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Fund drawdown in Johnson City's budget upsets vice mayor

Gary B. Gray • May 11, 2012 at 9:48 AM

The city’s proposed 2012-13 budget continued to get a raking through Thursday during a two-hour workshop in which it was announced the coming general fund budget has risen to just more than $78 million.

The workshop is one of several in which commissioners and city staff are hammering out the dollars and sense of the city budget.

Johnson City still faces a roughly $3 million drawdown from its fund balance to balance the budget to pay for capital projects, street resurfacing and equipment.

“I’m not comfortable with it,” said Vice Mayor Phil Carriger. “We’re faced with drawing it down and hoping sales tax revenues continue to increase. There may be some capital projects we just don’t do.”

Johnson City is forecasting all local taxes to account for more than $60 million next year, a more than $3 million or 5.2 percent increase over this year. Local option sales tax alone accounts for nearly half the expected gain at more than $1.3 million, an increase of more than 7 percent over this year. The next highest projected gain comes from delinquent taxes, followed by hotel/motel tax, business tax and taxes on liquor and beer.

The city’s operating budget is estimated at $54 million, up about 2.8 percent. About $75,000 is budgeted for the 2013 City Commission election, and special appropriations is sitting at about $413,000.

With the vast majority of spending for the new $15 million Memorial Park Community Center and school construction beginning to slide out of the financial picture, one line item about to have a big drop is capital expenditures. That is expected to fall by half — from about $8 million to more than $3.6 million.

Still, several big projects are in the works. Three will cost $1 million or more, including remaining work at the community center, Freedom Hall Civic Center improvements and Johnson City Juvenile Court’s move to the renovated Seniors Center.

“The city has been able to get a lot accomplished during five years of a down economy,” said City Manager Pete Peterson. “We’ve done that by cutting expenditures and making investments when interest rates were low. But after 2013, we can no longer rely on our fund balance.”

When FY 2013 is wrapped up, the city will have spent about $60 million over the past five years on Johnson City Schools projects. The school system has asked the city for about $1.4 million to help through next year.

Also on tap is $300,000 in new funding for Johnson City Schools’ operations, and the city is in the middle of discussions to decide whether to go forward with a $2 million proposal that would expand Indian Trail Middle School by eight classrooms as well a cafeteria expansion.

Founders Park also will be built this coming year, with construction costs alone estimated at $3 million.

The city also plans to begin work on the Veterans Affairs Medical Center access road, and TDOT will build a two-lane road from Optimist Park to West Market Street. Engineers are now at work on that project.

Two new fire trucks, at a cost to the city of more than $1.2 million, will be purchased.

The city also wants to complete an estimated $225,000 streetscape project that would tie the Memorial Park Community Center with Cardinal Park.

Commissioners also generated some energetic conversation regarding special appropriations funding. The conversation ended in a consensus that nonprofits should plan on not relying on Johnson City to the degree they are now.

The proposed expense for nonprofits next year is about $413,000, down about $99,000. Commissioners agreed it was time to continue that trend by perhaps ending special appropriations by dropping the amount paid out each year by 10 percent a year.

“I don’t think it’s government’s role to collect tax dollars and give it to charity,” said Mayor Jeff Banyas. “Why do we give to some and not others?”

Carriger said the city should “wean” the nonprofits away from the expectation of taxpayer dollars each year.

“In my mind, it’s a matter of weaning them off of it,” he said. “They should be taking the initiative and put their fate in their own hands instead of relying on the government. The City Commission has to be firm.”

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