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City commissioners work on budget; mill property rezoned again

June 6th, 2014 9:03 am by Gary B. Gray

City commissioners work on budget; mill property rezoned again

(Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)

The “budget process” has become more a season than a procedure for Johnson City this year, and the financial almanac calls for continued decreases in funding unless a remedy is found.

Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin began Thursday’s meeting with another stoic statement — this one to the public about the final steps in the process and what options remain to properly fund shortfalls.

The mayor ran down the ABCs, informing the audience and those watching at home that each commissioner has articulated to him their concerns about various proposed cuts as well as their interests in restoring funding for certain items.

Next week, commissioners will revisit departmental budgets and delve into particulars

“Since we are past the point where the budget can be changed outside of the public readings, any changes in the budget will have to come through the amendment process during the first, second or third readings,” Van Brocklin said. “The importance of these follow-up sessions should then be — at a minimum — a process of identifying for amendment items that the City Commission wants approached differently.”

He laid out the following four methods to accommodate costs: through cost-saving measures; reductions in expenditures in other areas of given departments; through a reduction in fund balance; or by raising property taxes.

The three areas that have generated the greatest concern are schools, golf and Freedom Hall.

“We can cover other items if there is time, but I would about bet that we will be pressed to get through the three,” he said.

Here’s the lineup:

• Monday: A budget session with several organizations.

• Wednesday: A budget workshop

• Thursday: Another budget workshop.

• June 19: A first reading.

• June 26: A second reading.

• A third and final reading on either the 27th or 30th.

Thursday’s meeting marked the last departmental/organizational budget proposals, beginning with the Washington County Economic Development Council, in which President and CEO Mitch Miller asked the city for about $240,000 for the WCEDC and $120,000 for the Johnson City Development Authority.

The WCEDC oversees the JCDA and this coming year will untangle the entities’ funding for the first time.

The council is interviewing applicants to work closely with the JCDA, an organization Van Brocklin said had “lost it’s focus over the past few years.”

“What kind of an edge do we have?” Vice Mayor Clayton Stout asked Miller about downtown Johnson City.

“Right down the street,” Miller said while pointing over his shoulder. “ETSU. Tupelo Honey. If you had not said yes to (Tupelo Honey Cafe), they would have gone to Bristol or somewhere else.”

The Convention & Visitors Bureau was up next, with Grant Summer representing.

The bureau, which recruits sports and recreation tournaments and other events, brought in $1.25 million in lodging collections in 2013, up about $500,000 from the prior year. Summers gave a presentation and asked that the city provide $595,000, an increase of about $57,000.

Washington County Emergency Medical Services Executive Director Dan Wheeley asked the city for $697,000, about the same level as the current year. Wheeley said EMS receives about $1.6 million a year from the county and $21,500 from the town of Jonesborough.

The department, which has 115 full-time employees, has a proposed budget of about $10.1 million for FY 2015. EMS is primarily funded by insurance revenues.

Next, Bob McNeill, Washington County Emergency Communications/911 director presented a roughly $3.5 million budget, which is up by $144,000. The service is funded by both the city and county and utilizes 44 full-time employees.

In other business, commissioners:

• Approved a second reading of an ordinance to rezone General Mills property from B-2 (Central Business District) to B-3 (Supporting Central Business), for Evolve LLC’s $18 million apartment project off West Walnut Street. The rezoning already had been completed, but the city failed to provide adequate public notice of the original public hearing, so the process had to begin again from the beginning.

There were several impassioned pleas to restore the mill, but commissioners voted on this second go-round just as they did on the first: 3-2. Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin and Commissioners Jenny Brock and Jeff Banyas voted for the move; Vice Mayor Clayton Stout and Commissioner David Tomita voted against the rezoning.

• Rejected a $130,000 bid by Armstrong Construction to build a ticket/souvenir office at Cardinal Park. Commissioners did so after a recommendation by Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl. It was revealed a pre-fabricated building of similar dimensions — about 500 square feet — could be had for $11,000, minus the needed retrofit.

• Approved an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the evaluation of Brush and King Creek’s water flow and to be used to produce additional remedies for flooding downtown, at ETSU and in the Tree Streets. The $100,000 expense for “hydraulic modeling” of the two creeks would set the city back $50,000, while the remaining $50,000 would be paid for at the federal level. The local portion would come from the city’s storm water fund and take about one year to complete.

• Deferred approval of $25,000 to install a new logo at Science Hill High School’s Kermit Tipton Stadium’s 50-yard line on the Science Hill campus. Commissioner Jeff Banyas said he could not approve funding for a new design he’s not seen. Commissioners concurred. The high school had been using a logo trademarked by Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University.

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