Johnson City Press Sunday, November 23, 2014

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Chamber calls for unusual budget meeting

June 2nd, 2014 10:51 pm by Gary B. Gray

Chamber calls for unusual budget meeting

Gary Mabrey, David Tomita and Lottie Ryans

The Johnson City-Jonesborough-Washington County Chamber of Commerce has requested a meeting of the minds very near the end of a traditional city budget cycle — something Johnson City officials had not scheduled into their departmental workshop, three readings repertoire.

Though city commissioners still are painstakingly combing through departmental budgets, its members, along with City Manager Pete Peterson, have been invited to meet with a sizeable cluster of key organizations next Monday to discuss the incubating 2015 financial plan.

Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin said there has been discussion between the Chamber, himself, and commissioners regarding the city’s financial backing of investment in the community.

“Within a couple of weeks following taking the helm, I met with the Chamber board and laid out for them my concerns about dwindling revenue streams, increased cost of operations and the impact that could have on the community,” Van Brocklin said.

“The Chamber board has a year of prior indication of how hard it would be to even maintain current service without a (property) tax increase, let alone address the areas that I indicated. Members of the board indicated an interest in seeing those investments occur.”

Invitees include the Chamber Board of Directors and Chamber Foundation, Washington County Economic Development Council members, Public Building Authority, Johnson City Development Authority and the Johnson City Board of Education.

The Board of Education already has met with commissioners and city staff and proposed and discussed its projected financial outlook, but “we wanted to invite them to join in the conversation as well,” said Lottie Ryans, Chamber Board of Directors chairwoman and Board of Education member, said in an email forwarded to a rather unwieldy list of the community’s “who’s who.”

An RSVP is requested at the end of the email for the event scheduled for 7:45 a.m. on Monday at the Millennium Centre.

“Our recent conversations with city management as well as the City Commission led us to conclude the need for several key groups to be able to hear directly from city management about this year’s budget and have a dialogue around the issues,” Ryans said.

The email was discussed briefly at last week’s City Commission budget workshop, when several commissioners learned of the request for the first time.

“So far, no one has made contact with me,” Commissioner David Tomita said Monday. “It’s very premature for something like this. We all know it’s going to be a tough year, but the budget is not finished. The sky is not falling. We’re not shutting things down.”

Ryans said budget projections are not only lean but potentially call for reductions across the board.

“Programs, personnel, street maintenance, equipment replacement, and services in general will feel the brunt of the current proposal,” she said.

She also cited possible cuts in education and nonprofit agencies.

Special appropriations is a line item being phased out of the city’s budget, save fire and emergency services. Commissioners agreed years ago to incrementally decrease funding to nonprofit groups.

“We’ve had a continuing conversation with Pete (Peterson),” said Gary Mabrey, Chamber president and CEO. “We just wanted to have him come in for information gathering purposes. This is just adding people around the table.”

Peterson said he has visited with Chamber Foundation members several times during this year’s budget process to keep them informed about how things are shaping up.

“The invite was a, ‘Hey, we want to know about the budget,’” he said. “I imagine there are probably a lot of people in the community interested in how this budget will affect the community.”

The first reading of the FY 2015 budget ordinance is June 19.

Like Gary B. Gray on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Gary-B-Gray. Follow him on Twitter @ggrayjcpress.

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