|Mayor Tim Burchett
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
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.