Knoxville, Tenn. — Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett presented his Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposal to the Knox County Commission this morning. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
The approximately $820 million budget proposal represents a $20.8 million increase – approximately 2.6 percent – over the current FY2019 budget. The budget plan provides $484.5 million for Knox County Schools, which is an increase of approximately $13.3 million over the current year. With this proposal, Knox County Schools funding will have increased by nearly $106 million, or 28 percent, since Mayor Burchett took office in September 2010.
Other notable elements in the FY2019 budget proposal include:
- Overall budget of $819,052,457 including schools and public safety
- General Fund Budget, including public safety: $186,749,095
- Public Safety: $87,731,934
- No tax increase
- $35.4 million Capital Improvement Plan, including:
- $12.4 million for Knox County Schools CIP
- $5.3 million for Schaad Road project, phase 3 & 4
- $7.6 million for other Engineering & Public Works projects, including safety and capacity improvements at problematic intersections
- Funding for 46 new KCSO vehicles, body cameras and Tasers
- $1.8 million for defined services contracts from General Fund
- $4 million hotel/motel tax fund for tourism, cultural attractions and the arts & culture community
The Fiscal Year 2019 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 Smith, members of the Commission, thank you for being here today. Commissioner Wright, thank you for leading us in the pledge – and Commissioner Nystrom, 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 and our daughter, Isabel.
We have many elected officials here with us this morning, and I’d like to recognize them at this time. Please hold your applause until the end.
[MAYOR ACKNOWLDEGES ELECTED OFFICIALS AND GUESTS]
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.
Seven years ago, I stood before you and presented my first budget. With each one since, we’ve shown that it’s possible to provide the services constituents need without taking any more money out of their pockets. As Mayor, and with the support of the Commission, we’ve paid down debt, worked to control spending and made Knox County government leaner and more efficient. My final budget continues down this path, and lays out a conservative road map for future debt reduction and the continued success of Knox County.
Today, I’m proposing an $819,052,457 budget for fiscal year 2019 that, once again, does not raise taxes and fully funds our needs. When I ran for Mayor I promised not to raise taxes, and I kept that promise.
I am also proposing a $35.4 million Capital Improvement Plan that funds our capital needs.
Since I’ve been Mayor, we’ve kept taxes low, worked hard to live within our means and ensured that any new funding comes from growth in our tax base, not growth in our tax rate.
This conservative, fiscally responsible approach to governing has led to thousands of new jobs and over $1 billion in economic investment right here in Knox County.
It matters who governs. But even as Mayor, it takes the support of this commission and our economic development partners to realize this outstanding level of success. Most importantly, none of this would be possible without our community’s greatest asset: our people.
It hasn’t been easy. When I took office, the economy was struggling and had yet to turn around. During this time, we were careful not to let our debt get out of hand. We worked together to find opportunities to increase efficiency and realize savings, and our bond rating remains strong. Now, not only has our economy improved, but our tax revenues have grown and we have reduced our debt by approximately $45 million.
Our voluntary workforce reduction program resulted in $4 million in annual savings, with a one-time cost of $2 million, and it did not reduce services. That sounds like good math and a good deal to me.
We worked to reduce county-owned property – Oakwood Senior Living, Knoxville High Independent Senior Living and Marble Alley Lofts are some of the valuable properties the County once owned, but are now back on the tax rolls.
We do these things so we can increase our resources for crucial services like law enforcement, public health, infrastructure and education.
In the past, the Knox County Board of Education – including some members of the current board – have made it clear to me and the Commission that we are not allowed to meddle in their business. Neither the mayor’s office nor County Commission have the authority to set priorities for the board. Under an agreement reached years ago when the board of education sued the County Commission, we are only allowed to approve their total funding amount. We cannot dictate to them how they actually use that money.
This year, school leaders requested $484,530,000 to fund the needs they prioritized. I am recommending that the commission fully fund their request. Including this budget proposal, we will have increased school system funding by nearly $106 million since I took office. That’s a greater increase than the schools received under any previous administration. Consider this: Since I took office, the school system’s student population grew by 4.8 percent, while its budget increased by 28 percent.
My office and the Commission are strong supporters of our students and our teachers, and this budget continues that support.
In addition to its operating budget, the Board of Education requested $12.4 million in capital funds, and my proposal matches that request.
The Board of Education, the mayor’s office and the Commission have not always seen eye-to-eye, but we have also found opportunities to work together.
For instance, together, my office, the Commission and the Board of Education built four new schools. Carter Elementary and Northshore Elementary are up and running, and Hardin Valley Middle and Gibbs Middle will open in time for next school year. We even paid for Carter without taking on any additional debt. And an agreement initiated by former Board of Education member Doug Harris led to the construction of the Gibbs and Hardin Valley middle schools.
Working together – and especially thanks to the work of Chairman Smith in his day job with Risk Management – we also saved the school system $500,000 by bringing their workers compensation coverage in-house, and those savings are reflected in this budget.
Not all of our support for Knox County Schools comes in the form of General Purpose Schools funding. I am also proposing $4.5 million from the General Fund for the Great Schools Partnership, kindergarten intervention and reading initiative.
Speaking of the Great Schools Partnership, director Stephanie Welch also serves as the chair of ProjectGRAD. My finance staff has worked with her and the Schools’ finance department and it is clear that additional funding is needed if ProjectGRAD is to continue for another year. In its budget, the Board of Education included $500,000 for ProjectGRAD. This still leaves a $1.3 million funding gap for GRAD, the Magnet program and TAG.
A number of questions have been raised about the effectiveness of both the Magnet program and ProjectGRAD. I am not in a position to evaluate either program. However, the ability to accurately evaluate effectiveness is an important part of accountability.
When I met with Commission Chairman Randy Smith last week, he offered up a plan that I think is worthwhile. That is why I am proposing that Knox County and the Knox County Schools split the cost of the $1.3 million the program needs to continue. This will be done through designations at the end of the current fiscal year, and not as part of the formal budget process, and will give our respective staff members an opportunity to draft a defined service contract that will include accountability measures that can be used to properly evaluate these programs and help the Board of Education determine their future.
Let me be very clear: This is a one-time shot. Community members from across Knox County – and not just East Knoxville and the inner city – have made it apparent that these programs are important to them. If ending them truly is the right thing to do, then more than a month’s conversation is needed, and this proposal will allow ProjectGRAD, the Magnet program and TAG to continue for another year while also providing the accountability and transparency of a public conversation and agreed-upon evaluation metrics.
Not only will the defined services contract and the funding require approval of the Knox County Commission, they will also require the approval by the Board of Education. Superintendent Thomas, my staff looks forward to working with your staff and the Board of Education to help get this done.
We are doing the things we need to do to educat our children, but, unfortunately, educating students isn’t our only concern. Increasingly, school safety is an issue our school staff have to face. That’s why we are also providing resources from our general fund to place additional Knox County Sheriff’s deputies in our schools. This better protects our students, and that’s always a top priority.
On top of keeping our students and teachers safe, our deputies put their lives on the line for us each day as we go about our daily business.
Our law enforcement officers deal with people suffering from mental illness and addiction every day. These folks are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, and they deserve access to meaningful treatment – not a locked jail cell. One of the things I am most proud of – and that I hope you are, too – is that after years of work on behalf of my office, the Commission, the sheriff’s office, the City, the state and Helen Ross McNabb, we finally opened the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center. This is one key tool now available to our officers. They never signed up to be social workers or psychiatrists, but they do an outstanding job, and they deserve our appreciation.
We’re also providing 46 new vehicles to the Sheriff’s Office so deputies can do the work they’re called to do each day.
And, although we have increased their salary over the years, our deputies still aren’t paid enough – and we’re always working to fix that. This year, I’m recommending we increase deputies’ pay by three steps and two percent. This means our law enforcement officers’ paychecks will have increased by approximately 18 percent since I took office in 2010. This is an important step in closing the pay gap our deputies face.
None of the other services Knox County provides would be possible without the work of our employees. In addition to increasing our deputies’ pay, our regular employees will also receive a step and two percent pay increase under this proposal.
These are the folks you see when you are doing business with Knox County. As your Mayor, I have had the opportunity to work with some outstanding professionals, and the quality of their work is on display every day.
If you visit our Knox County Health Department, led by Dr. Martha Buchanan, you’ll see an efficient public health facility focused on serving some of the most vulnerable folks in our community. However, it’s impossible to quantify some of the department’s most important achievements because they are reflected in outbreaks that did not happen and lives that were not lost to preventable injury or disease.
No one who has worked with Dr. Buchanan and her staff would be surprised to learn that our health department was the first in the state to gain accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board, and the first health department in Tennessee to implement electronic health records.
We all know that more and more of our data and information are stored in “the Cloud” and cyber security is an increasingly important part of doing business. That’s why this budget provides funding for a Cyber Security Engineer position in our IT department. Director Dick Moran and his staff work to keep our technology infrastructure secure, but, like communities around the country, we have to continue working to stay ahead of hackers and crooks.
Another department that has worked to increase its use of technology is the Knox County Public Library. Under the leadership of Myretta Black, our library has significantly expanded its digital offerings – it now boasts thousands of titles of audiobooks, eBooks, magazines and movies that are more accessible than ever.
With all of the children’s programming available – from story time, to summer reading club, Imagination Library and the Children’s Festival of Reading – it’s no wonder that a Knox County Public Library card is one of the best cards you can have in your wallet.
Like the various programs at our libraries, our senior centers also offer classes, workshops and activities for our seniors – and, apparently, according to our senior center webpage, that includes me.
Our senior centers are extremely popular, and I’m very happy with the work that Senior Services Manager April Tomlin and her staff do. Thanks to the support of this body, and especially Commissioner Anders, we were able to open the Karns Senior Center a few years ago. Like all of our centers, the new Karns center stays busy.
Last year, there were nearly 150,000 visits to the county’s six locations. In fact, the Strang Senior Center is quickly outgrowing its space, and – Commissioner Schoonmaker, you’ll be happy to hear – the Capital Improvement Plan I’m proposing includes funding to begin the process of relocating it to a bigger, more convenient site.
Many of the people who visit our senior centers are veterans or the surviving relatives of service members. Our veterans’ service officers, Tom Humphries and Mark Lett, both work very hard to connect our veterans and their dependents with the services they’ve earned. This includes conducting outreach visits at our county senior centers, area churches and retirement homes. Last year, Mark and Tom met face-to-face with more than 2,200 veterans, or their dependents, and talked to countless others by phone.
In addition to these services, I made supporting our veterans a priority. I always say – and this is true – I owe everything I have in my life, except my Salvation, to our military veterans. That’s why I am proud Knox County now provides hiring preference for veterans; that we increased the amount of paid leave provided to our employees serving on active duty in the Guard or Reserve; and that we were the first county in the state designated as a Purple Heart County.
Tom, Mark and April provide outstanding service to our seniors and our veterans, and it’s all under the direction and with the support of Capt. Buzz Buswell. Knox County is lucky to have all of them.
Another department that falls squarely within the proper role and scope of government is our Engineering and Public Works Department. Senior Director Dwight Van de Vate and his staff are responsible for maintaining our County’s roads and infrastructure.
Before I took office, our highway department’s budget provided for only about 10 miles of paving each year. We have focused on increasing that amount, and this year, my budget proposal includes roughly $6 million in funding solely for paving. This includes state aid, and is enough to cover 50 miles of road – over five times more than when I first took office.
With approximately 2,000 miles of county road, we are on our way to reaching an annual paving goal that will help us keep up with our maintenance needs.
This budget’s Capital Improvement Plan includes more than $5 million for the completion of phase three of the Schaad Road project and includes significant resources for the fourth and final phase of this project. When complete, the extension of Schaad Road – connecting Clinton Highway and Lovell Road – will be the largest public works project in County history.
There is also nearly $4 million in funding for needed road, bridge and infrastructure improvements throughout the County.
As you can imagine, with as much roadway as we have in Knox County, another challenge we face is litter.
There have been some changes to the state’s requirements for convicted drunk drivers, and while the changes have helped to strengthen DUI laws, the effect has been fewer offenders fulfilling community service hours by picking up trash along our roads.
Anyone who pays attention to our County Commission meetings or the local news knows that Commissioner Carson Dailey is passionate about keeping our community litter-free. Even before running for office, he committed a great deal of his personal time to picking up trash.
Commissioner Dailey, I know you will be happy to hear that this budget includes funding for three fulltime positions dedicated entirely to litter cleanup. We hope this will address some of the county’s litter problems.
Efforts like this are important, because East Tennessee is a beautiful place that draws tourists from all over the world. In addition to our natural beauty, our cultural attractions – like our historic homes, the East Tennessee History Center and Zoo Knoxville – bring in visitors year-round. This budget proposal continues our support of these sites.
For example, Zoo Knoxville sets our children’s imaginations on fire and gets them excited about science and the world around them. That’s why a few years ago, we partnered with the zoo to support a new master plan that will help turn it into a world-class attraction.
With phase one of the plan now coming to a successful completion, I am recommending Knox County continue its support by helping to fund phase two with a $5 million contribution spread over the next five years.
The most important thing this budget does is continue the work we’ve done over the past eight years. I promised we would not raise taxes, and we haven’t. I promised a new direction, and that’s where we’re headed: Knox County has a strong bond rating, lower debt, thousands of new jobs and a focus on the areas of government that matter most: education, infrastructure and economic development.
We not only survived the economic downturn we faced when I took office, but we found a way to thrive.
We thrive because we refuse to take the easy way out. We find opportunities to save money and operate more efficiently, all while continuing to provide the level of service our taxpayers expect.
Some people will tell you that not raising taxes is the easy thing to do, but families across our community will tell you the difficult thing to do is to stretch a dollar. The truth is, doing more with less and not raising taxes is the harder approach. We are able to do this first and foremost because East Tennessee is home to great people. But, also thanks to our focus on small business, getting out of the way of private enterprise and working with our economic development partners.
I am proud of where we are, and I’m proud to stand here with those of you who stood with me over the past eight years to help get us here.
Finally, as we used to say in the state Legislature when I served there, I want to take a point of personal privilege to say that it has been an honor to serve as your County Mayor, and I am blessed to have had this opportunity. And, whatever the future holds, my family and I will always be grateful to all of you, and the people of Knox County.