s director of engineering.
City leaders said they “regret the delay and inconvenience” the move might create.

“We realize that internet cable access is a challenge for a lot of our buildings downtown, so as we do the infrastructure work, we encourage the local providers to take advantage of that and get in there and put in some fiber,” said city spokesman Jesse Mayshark. “It’s unfortunate that this has been pushed back, but the result will hopefully be better options and internet access for buildings in that area.”

The 700 block, which runs between Cumberland and Church avenues, is near the Gay Street Bridge downtown entrance and where many of the shops, restaurants and condos begin to line up along the popular north-south thoroughfare.

The close-off area features a number of business, including a pizzeria, a law firm, a flower shop and a deli.

The rebuild kicked off last Dec. 9 with the entire street along the block closing a week later. The intersections at Cumberland and Church avenues for the most part have remained open as has the sidewalk in front of the businesses.

The project includes utility upgrades, new pervious paver sidewalks, streetscape additions and new intersection paving.

City leaders say the new street trees will benefit from greater soil volume provided by underground structural cells that also support the sidewalk. Intersection bulb-outs will be built to improve pedestrian safety and better define on-street parking.

The area is the last block of Gay Street that hasn’t undergone an upgrade, and some of the infrastructure is 100 years old.

Monday, May 30, 2016

'Honor Fountain City' to host day-long Memorial Day event

A special tradition returns to Fountain City today.

Honor Fountain City Day is a day-long event, held at Fountain City Park, that mixes music, food, entertainment with a special Memorial Day Service.

The 2016 Honor Fountain City Day will take place at Fountain City Park starting at 10 a.m. The activities include music, face painting, games, prizes and exhibits at the Fountain City Art Center.

At 3 p.m., there will be community awards ceremony at Fountain City Park (Gazebo), and at 3:30 p.m. they will host their Memorial Day Ceremony (Gazbeo). WBIR's own John Becker will be one of the speakers at that free event.

For more information visit Fountain City's website.

Memorial Day: Deals for active, retired military at restaurants

Memorial Day is set aside to honor the men and women who've made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Several restaurants are offering special deals for active or retired military to thank them for their service on Memorial Day.

Note: Please call ahead to make sure your local restaurant is participating.

Monday, May 30, military veterans, active duty military & spouses can enjoy one free entree from a pre-determined memorial day menu, including a 10 piece wings, a hooters burger, and more. This offer is at select Hooters locations across the U.S.

Logans Roadhouse
Offering a 15% Military discount for active duty military from Saturday May 28 through Monday, May 30. To receive discount, dress in uniform or provide a military ID.

Shoney’s Free Burger
Free All-American Burger to all veterans and active duty service members on Monday, May 30, 2016.

Twin Peaks Eat Free
Monday, May 30, Military Men and Women (past and present), police, firefighters and first responders enjoy a free menu item from Twin Peaks Memorial Day Appreciation Menu.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Election commission changes Farragut precincts after long voting waits

After long lines at various Farragut polling places during the primaries in March, the Knox County Election Commission agreed to divide two precincts in half.

The commission divided Precincts 69S and 70 in half, to reduce wait times and parking problems.

Precinct 69S will now vote at Northshore Elementary, while the newly created 69E will vote at Bluegrass Elementary.

Voters in Precinct 70W will vote at Ball Camp Elementary, while voters in 70E will cast their ballots at Amherst Elementary.

“It’s going to be a vast improvement,” said Cliff Rodgers, the election commissioner. “I told everyone then (in March) we were going to look into moving things around to ease lines and reduce parking issues for the November elections.”

Voters will not get a new ID card, but if they are affected, they will get a post card in the mail notifying them of their precinct number and polling location. Rodgers said about 35,000 people will be affected.

In addition to the precincts changing, some voters have new polling locations.
  • Precinct 65 – Now at Farragut Town Hall, 11408 Municipal Center Drive, 37934 (Formerly at Farragut Middle School)
  • Precinct 65N – Now at Farragut Primary School, 509 N. Campbell Station Road, 37934 (Formerly at Farragut Middle School)
  • Precinct 66N – Now at Farragut Middle School, 200 West End Avenue, 37934 (Formerly at Farragut High School)
  • Precinct 72 – Now at Crown College, 2307 W. Beaver Creek Drive, 37849 (Formerly at the Boys and Girls Club)
Click right HERE for the maps

Knoxville College campus faces emergency repair order from city

The historic but troubled Knoxville College campus is looking at a new hurdle.

Already struggling to get back on its feet, school leaders are now facing an emergency repair order to rehab the entire campus.

They’ll meet today with city officials where they are expected to ask for an extension and present a plan to repair the property.

If the city doesn’t accept it, the school will have 30 days to vacate all of its buildings.

The hearing is set for 3:30 today in the Small Assembly Room of the City County Building. David Brace, the city’s public works department director, will preside over it.

The repair order comes after a series of fires set on the campus in mid-April, said Robert Moyers, manager for the city’s neighborhood codes enforcement division. The fire department asked the city’s codes department to inspect the area.

On April 20, the city issued the repair order.

“The buildings are in pretty bad shape,” Moyers said.

The city had previously issued repair orders on three buildings - McKee Hall, Brandon Hall and a nearby cottage for the faculty – according to Moyers. In addition, the city had demolished a couple buildings on the back portion of the campus.

Today’s hearing will address the remaining 17 buildings on the campus.

“The emergency order is what most people think of when you say ‘condemned,’ Moyers said. “They’re not fit for human habitation. We think they’re in pretty dangerous conditions."

Moyers said that declaring the properties “unfit” can actually help buy the school more time to save the buildings.

He also said people caught trespassing on unfit properties face stiffer penalties.

“We want to save these buildings if we can,” he added.

The historic black college has faced a series of setbacks, including the loss of its accreditation in 1997.

Last year, the 140-year-old school suspended classes indefinitely. At the time, the college had only 11 students enrolled.

In 2014, federal environmental officials intervened to clear out what they deemed hazardous chemicals that were left in an unused science building.

Earlier this month, Knox Heritage placed six of the campus’s buildings on its 2016 “Fragile 15” list of endangered historic places.

“The situation at Knoxville College continues to dramatically deteriorate with several building either condemned or suffering from a lack of maintenance,” Knox Heritage noted on its website. “Recent arson fires on campus have heightened the critical need for immediate intervention.”

The six buildings include: McKee Hall, Wallace Hall, Elnathan Hall, McMillan Chapel, Giffen Memorial Gymnasium and President’s House.

Officials: Downtown Knoxville to undergo a parking meter makeover

Knoxville city leaders released new details Thursday about the upgraded parking meter system headed to Gay Street and surrounding areas this July.

Deputy to the Mayor and City of Knoxville Chief Policy Officer Bill Lyons said most parking meter rates haven't changed in more than a decade.

"We're having all new meters with new technology, and we're going to have meters on Gay Street," Lyons said. "And we're going to have a consistent two-hour limit on the meters in the core of downtown."

Each meter will feature sensors to show which and when spaces are being occupied. They will also accept credit card payments.

“Our entire pricing mechanism is based on turnover on the on-street parking, and we’ve had to adjust our rates to more market standards for that to happen," Lyons said. "But as long as we have free nights and weekends at the garages, everybody has the very easy option of just parking in the garage and walking a pretty short amount.”

Besides free parking after 6 p.m. and on weekends in city garages, meter rates are generally on the rise.

Short-term on-street spots will cost $1.50 per hour with a two-hour maximum stay. Monthly rates in city garages will go up to $5 per month, with downtown residents only required to pay half of that.

Long-term parking spaces will be 30 cents per hour with a 10-hour maximum stay. Those meters will be on the northern half of the Gay Street Viaduct, Depot Avenue and South Central Street.

“Gay Street and right around Market Square, meters will be enforced on Saturdays now, not on Sundays," Lyons added. "Right now, they’re not enforced on Saturday.”

But monthly daytime commuter parking at the Coliseum will decrease to $15 per month, accompanied with additional trolley routes from that garage every 7 to 8 minutes all day on weekends.

Rhonda Byrd lives right on Gay Street, and she said the new meters could help free up spaces she's always on the hunt for.

 “I think it will help the rollover time to where people will have more opportunities to park on the street," Byrd said. “When you come back for groceries, you have to see if there’s a spot anywhere around that you might be able to park for just a minute of time to take your groceries upstairs.”

 More installments later on will include parking apps for the meters, garage technology and evaluations on the new installments.

Knox DA unveils 'citizens academy'

The Knox County District Attorney General's Office will create a "citizens academy."

DA Charme Allen called it "the first of its kind in the State of Tennessee."

According to a news release, the six-week course gives folks an opportunity to learn more about the office and what it is like to represent the State and argue a criminal case as a prosecutor.

Participants will engage with prosecutors discussing a range of topics, including the role of the prosecutor in the criminal justice system, the opiate epidemic, gang prosecution, human trafficking, and other emerging trends.

Additionally, participants get the chance to take on the role of DA while prosecuting a mock case in the court system.

“During my time in office, I have focused on educating the public about how prosecutors work to protect the citizens of Knox County,” Allen said in a statement. “The Citizens Academy will further the goal of education in an interactive and informative way.”

The program will be held Tuesdays from 6-8 p.m. from Sept. 6 through Oct. 11 at the City County Building.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old, live or work in Knox County, and undergo
a background check, including a criminal history check.

Applications can be found at www.knoxcounty.org/dag. Completed applications may be emailed to
jackie.myers@knoxcounty.org, faxed to 865-215-4253.

The deadline to submit an application is July 31.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

City says goodbye to KPD Chief Allen

Rausch, left, with Allen (Photo: KPD)
Knoxville officials recently bid farewell to (now former) Deputy Police Chief, Nate Allen recognizing 29 years of service  at the Safety Building on Howard Baker Jr. Ave.

Nate was a good dude. Always liked him.

A news release noted that Allen, the department's first black deputy chief, served in a variety of roles since joining KPD in 1986, including East District commander, staff officer to the police chief, homeland security coordinator and commander of the Criminal Investigations Division.

He left to become police chief in Decatur, Ala., which is near Huntsville. It has a population of about 56,000.

"Chief Allen has been instrumental throughout his career in building positive relationships with Knoxville's many diverse communities," said Knoxville Police Chief, David Rausch in a released statement.

Decatur, Ala., is in north Alabama near Huntsville. It has a population of about 56,000.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Kane considers Knox Co. mayoral run

Glenn Jacobs
Professional Wrestler Glenn Jacobs is looking to throw his hat into a new type of arena: the political one.

Jacobs, who wrestlers under the handle “Kane,” said he is "seriously considering" a run as a Republican for the Knox County mayoral seat in 2018, but will make a final decision after the upcoming presidential election toward the end of the year.

In the meantime, he's met with a number of people in the community, including Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, to talk governmental shop.

“Yes, I’ve talked about it with some folks but there’s nothing too solid yet,” he told WBIR 10News. “Mayor Burchett’s term is coming up and I think he’s been really good for Knox County.”

Jacobs added: "I think the most important thing is I care very deeply about this community, like a lot of people do. And that’s the only reason I would consider getting into any sort of government because I do care very deeply. And I think it’s incumbent upon people who care about the communities to try to make a difference."

Billed as the 7-foot tall, 300 pound “Big Red Machine,” the sometimes masked villain (and sometimes fan favorite), has spent almost 25 years fighting in the squared circle of professional wrestling, mostly under the World Wrestling Entertainment umbrella

He’s also an actor, having starred in the horror films “See No Evil” and its sequel.

And, the former WWE Champion, owns Jacob Insurance Associates, an insurance brokerage in the Halls community.

Jacobs, 49, and his wife, Crystal, were married in August 1995 and have two children.

They have lived in East Tennessee since 1995, and moved to Knoxville three years ago.

"I could live anywhere, but the reason I live in Knoxville is that I love it here – I love East Tennessee," he said. "I love the people. I think they have great values and I think they have common sense. And for me, the political philosophy should reflect that – to keep Knox County a great place to live and a great place to raise a family.”

Rest of story HERE.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Criminal Ct Clerk: $1M lost because office collected wrong jail fee

For almost two decades, the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk’s Office charged and collected the wrong jail fee amount.

As a result the county lost out on at least $1 million.

The problem was discovered earlier this week and fixed Thursday morning.

“For 19 years we have not been charging what the law says we should be charging,” Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond said.

In July 1997, the Knox County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution raising the daily jail fee for those incarcerated from $46.20 to $50.

However, the criminal court clerk’s office never acknowledged the increase.

“Realistically, or conservatively, I should say, we believe the county has missed out on over a $1 million,” Hammond said. “And it’s more than that, but that’s the conservative number.”

Hammond, who took office in September 2014, said he asked his chief of staff, Richard Major, to look at all fees his office charges and collects and to make sure the costs are in line with state and local law.

Major discovered the error on Wednesday.

“You look at well over $1 million and that’s money that could go toward this new safety center (for the mentally ill) that they’re talking about,” Hammond said. “Or it could go to jail improvements, or it could go to the sheriff’s department to buy additional supplies or things for the jail system.”

Moving forward, Hammond said, he expects jail fee collections to bring in an additional $50,000 to $60,000 in revenues for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

Rest of story HERE.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Knox County Commission to consider doubling new home permit fees

Knox County officials are looking into a proposal to double the cost of building permit fees for new homes and bring them more in line to those of Knoxville and Farragut.

The move – if approved by the Knox County Board of Commissioners – would increase revenues by more than $1 million annually and allow the county to use the fee to fully self-fund its inspections department for new construction.

County leaders haven’t increased the fee since 1994 and, at this point, the general fund – which is supported by tax payer revenues – covers part of the cost of the department.

“We’re not rendering any judgment, but we just thought it was important to lay the question out for commission’s consideration,” said Dwight Van de Vate, the county’s senior director of its Engineering and Public Works Department.

Van de Vate brought the proposal to commissioners during Monday’s work session. The board is expected to vote on it during its May 23 meeting.

If approved, the fees would increase 85 percent on July 1, and another 15 percent on July 1, 2017.

As it stands, permit fees for a 2,500-square-foot home, for example, cost $571.25. That cost would jump to $1,035 with an 85 percent increase and $1,155 in 2017, under the proposal.

Permit fees for the same home in Knoxville and Farragut currently run about $1,370.

The fees are typically charged to the builder or homeowner during the course of construction. In theory, the fees are supposed to cover the inspections department, but right now the general fund has to help pay for those operating costs.

However, Dan Mitchell, Vice President of the Home Builders Association of Greater Knoxville, said home development fees should differ in cities and counties.

"When you're building inside the city, and let's use Farragut as an example, part of their permitting structure is also to help pay for the roadways and the sidewalks and the infrastructure that's located within the city," he said.

Mitchell continued, "But when we're talking about the county, where it's more out in rural areas typically that these homes are being built, it's not the same comparison when you say this permit fee is going to be used in the same way."

He also said a change of this size could be too quick and drastic for developers and home buyers.

"If this increase comes in a short term, it's going to have an impact on those projects that we have in the pipeline now, but several projects we may have in the next 6 to 8 months," Mitchell said.

Van De Vate based the proposed increases on the International Code Council’s residential building code, which is a set of construction standards that governments nationwide have adopted.

“We’re trying to avoid coming up with arbitrary numbers and instead use figures that relate to the cost of construction,” Van de Vate said. The (International Code Council) gives us that guidance that’s based on the costs of materials and work.”

Knoxville, Farragut and Knox County each adopted the International Code Council’s standards, but the county hasn’t raised its fees in 22 years.

Van de Vate said officials pushed for an increase in 2007, but the commission rejected it. He said the housing market then bottomed out a short time later, so officials wanted to wait until it recovered before trying again.

“We didn’t think it was a fair conversation to have until the construction trades had recovered,” he said.

The county expects to issue more than 1,150 new home permits in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. it issued 1,058 last year and 924 in 2014.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A look at KCS personnel dismissals

In June of 2015, parents and community members protested the dismissal of effective teachers in Knox County Schools who were dismissed by a practice called, “non-renew.”

After a months-long effort, a number of folks, including incoming school board member Jennifer Owen, have completed a review and analysis of the personnel files of 72 KCS employees who were dismissed in May and June 2015.

Only five of 41 non-renewed teachers had any indication of possible performance issues. Among the 41 were six teachers on whom the district spent over $40,000 on signing bonuses in 2014-15.

Only one of the six had performance issues.

May is the time of year when teachers and other staff are told they will be non-renewed.

You can find the 11-page report HERE.

A few notes from the report:

Personnel files of classified staff show inconsistencies throughout, though they were much more likely to contain information regarding reasons for dismissal. Some dismissals seemed warranted and others had no evidence of performance problems.

The “Termination” dismissal category is used inconsistently, as is the “Not Recommended for Continued Employment” category. The latter seems to be used in some cases where problems indicate prompt termination would be more appropriate. The use of “Administrative Leave” is another area of inconsistency, but is not addressed in Board policy.

The Board of Education is badly in need of a capacity for audit and review of personnel and other practices in the schools that is independent of the superintendent.

Again, check it out for yourself. It's certainly worth a look and I suspect the BOE will have a discussion about it. Maybe not now, but possibly when new members, including Owen, take office in early September.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Bob Thomas kicks off mayoral bid

Yes, yes, I know I'm lazy. I should probably write up something fancy about Bob Thomas's kick-off yesterday in his bid for Knox County Mayor.

But I'm lazy. Heh. Click RIGHT SMACK HERE for the video we did yesterday.

Previous Coverage:

The primary is still two years away, but Knox County Commissioner Bob Thomas on Friday will announce a political treasurer for his mayoral bid, a move that will allow him to raise and spend money on his campaign.

Thomas, one of two at-large Republican commissioners and a former local radio personality, said he will file the paperwork at the Knox County Election Commission at 1:30 p.m. He plans to name Mike Price, a well-known developer in West Knoxville and former University of Tennessee football standout, as his treasurer.

“We need to go ahead and get it going,” he told WBIR 10News on April 28.

Rest of that story RIGHT HERE.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Burchett details $771.2M budget

Mayor Tim Burchett
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett presented his Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposal to the Knox County Commission this morning. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The approximately $771.2 million budget proposal represents a $17.9 million increase – approximately 2.4 percent – over the current FY2016 budget. The budget plan provides $453.5 million for Knox County Schools, which is an increase of approximately $15.5 million over the current year. Since Mayor Burchett took office, Knox County Schools funding has increased by approximately $74 million.

Other notable elements in the FY2017 budget proposal include:
  • Overall budget of $771,185,567 including schools and public safety
  • General Fund Budget, including public safety: $176,170,991
  • Public Safety: $81,119,990
  • No tax increase
  • $98.2 million Capital Improvement Plan, including:
  • $63.7 million for Knox County Schools CIP
  • $4.4 million for Schaad Road project, phases three and four
  • $4 million for safety and capacity improvements at problematic intersections
  • Funding for 42 new KCSO vehicles, body cameras and other upgrades
  • $1.6 million for defined services contracts from General Fund
  • $375,000 in support of the arts & culture community
The Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposal is available online at http://www.knoxcounty.org/finance.

During his budget presentation to the Commission, Mayor Burchett gave the following remarks:

Chairman Wright, members of the commission, thank you for being here today. Commissioner Smith, thank you for leading us in the pledge – and Commissioner Brantley, thank you for the prayer.

Before I get started, I would like to take a moment to recognize some of our guests in the audience, beginning with my wife Kelly…

Thank you all for being here.

I also want to take a moment to thank Finance Director Chris Caldwell and his budget staff for putting this proposal together.

After six years as mayor, you should all know by now that I’m not big on growing government, cutting ribbon on new buildings or taking property off the tax rolls. This budget reflects that same conservative fiscal philosophy.

Collections are up a bit and our revenue projections for the coming fiscal year look positive. While that is good news, this year’s budget isn’t without its challenges. The County’s share of employee healthcare costs continue to rise – to the tune of about $700,000 additional dollars this year, and the state is cutting the Hall Income Tax, which affects less than one percent of our state’s population, but will cost the county about a half-million dollars this year, and create a $2- to $3 million budget gap by the time the tax on investment income is completely phased out.

Fortunately, when challenges like these come up, we’ve been able to absorb the impact thanks to prudent financial management and the support of this commission.

That’s why I am once again able to present a budget to you that funds county services without a tax increase.

The total amount of my budget proposal is $771,185,567 dollars. That represents a total budget increase of $17,996,021 over the current fiscal year. Most of the increase—$15.5-million—goes directly to the Knox County Schools. That leaves a little over $176-million for the general fund budget, with the rest going to other departments and services.

Something I’ve talked a lot about is the county’s debt. My goal was to reduce our debt by $100 million by the end of 2017, which was an ambitious goal from the very beginning. Unfortunately, we are not going to get there.

That may sound like bad news, but it’s not. Through conservative, fiscally responsible budgeting, we’ve not only cut the county’s debt, but we’ve been able to do so while building four new schools, a new senior center and a state-of-the-art forensic center. And we’re still going to be able to decrease our debt by nearly $50-million by the end of fiscal year 2019—my last budget. When I leave office, Knox County and the next mayor will be in a position to continue reducing the taxpayers’ bonded indebtedness over the coming years, and to cut it by almost 83-million dollars by 2021.

Despite calls for a tax increase almost yearly, I firmly believe Knox County—and governments in general—get enough money from their citizens. We don’t need more taxes or to grow government. Some say a tax increase is inevitable and that not proposing one is more about politics than principle. They’re wrong. Without a tax increase, we’ve seen our revenues grow, and that’s thanks to a continued focus on economic development.

We have done a great job of supporting businesses in our community, and when the economy is good, they do well; and when the economy slows down, so does their business and they have to adjust accordingly. Government shouldn’t be any different. By living within our means we have avoided raising taxes year-after-year. I know our citizens appreciate that, and I’m certain our business community does, too.

This approach to government and a focus on high-quality service create an environment that encourages job growth and economic development in Knox County.

We’ve done our part in government. We have quality roads, good schools and a low cost of living. Our economic development partners have done their part, too.

Last year, I worked with Todd Napier from the Development Corporation and members of the east Knox County community to move forward with the Midway Business Park. With the leadership of this commission, we were finally able to rezone the Midway property so we can begin the process of growing needed jobs on the east side of our county.

We heard from the community and worked with residents to address concerns that are natural with a development the size of Midway. That’s why we pursued employment center zoning, rather than industrial zoning, because we want to see professional and high-tech jobs out there, not smoke stacks. We are committed to continuing public input opportunities as the development process progresses, and I look forward to the day when students graduating from Carter High School or Gibbs High School don’t have to go to Hardin Valley or out of Knox County to find a job with one of the great companies operating in our region’s business parks.

Also, thanks to our partnership with Mike Edwards and his staff at the Knoxville Chamber, as well as with the Development Corporation, last year we announced more than 2,000 new jobs coming to Knox County either through new recruitment or the expansion of existing businesses. That’s over $215 million in capital investment.

This includes new companies like Innovate Manufacturing, which chose to locate its high-tech manufacturing operations at Westbridge and invest $4.7-million and bring 50 new jobs to Knox County.

Or Lifetime Products, which announced a $115-million investment here and 500 new jobs.

Of course, we can’t forget the many local, home-grown companies that are doing great across the country and across the world, but that still call Knox County home:

Jewelry Television added 30 new jobs and committed to a $42.6-million capital investment, Regal Entertainment Group is adding 75 new jobs when they expand into their new facility, and TeamHealth will create 250 new jobs at a capital investment of nearly $12-million.

These are big numbers and big dollars, and many of the companies, most of which I didn’t even mention, do business across the globe. But the nearly quarter-billion-dollars in capital investment I just touched on doesn’t include the many smaller businesses opening and growing across our community.

Businesses like Archer’s Barbecue, Magpies Bakery, High Resolutions, Makers Donuts, and hundreds of other small and locally-owned companies are growing and thriving right here in Knox County. These businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we should celebrate their success, too.

We are getting this right in Knox County, and it’s thanks in large part to the work of this commission and partners like the Chamber and the Development Corporation, but it’s mostly thanks to the hard-working people of Knox County who go to work every day. Whether they have their name on their shirt and are turning a wrench, or are dressed in a suit and working in an office, our people are this community’s greatest asset.

With this budget, we’re going to continue to take advantage of this momentum by providing $1.1-million to economic development agencies in support of the work they’re doing.

One of the key drivers of economic development in any community is education. Companies want to locate in communities with a hard-working, well-educated workforce.

Right now, the Knox County Schools are entering a transition period as Dr. McIntyre prepares for a new challenge at the University of Tennessee and the Board of Education prepares to take on the search for a new schools superintendent.

My differences with Dr. McIntyre have been well documented. Howver, there’s plenty we agree on. Top on that list are our students. We may not always agree on the best approach or how to get there, but I’ve never questioned his commitment to our students, and I know he’s never doubted mine.

Dr. McIntyre, thank you for your work with the Knox County Schools over the past several years.

I’m proposing yet another increase in funding for the Knox County Schools. This budget includes $453.5 million for school operations, in addition to another $5.6 million for elementary reading, Great Schools Partnership and kindergarten intervention.

With this $15.5-million increase, Knox County will have added to General Purpose Schools funding by approximately 20 percent – or nearly $75-million—since I took office.

The “General Purpose Schools” fund is by far the largest piece of the Knox County budget, but it’s not the only funding directed for schools. When you account for all school-related funding – including free and reduced lunch and debt service—nearly $500 million of the $771-million county budget goes to our school system.

We hear a lot about increasing funding for education and per-pupil spending. You’ll see pie charts and bar graphs showing how much or how little Knox County spends on education per student. There are three parts to the per-pupil spending puzzle: State, federal and local dollars make up the number that gets tossed around so loosely. The truth is Knox County is near the top of the list in local funding per-pupil in Tennessee.

This year, the state began addressing lagging Basic Education Program funding with a “BEP Enhancement.” I am hopeful that more can be done in the future, but in the meantime, we have to be prudent in our operations here in Knox County. A good example of that –and it’s not very sexy – is the recent change to the Knox County Schools’ workers’ compensation program.

By bringing the program in-house and under Knox County Risk Management, not only will we provide an important benefit to all certified employees, including our teachers, but we also believe it will save taxpayers a quarter-million dollars the first year.

This is something that Risk Management Director Mark Jones, Commissioner Randy Smith, in his capacity as a risk management employee, and Evan Houser in the law department worked diligently with Scott Bolton and the Knox County Schools to accomplish, and I appreciate their efforts.

Finally, the education portion of this budget includes a three-percent raise for our teachers. They are the heart and soul of our schools, and their dedication to our students deserves our deepest appreciation.

Beyond the classroom, Knox County has some outstanding employees. They come to work every day in our senior centers, libraries, court clerk offices and other departments like engineering and solid waste, where employees there are constantly looking for ways to do things better and more efficiently in order to maximize resources and save taxpayer money.

Recently, I put forward an idea that really had its start with former Commissioner R. Larry Smith to create an employee incentive program that rewards employees for coming up with cost-saving measures and procedures that are implemented and result in ongoing, annual savings.

In March, this commission approved a resolution authorizing this program, which allows us to offer an employee a bonus of 10 percent of the first-year savings in such situations.

I’m happy to recognize an employee today who worked to implement a new program in our solid waste department that has resulted in real dollar savings on an annual basis.

About a year and a half ago, Recycling Coordinator Zach Johnson noticed that a lot of used carpet was being shipped from our county convenience centers to the landfill and thought there might be an opportunity for savings. By working to devise a program that keeps used carpet out of our trash compactors and out of the landfill, Zach’s idea saved approximately $3,000 in his department’s budget.

So, this morning, I’m happy to recognize Zach and present him with the very first Knox County Employee Incentive Program bonus.

To me, the best part about this is that Zach did all of this before an employee incentive bonus was even an option. He did it because it was the right thing to do and because he is a good employee dedicated to working hard for our taxpayers. And there are hundreds of others just like him coming to work in Knox County every day.

In the fiscal year 2017 budget, I am recommending a step-plus-1-percent pay increase for our employees, including our deputies, who put their lives on the line every day to protect us. This will make a total employee salary increase to 10 percent since I took office.

To our general county employees and to our deputies, I say thank you for what you do.

Overall in this budget, we’re including more than $76.5 million for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, which comprises the majority of the $81-million Public Safety budget, and about 10 percent of the entire county budget.

In addition to pay raises for deputies, this year’s proposal includes more than $2-million in capital outlay for the sheriff’s department to provide 42 new vehicles, additional body cameras for our officers and to cover other needs.

Three years ago, we appropriated a million dollars toward the capital cost of building-out a facility to help keep those suffering from mental illness and addiction out of jail and to help them get the treatment they need.

This is something Sheriff Jones has worked tirelessly on for several years, as has former District Attorney General Randy Nichols, who continues working on this effort to this day.

Sheriff Jones and General Nichols, thank you for your efforts.

I’ve always said addressing this problem will require the cooperation of Knox County, the City of Knoxville and the state of Tennessee.

Knox County is committing $200,000 in operational funds in the 2017 budget for the anticipated Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center, and Mayor Rogero also included $200,000 in her recent budget proposal to help address this issue.

We hope to complete a new RFP process this year, but that will be a challenge, because we recently learned the governor did not include any state funding for the center in his FY-2017 budget proposal.

Addressing mental health and addiction shouldn’t be a political football, and it won’t land us a flashy Nashville TV show, but it’s the right thing to do.

It’s an issue that affects mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. It affects the homeless and the affluent. And it affects our military veterans.

I know of at least one recent incident that involved a Marine suffering from mental health issues. Unfortunately, his issues went untreated and led to an armed confrontation with Knox County Sheriff deputies. He was shot and killed after firing at officers.

This man had previous run-ins with law enforcement, and if a treatment center had been available to him at the time, he could have been able to get the help he needed, his death might have been avoided, and his mother may still have her son.

It’s about more than dollars and cents, but not addressing the problem of addiction and mental illness is costing taxpayers too much money, and it must be addressed.

Sheriff Jones can only use the tools that are at his disposal, and right now, the only tool available to him in many cases is a jail cell.

Without the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center, someone suffering from addiction and mental illness winds up in jail, rather than getting treatment that could ultimately save their life or someone else’s.

I and my staff, along with Sheriff Jones and General Nichols, hope to meet with state officials in October to once again seek funding for this important effort.

Mental illness and addiction aren’t just issues concerning public safety, they’re also matters of public health, and our Knox County Health Department deals with these problems on a regular basis. However, that’s not all our health department does on a nearly $19 million budget.

Dr. Martha Buchanan and her staff work hard to provide quality healthcare for children and their families, expectant mothers and the indigent. But they also offer important guidance and leadership to the local medical community.

The Knox County Health Department staff come to work every day committed to providing quality care and to making our community healthier. Last November, your Knox County Health Department became the first department in the state to achieve national, voluntary accreditation through the Public Health Accreditation Board. Less than 4 percent of all health departments in the nation are accredited, so this is a significant accomplishment.

Dr. Buchanan, good work and congratulations.

This budget also continues to fund the outstanding services that our citizens deserve, whether it’s at our county’s veterans services office, one of our six senior centers, at a local park or when visiting the Knox County Public Library, where library director Myretta Black and her staff worked with the Library Foundation and other partners to raise $600,000 in private and public funding to digitize nearly 70 years of Knoxville News Sentinel archives. This effort is an important step toward preserving the story and the history of our community.

Thank you, Myretta, for the work you and your staff do.

Many of you in this room waited in line for hours to cast your ballot in the recent primary elections, which is why I’m proposing more than 400-thousand additional dollars for the Knox County Election Commission so Elections Administrator Cliff Rogers can purchase additional voting machines and to cover the cost of additional election officials in the upcoming November election.

But citizens can’t get to the voting booth, parks, libraries, senior centers or our health department without quality roads and infrastructure.

Since taking office, I’ve continued to propose increased funding for highway paving, and this year I’m committing an additional $1-million over the current year’s budget for paving. That brings local funding for paving to $3-million on top of approximately $1.6 million in anticipated state aid. This should be enough to resurface 35 to 40 miles of road – that’s over three times the number of miles we were paving each year when I first took office.

Maintaining infrastructure is a primary role of government, but good roads are also another way we can encourage economic development, and we’ll remain focused on jobs and infrastructure until I leave office.

This budget also includes approximately $600,000 dollars for various community non-profits, many of which are doing work Knox County would otherwise have to do.

Our Hotel/Motel Tax revenue collections are also up this year, and we’re continuing to support our various tourist attractions, historic homes, as well as the arts and culture community.

It’s not talked about much in county government, but Zoo Knoxville is an important community asset that sparks our children’s imaginations and sets their little minds to work.

I can remember going to the zoo years ago, and since then, I’ve seen many of the exhibits and amenities age. Recently, that’s begun to change, and Director Lisa New and the Zoo Knoxville Board are working hard to refocus their resources and improve exhibits and experiences for all visitors.

This budget provides more than $100,000 in support of those efforts. I am also very happy to announce that I will soon bring you a resolution outlining an additional commitment of $5-million over the next five years to go toward the realization of the new Zoo Knoxville master plan.

In a sense, Knox County’s Capital Improvement Plan is like our own master plan. It outlines the capital goals and priorities of the county.

This year, I’m proposing $98,220,000 for the total countywide Capital Improvement Plan, which includes nearly $64 million for Knox County School projects like the new Gibbs and Hardin Valley middle schools.

In addition to providing needed maintenance and upgrades to our county facilities, this plan also provides $10.5-million for various engineering and public works projects.

This is in addition to the $4.6-million budgeted for paving.

This proposed Capital Improvement Plan includes more than $4 million for safety and capacity improvements to some of our most problematic roads and intersections, including work on Canton Hollow Road, which topped our “safety priority” list in the 2015 Strategic Transportation Plan.

This C-I-P also includes companion projects in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Transportation at Emory Road near Tazewell Pike at the intersection with Fairview and Thompson School Road, as well as another TDOT companion project where Clinton Highway meets Beaver Creek Drive in Powell. Both of these projects will not only increase safety on our roads, they will also encourage economic development in the immediate area.

Under the plan, we’ll continue work on Schaad Road phase three and begin very preliminary work on phase four of the project, which will eventually connect Clinton Highway to Lovell Road.

While they aren’t part of this proposed capital plan, a couple of projects that will be wrapping up in the next year or so are the expansion of the Carter Convenience Center, which will get underway soon; and the widening of Parkside Drive, which will make this major corridor between Cedar Bluff and Lovell Road safer and encourage better traffic flow.

This budget isn’t sexy, but that’s the way it should be. We are committing our resources to the things government should focus on—safety, health, education and infrastructure—and we’re forging and strengthening partnerships in order to work more efficiently and to provide a high-level of service for our citizens.

One of the most important partnerships I have is with this commission. I’m thankful for your friendship, for your support, and for your fiscally-conservative approach to government.

As in the past, when I leave here this morning, I and my staff will begin a series of public budget meetings as we take this proposal directly to the taxpayers. I invite all of you to come to any of the meetings you can.

Finally, it is my hope that later this month you will vote to approve this budget so the people of Knox County can continue to enjoy the benefits of a fiscally sound, efficient government.

Thank you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Burchett to present budget May 9

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett will present his Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposal to the Knox County Commission at 9 a.m. The presentation will take place in the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building.

Those unable to attend the presentation can stream it live online at www.ctvknox.org.

Following the budget address, Mayor Burchett will host a series of public meetings to allow taxpayers to ask questions and learn about the budget.  The meetings are planned for the following locations:


South Knoxville Senior Center
11:30 a.m.
6729 Martel Lane

Karns Senior Center
1 p.m.
8042 Oak Ridge Highway
Strang Senior Center
1:30 p.m.
109 Lovell Heights Road

Cedar Bluff Library
2 p.m.
9045 Cross Park Drive
Halls Senior Center
2:45 p.m.
4405 Crippen Road

Bearden Library
3 p.m.
100 Golfclub Road
Carter Senior Center
4 p.m.
9040 Asheville Highway

Fountain City Library
4 p.m.
5300 Stanton Road
Burlington Library
5:30 p.m.
4614 Asheville Highway

'Ed & Bob' to host May 18 event

The Ed & Bob Show continues on May 18, this time from 5-7 p.m. at the Time Warp Tea Room in the Happy Holler community.

The two at-large Knox County Commissioners will host their monthly "night out" event at the Central Street restaurant where they will meet residents and address their concerns.

Ed Brantley and Bob Thomas "feel that going out to the people eases the strain on those who, because of work, commitments, financial situation or the distance to the City-County Building, cannot attend regular commission meetings," the two said in a released statement.

BOE to approve interim contract Wed.

Buzz Thomas
The Knox County Board of Education on Wednesday is expected to agree to a one-year contract with interim Superintendent Buzz Thomas, paying him $195,000 annually.

Thomas will replace Jim McIntyre, who oversaw Knox County Schools for eight years.

McIntyre agreed in January to step down in July due to the “political environment.” In exchange, the school board agreed to pay him his salary - $227,000 – for a year.

Thomas, the current president of the Great Schools Partnership, will technically assume responsibility of KCS on June 15, and McIntyre will provide “support, mentorship and counsel” to him until July 8 – McIntyre’s last day on the job.

The 3-page contract notes that if the school board has not hired a permanent director within a year, “the terms of this agreement are subject to renegotiation.”

Thomas, according to the contract, has agreed not to submit his name as a candidate for the permanent position.

The board unanimously picked Thomas in early April to become the interim superintendent.