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Commission approves Burchett's budget, shoots down tax increase | News

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Commission approves Burchett's budget, shoots down tax increase
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(WBIR) The Knox County Commission on Tuesday declined to make any changes to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett's proposed budget.

That means school officials are now left with making almost $3 million in cuts.

In a 9-2 vote, the commission approved the mayor's roughly $727 million spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Commissioners Amy Broyles and Sam McKenzie, who proposed an unsuccessful tax rate increase to fund pay raises for employees, cast the dissenting votes.

"I'm delighted that we've seen some increased funding for vital areas, but also haven't had to raise taxes," Burchett said. "We've seen some pay raises in the past five years and we've also been able to pay down debt, and that's something that a lot of communities across the country can't say, so I'm pleased."

The mayor initially proposed an almost $730 million budget with $427.8 million dedicated to the school system.

A couple weeks ago, however, officials learned that schools will get $2.9 million less than expected from the state, so Burchett revised his budget, dropping school funding to $424.9 million.

Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre says he's disappointed commission voted not to fund the shortfall and teacher raises. He says the district will restructure the budget to fit what the commission gave them.

"It was an opportunity today I think for the county commission to really show that salary increases for teachers are important and necessary," he said. "They chose not to go in that direction."

McIntyre says he hopes to bring a plan to the school board in time for the June meeting.

Last week, commissioners met several times, including once with the school board, to talk about how to make up the gap, but neither side came up with an agreement.

The two sides also talked about whether to include an additional $4.5 million dedicated solely to covering a 1.8 percent pay raise for teachers.

They also reached an impasse on that matter.

"The school system is a perfect example of a bureaucracy out of control in the fact that their budget reflects no change, no willingness to cut any program – anything that has been so objectionable to the teachers this year," said Commissioner Tony Norman, pointing out that school spending in the budget officials approved Tuesday would still increase by $5 million from the current budget.

School officials in the coming weeks are expected to talk more about their own budget.

Part of Tuesday's commission discussion focused on whether to raise taxes by 21 cents per $100 of assessed property. The county's property tax rate currently stands at $2.32 per $100 of assessed property.

The proposal, spearheaded by Broyles and McKenzie, would cost someone who owns a house assessed at $100,000 an extra $52 per year in county taxes.

The proposed tax increase would have brought in another $21 million, which Broyles wanted to use to fund 3 percent and salary step increases for county and Sheriff's Office employees, and 3 percent raises for school employees.

She said recent pay raises "have not kept pace with the cost of living."

Commissioner Mike Brown and board Chairman Brad Anders said such a proposal would need more time to plan and study, and shouldn't have been requested at the last minute.

"I think it's coming to point in Knox County where we're beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel, but it's not today," said Brown. "It's going to have to be planned out properly."

The mayor's budget also includes a $164.3 million general fund, which covers much of the county's day-to-day operations and the Knox County Sheriff's Office.

The general fund jumped slightly compared to the current one by $2.7 million, including about an extra $1 million for law enforcement. Overall, the Sheriff's Office will get $77.5 million.

Burchett also proposed a $31.2 million capital improvement plan with about half of it set aside for schools; $13.8 million for highway and street-related initiatives that will include Phase II of Ball Camp Drive; $775,000 to relocate the Carter Convenience Center; $2.5 million for "dangerous" intersection improvements; $1.1 million for 30 Sheriff's Office vehicles; $700,000 in Sheriff's Office security upgrades; $1 million for engineering and public works vehicles; $350,000 for an HVAC system at the animal center; and $250,000 for the Information Technology Department.

The county, through its general fund and hotel-motel tax revenues, also will set aside more than $1.9 million for local organizations. For example, the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Greater Knoxville will get $375,000. The Salvation Army, Keep Knoxville Beautiful, the Sertoma Center, Beck Cultural Center, Friends of Literacy and dozens of other non-profit operations also will get a cut.

Further, the Knoxville Area Chamber Partnership will receive $80,000, Innovation Valley will get $250,000 and the Development Corp also will get $600,000 – all to help with economic development.


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