Knox County Tennessee

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs' Weekly Update.

TRANSCRIPT:

It’s Friday! Time for another weekly update.

This past Sunday, I attended the ceremony for Gold Star Mothers and Families at the Historic Ramsey House. Also this week, I spoke at the Mental Health America’s B4Stage4 luncheon, helped cut the ribbon at the Lantern at Morning Point Powell—their new memory care facility, and attended the Farragut West Knox Chamber of Commerce’s auction and charity gala.

Crews will begin renovations at the Carl Cowan Park splashpad next week and will hopefully have everything back up and running prior to the 2023 season. In the meantime, all those other amenities at the park are still open.

We are launching our second round of community input for the Advance Knox initiative next week and will be hosting in-person workshops at New Hopewell Elementary School from 2-4pm this Sunday, then at Gresham Middle School from 5:30-7:30pm on Monday, October 3rd, and also at Cedar Bluff Middle School on October 4th from 5:30-7:30pm.

This month’s Employees of the Month are Brian Hubbs form Procurement and Camila Almeida from the Health Department.

Congratulations to the Tennessee football team who had a big win over Florida Saturday. Speaking of Florida, Governor Lee has authorized the deployment of roughly 1,200 Soldiers and Airmen from the Tennessee National Guard to support response and recovery efforts for Hurricane Ian. Thanks to our Guardsmen and women for all they do during natural disasters and other emergencies.

In case you missed it, John Cena of WWE fame has set the record for most wishes granted through the Make-A-Wish Foundation with 650 wishes granted. Make-A-Wish helps fulfill the wishes of gravely or terminally ill children. Nice work, John!

This week’s Eat and Greet was at Matthew’s Deli. Next Friday, I’ll be at Balter Beer Works at 11:30. Please join me.

Until next Friday, I hope everyone has a great!

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs' 2022-2023 Budget Address.

TRANSCRIPT:

Every week, I seem to run into someone who has recently moved here, from someplace like New York, California, Illinois, or Michigan, who tell me they came here because of our remarkable natural assets, our tremendous outdoor recreational opportunities, our proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and because it’s convenient to drive to major cities like Nashville and Atlanta. But what really resonates with them is our political climate: lower taxes, business-friendly environment, and more freedom to make important decisions about the things that affect their families. Invariably, they say, “We love it here. Don’t change a thing!”

Knox County has established a reputation as one of the freest places in the country. We have rejected the siren song of authoritarianism and Big Government to which so many other communities have succumbed. Instead, we guard the public liberty with jealous attention as Patrick Henry charged us to do.

And we’ve seen that freedom works. People and businesses are flocking here. Over the last four years, they’ve brought with them a combined 2,500 jobs and $217 million in economic investments.

I believe that in the heart of every human there is an unquenchable thirst to be free. To be the master of one’s destiny. To be, as William Ernest Henley wrote in his celebrated poem Invictus, captain of our soul. You’ll get that chance here in Knox County.

Three-and-a-half decades ago, Ronald Reagan delivered his last State of the Union address, famously describing America as a “shining city on a hill.” While we remember that phrase, we often forget that Reagan talked about the importance of freedom and of family. He emphasized the power of the free market as an engine of both economic progress and individual ascension. He mused about the proper relationship between a government and its people saying it’s the people who grant government its rights, and not the other way around. Over the 34 years since he spoke those words, keeping the last two years in mind, can we honestly say that we are still that place?

Some have said that we must accept a “new normal,” remaking our society into something completely anathema to the America we know. To the values that we hold dear. Well, not here in Knox County.

In Knox County, we are still that place. And we will continue to be that place. Lots of things may change, but that is not one of them.

Today, I am proposing an overall budget of $954 million that will effectively and efficiently manage expenses while providing the services our citizens deserve. I want to thank Chris Caldwell and our award-winning finance department for their incomparable work in creating a strong, responsible budget.

We’re so fortunate to have Chris and his team who were recently recognized by the Government Finance Officers Association with the Triple Crown of fiscal management for governmental accounting, financial reporting, and fiscal transparency.

Again, this year, I am proud to report there is NO tax increase in this budget.

More than two thirds of this budget is dedicated to education.

Schools have faced an especially difficult time over the past two years. I have been proud of the work they’ve done, particularly in keeping their doors open to provide in-person learning.

We have been fortunate with some exceptional leadership in Knox County, including our school board who conduct themselves with a high degree of professionalism. In other parts of the country, we’ve seen some school boards treat parents as a nuisance at best and at worst, a menace. While we’ve had our share of contentiousness, we have not seen the outright hostility that has marked other areas. I think a lot of that is because, here in Knox County, our public school system believes, as I do, that schools are not there to replace parents or to work against them, but to help children with the knowledge, tools, and skills they need to be successful.

Speaking of leadership, thank you to Superintendent Bob Thomas for his long-time commitment to education in Knox County. He has been a steady, calming influence at a time when we needed it most. I’m eager to work with our inbound superintendent Dr. Jon Rysewyk as he focuses on ensuring every classroom has a great educator, improving foundational skills like early-grade literacy and ninth grade algebra. And on preparing students for life after graduation. Big goals to be sure. Dr. Rysewyk has shown excellent leadership within our system, and I know he will move the district forward with strength and humility, creating an environment even more conducive to learning.

The Board of Education has proposed a budget of $591,500,000. Almost $50 million more than last year, an increase of just over 9%. That’s a lot of money, but I am recommending Commission fund it in its entirety.

First and foremost, we want every campus to be as safe as it can be. That’s why we’re investing an additional $3 million toward school security upgrades. We continue work on Northwest Elementary School, Sterchi Elementary, and Adrian Burnett. The new Lonsdale Elementary will welcome students when school starts in August. And we’re addressing the needs of our fastest growing communities. This budget includes about $11 million for the addition of 32 classrooms at Hardin Valley Academy. And $3 million for a new Farragut Elementary School that will serve a significant portion of K through 5 students in the Farragut area alongside Farragut primary and intermediate schools.

Other than their parents, there are few individuals more influential and important in a child’s life than their teachers. To recognize the contributions educators make to our community, this budget provides them a 4% raise.

Now, one of the most important things we can do, as a community, to support education is to make sure our kids are strong readers. Studies show that children who can’t read on grade level by third grade are four times less likely to graduate high school by age 19 than children who can. With that in mind, early in my term, my office launched our Read City USA program with the goal of ensuring that all children learn to read early and well, regardless of zip code or circumstance. Knox County Libraries has taken that program over and, thanks to their tireless and innovative work, thousands of Knox Countians have logged more than 2 million hours of reading in the last four years.

Earlier this week, we launched one of our biggest undertakings yet in partnership with the schools and the Knox Education Foundation: One Book Read City. Thanks to many generous sponsors, 30,000 elementary school students, teachers, faculty, and staff received a free copy of The Chocolate Touch…a children’s book based on the myth of King Midas.

Earlier this week, we launched one of our biggest undertakings yet in partnership with the schools and the Knox Education Foundation: One Book Read City. Thanks to many generous sponsors, 30,000 elementary school students, teachers, faculty, and staff received a free copy of The Chocolate Touch…a children’s book based on the myth of King Midas.

While subjects like reading, writing, and arithmetic are absolutely essential for everyone, I believe that God has given all of us unique gifts. And that everyone follows a different path depending on what those gifts are. The key to an effective educational system is ensuring that young people are exposed to as many different opportunities as possible so they have the chance to discover how to best utilize their talents. For some young people, that means college. For others, it might be the military. For many, it’s the skilled trades.

That’s why we started the Skilled Trades Academy and Regional Training Center (START), which has been a major priority because it will help us attract, train, and retain a strong workforce in the trades. The center, which is located on Central Avenue, will cover a variety of trades depending on demand. Framing, masonry, electrical, welding, and mechanical, just to name a few. Students will be taught by experts in their fields. Programs will take four years to complete mainly with evening classes so students can work during the day as needed. The START Center will be open to everyone looking to learn a trade, not just new graduates. And it is a public private partnership, managed by the Associated Builders and Contractors. I can’t tell you how excited I am for the doors to open and how grateful I am to the many partners who have made this dream a reality.

These people here in the front will agree, being mayor isn’t just about shaking hands, cutting ribbons, and issuing proclamations…there’s a lot of difficult decisions and surprises along the way. And as mayor, you learn to hate surprises. For example, on January 13th, a trench collapsed in Powell, trapping two people.

Thanks to some outside-the-box thinking, Engineering and Public Works dispatched its new Jet-Vac truck, along with drivers Aric Hughett, Justin Zachary, and Michael Trent to help emergency personnel and first responders with the rescue. Ultimately, the two trapped individuals were successfully saved. Without our crew and THAT truck, rescue teams would’ve had to manually clear the dirt one bucket load at a time, adding complexity and danger to the operation.

Although most of what they do is not nearly as dramatic as a life-saving rescue, the crews at Engineering and Public Works are indispensable. They keep our roads safe and passable, battling the ice and snow while we’re at home comfortable and warm. They’re also the ones building, improving, and repairing roads and other infrastructure.

In this budget, we are allocating $16.7 million for new roads and safety improvements like the Carter sidewalk project, Canton Hollow Road, and the widening and realignment of Coward Mill Road. We’re also continuing the Schaad Road project to connect North and West Knox County, spanning from Callahan at I-75 to Lovell Road at I-40. This is the biggest road project in the county’s history, and it will have a positive impact on the lives of our constituents.

Before the decade closes, Knox County will also see major improvements on the interchanges at I-75 at Emory Road and I-40 at the Campbell Station and Watt Road exits. Thanks to Governor Lee and the Tennessee Department of Transportation for recognizing the need for these projects. And a big thanks to Jim Snowden, Senior Director of Engineering and Public Works, for his part in advocating for these projects. Especially at Watt Road where Knox County will be participating in TDOT’s Local Interstate Connector agreement program.

Engineering and Public Works, along with Knoxville-Knox County Planning, is also involved in one of the most important projects we have undertaken in the past two decades: a comprehensive land use and master transportation plan that we’ve dubbed Advance Knox.

Why is this so important? Because Knox County faces a housing crisis.

Demand for housing has skyrocketed. Supply is anemic. The result is many Knox Countians are being priced out of their own housing market and can no longer afford to live here. One of the problems is archaic zoning regulations that prohibit higher density residential development in areas where it’s now appropriate. Advance Knox will look at population growth projections, land availability, and infrastructure conditions across the county. We’ll also conduct a fiscal analysis of the safety, capacity, and multi-modal access of our transportation network. All of this will provide a more realistic guide for future land-use and infrastructure decisions.

We’re also working on a new 5-year Master Plan for parks which we expect to finish by September. Having that plan is a major requirement that enables us to accept more state and federal grants...money we want and need to help lighten our fiscal load and keep our taxes low. This new plan will also help us prioritize park and trail system projects to make sure green spaces are serving the community the way they’re meant to.

Speaking of parks, this budget includes funds for the maintenance of 62 ballfields across the county, the renovation of a number of concessions stands, and the purchase of some new playground equipment. We’ve also started work at McBee Ferry Park, a 3-acre site along the upper Holston that will feature river access. We wouldn’t have that property or many of our other green spaces in Knox County without the Legacy Parks Foundation, so I want to thank their Executive Director Carole Evans.

I’m proud to say, thanks to the generous support from the Randy Boyd Foundation, we are well on our way to becoming the most dog-friendly community in America with more dog parks per capita than anywhere else.

The past several years have made it even more clear that parks and outdoor recreation are major contributors to good public health. And I’m thrilled to say that the group monitoring our local public health--the Knox County Health Department—has moved beyond the difficulties presented by the pandemic and returned to their core mission of overall community health. Focusing on food safety, childhood nutrition, diabetes prevention, smoking cessation, and other important programs.

The services, projects, and programs that I’ve mentioned here today, as well as many that I haven’t, are provided through the efforts of the 2,700 dedicated team members who make up Knox County government. Our employees are everyday heroes who take great pride in helping taxpayers solve problems--big and small. That’s why I’m proposing a 4% salary increase for general government employees.

Another large component of our budget--almost $96 million--is the Sheriff’s Office.

The mission of public safety is much more than just law enforcement. Officers are a positive presence on our streets and in our schools. They respond to emergencies that require first aid, CPR, and all too often, the administration of NARCAN to overdose victims. They perform wellness checks for the elderly and serve as a lifeline in domestic abuse situations.

Over the past several years, I have been stunned by the attitude that some areas of our country have displayed toward our men and women in blue. Thankfully, not here in Knox County. We appreciate our deputies. That’s why I’m recommending that captains and below on the old pension plan/the UOPP receive a 6% raise. And that employees on the STAR plan get the same 6% increase as well as another 6% in lieu of the enhanced employer contribution to their retirement. Therefore, incoming deputies on patrol will now be making $44,352 a year to start. Deputies have been telling us they want more money upfront and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish with these changes.

When this proposal is approved, KCSO employees will have received a 17% salary increase and $6,500 in bonuses through my first term.

In addition to these salary increases, we are committing just over $1 million to purchase additional body cams, an investment that will protect both our deputies and the public.

One of the most difficult things that we demand of the criminal justice system is caring for people with mental health issues. That’s unfortunate and unfair. It’s unfair to the people struggling because they’re not getting the help they need. It’s unfair to our deputies and jailers who are constantly thrust into difficult situations because of systemic failures to address this issue. And it’s unfair to taxpayers because it’s expensive and it doesn’t work. To begin addressing these shortcomings, we in are the process of establishing a mental health court in Knox County. The hope is, this new court model will improve public safety, connect offenders with mental illness to the help they need, and reduce court costs and recidivism.

Thank you to Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond and the mental health court working group for their important contributions to bringing this program to Knox County.

One of the best ways to ensure the success of the mental health court is to provide expanded access to mental health care. Soon, the city and county, in partnership with area hospitals and the McNabb Center, will jointly open a 16-bed mental health facility and acute care center on the former St. Mary’s Hospital site. This facility should help alleviate part of the strain on local emergency rooms and will serve as a place for temporary care until patients can be placed in more appropriate programs.

Mental health and addiction also lie at the root of the uptick in homelessness that we’ve witnessed. By addressing those issues, we can begin wrapping our arms around this problem long-term. But because homelessness leads to public safety, quality of life, and economic development issues, there are steps we need to take right now. We can’t wait. And we aren’t.

For instance, Kim Bumpas, from Visit Knoxville, recently presented a great idea--the K-Town Connect Ambassador Program. A partnership among Visit Knoxville, the County, the City, and the Downtown Knoxville Alliance. The program’s ambassadors will provide information to visitors to the downtown area, clean up litter and small graffiti, discourage aggressive panhandling, report crimes, AND connect folks who may have mental health issues with the agencies that can help them.

Now when you think of Visit Knoxville, you might not think of them being involved in a homelessness initiative. After all, they’re the group responsible for bringing world-class events like BassMaster and USA Cycling to Knox County. Kim and her team do an incredible job promoting our community and telling the rest of the world most loudly what we already know: Knox County is the best place to live, work, play, and raise a family. But I’m grateful that they’re always on the lookout for fresh ways to make our area even more appealing and visitor friendly.

You know, early in my term, I ran into a US senator from another state who was here stumping on behalf of a colleague. During our conversation, he asked me, “Why did you get involved with local government? It’s hard!” I kind of laughed at the time, somewhat shocked that a US senator would tell me MY job was hard. But as time has passed, I realize how accurate he was. Local government is hard. As the saying goes, we’re the ones who feel the most heat because we’re closest to the flame that is the wrath of the public when things aren’t going well.

Just like the people we serve, we suffer the consequences of ill-advised policies emanating from “higher levels of government.” And there has been no shortage of ill-advised policies coming out of Washington over the past several years. Make no mistake, with a few notable exceptions, like Congressman Burchett these foolish, short-sighted policies have enjoyed broad bi-partisan support.

In his classic book, Economics in One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt observed that the difference between good economic policy and bad economic policy is that bad economic policy looks only at the short-term, intended benefits of a particular course of action. Good economic policy also contemplates the long-term, unintended, destructive consequences as well.

For instance, you can’t shut down the global economy without expecting massive economic dislocations like shattered supply chains. You can’t pay people to stay at home and discourage them from working without expecting distortions in the labor markets. And you cannot print trillions of dollars without expecting historic price inflation. These are issues that our community, and we as Knox County government, are going to be dealing with for a long time. So, yes, local government is hard. But here in Knox County, anyway, it’s also worth it.

Next month is Knox County’s 230th birthday. Over the past almost two-and-a-half centuries, we have been through multiple economic downturns, recessions, and a great depression. We have seen pandemics, a civil war, and two world wars. We have witnessed civil strife, social unrest, and growing pains as society changes and injustices are rectified. We have been through the crucible time and again. And look at us now. We’re stronger and better than ever, the envy of the rest of the world. We are that shining city on a hill.

Every day, I thank God that I am blessed to live here. And I am privileged to serve all of you as Knox County Mayor.

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Knox County Mayor
Glenn Jacobs

City County Building
Suite 615
400 Main Street
Knoxville, TN 37902

Phone: 865-215-2005

Department Email

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