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$208M-plus spending plan for Johnson City on Commission agenda tonight

June 6th, 2013 10:33 am by Gary B. Gray

$208M-plus spending plan for Johnson City on Commission agenda tonight

The City Commission tonight will hear a first reading of Johnson City’s proposed 2014 fiscal budget.

At more than $208 million, this spending plan is about $2 million less than the current fiscal year in which a good chunk of change has been used to complete projects including school construction and renovations and the new Memorial Park Community Center.

The city portion of the budget totals $134 million, a decrease of $3.9 million, or 2.9 percent. The school system portion of the budget totals about $74.1 million, an increase of $2.1 million, or 2.9 percent.

Commissioners will hold a workshop to discuss the HEROES grant program prior to the commission meeting. The school system is losing federal funding from this grant next year and is asking the city to pick up the tab. Both the city and the school system have been looking at alternatives.

The proposed general fund totals about $78 million, a very slight decrease over the current year. This fund is used to pay for general services, operations and activities, such as police, fire, public works and parks and recreation. 

This includes in round numbers $55 million for operating expenditures and $23 million for operating transfers to support other funds. Major transfers include more than $2 million for capital equipment and projects, $9.8 million for debt service and $8.5 million for Johnson City Schools. The draw down on the general fund in FY 2014 is estimated at nearly $2.7 million. 

A total of 906 full-time and part-time positions are budgeted, an increase of three positions. About $265,000, including benefit costs, is budgeted for merit raises. 

“Based on projected collections, real and personal property taxes are budgeted to increase by 1 percent next year,” said Bob Wilson, assistant city manager. “The increase is based on trends in building and projected growth. Overall, property tax collections account for 38 percent of general fund revenue.”

Local option sales tax, the second-largest general fund source at 25 percent, is expected to decrease by nearly $331,000, or 1.7 percent. In FY 2012, the city experienced a 5.8 percent growth in local option sales tax over the previous year. 

“For 2013 the story has been quite different, with the city experiencing negative sales tax collections in four of the first nine months of the fiscal year,” Wilson said. “Growth for this nine-month period is a negative 0.8 percent from last year. For FY 2014, local option sales tax revenue is budgeted to grow by 2.5 percent based on projected trends in the national economy and state budget projections.”  

No property tax increase is being proposed.

“This still must go through three readings, and I’m guessing there will be changes,” Wilson said. “We also must have it approved by the state. But once we get it back from them we will post the budget on our website, though there will be a little lag there.”

Johnson City officials also have moved methodically on what they hope will become a one-of-a-kind recreational trail in the area, including the formation of a task force dedicated to guiding its construction and to locating and utilizing money to make it a reality.

Commissioners will consider a $40,000 proposal by Tysinger, Hampton & Partners to provide construction drawings and safety design recommendations for seven bridges along the now-abandoned East Tennessee Railroad line between Alabama Street in Johnson City to State Line Road in Elizabethton.

Johnson City acquired the 10-mile stretch of land and wants to develop a public use recreational trail that has been referred to as “The Tweetsie Trail.” The consulting and design firm has outlined in the proposal costs for evaluation, design of walkways and paths and reconstruction and stabilization of the structures.

The proposal came out of the first ever Rails-to-Trails Task Force meeting last week.

“There has been some talk about trying to develop engineering drawings,” Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl said. “I don’t want to speak for any one member on the task force, but they are enthused about initiating the project to bring this to fruition.”

Stahl said all remaining railroad ties should be removed by the end of this month. He also said the city is receiving about $72,000 from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which likely will help pay for the engineering services if commissioners decide to go forward. 

Commissioners also will consider a cost-sharing agreement with Boone Watershed Partnership for Sinking Creek Wetlands Enhancement Project and a project management agreement between the city and TDOT for the Knob Creek Road extension. 

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