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Budget, beer, rezoning on full commission agenda

June 18th, 2014 9:10 pm by Gary B. Gray

Budget, beer, rezoning on full commission agenda

Johnson City commissioners will consider a first reading of the proposed fiscal 2015 budget tonight — emphasis on “proposed.”

The $204,736,431 budget, which includes schools, is balanced to the penny. But amendments are likely to come on second and third readings, including a vote on a property-tax increase to help fund shortfalls. The city’s current property tax rate is $1.58 per $100 assessed value.

Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin has suggested a minimum increase of 33 cents to help fund city and school needs. But the actual amount proposed could be nearly twice that amount, or a lesser amount. And, while a property tax increase of some kind is likely to surface at some point, three of the city’s five commissioners will set the course by a majority vote.

Johnson City Schools has requested an additional $3.4 million from the city this year, and both school and city officials have struggled to come up with answers.

The city’s roughly $76 million general fund has been shaved by $2.5 million, or 3.3 percent compared to the current year. Department heads revealed their needs at numerous workshops over the past month, and each has accepted the reality of the current economic downturn.

City employees, also will feel the pinch this year.

“There is no funding included for cost-of-living or merit raises,” said Bob Wilson, assistant city manager. “Following two consecutive years of 10-percent health insurance premium increases, no increase is budgeted for the city’s health insurance fund, and no new positions are proposed.”

Operating expenses are down 2 percent. Personal services, which accounts for 64 percent of all operating expenses, also is down 2 percent. Thirteen vacant positions, both funded and unfunded, have been eliminated.

Meanwhile, local option sales tax, the second largest general fund feeder, is anticipated to decrease by $232,000. Collections for the current year are projected at about $18.5 million, which is $417,000 less than budget and $50,000 less than actual collections from the prior year.

Wilson said that in FY 2012, the city experienced a 5.8 percent growth in local option sales tax, but the story was quite different in fiscal years 2013 and 2014.

“For the current year, the city has experienced negative sales tax collections in four of the first eight months of the fiscal year,” Wilson said.

Consideration of the budget on first reading tonight includes a public hearing.

Commissioners also will consider the first of three readings of an ordinance that would amend the city charter to allow municipal elections to coincide with the November general election. If approved, the matter will be put to voters during this year’s Nov. 4 election in the form of a question and “yes” and “no” choices.

Washington, Carter and Sullivan county election commissions would place the proposed amendment on the ballot. Commissioners elected in April 2011 (Mayor Van Brocklin, Vice Mayor Clayton Stout and Commissioner Jeff Banyas) whose terms expire in 2015, would have their terms extended to December 2016. Commissioners elected in April 2013 (Commissioners Jenny Brock and David Tomita), whose terms expire in 2017, would have their terms expire in December 2018.

The move would save the city about $75,000.

Commissioners also will consider a beer license request from the Johnson City Sports Foundation, which operates and promotes the Appalachian League’s Johnson City Cardinals at Cardinal Park.

If the foundation’s plan goes forward, beer sales will begin June 23 at the Johnson City Cardinals’ second 2014 home game against the Danville Braves.

Cardinals General Manager Tyler Parsons said Johnson City’s Holston Distributing Co. has agreed to come onboard as the supplier. He also said sales would be conducted at one location only and vendors would not traverse the park selling beer. Those purchasing beer would be required to show identification and obtain a wristband.

A third and final reading of an ordinance to rezone property at 500 W. Walnut St. from B-2 (central business) to B-3 (supporting central business) to accommodate Evolve Development’s apartment complex also is on tonight’s agenda.

Commissioners unanimously approved the rezoning on first reading on Feb. 6. The second reading and public hearing was held Feb. 20, and the third and final reading was April 3. Commissioners voted 3-2 at the two final readings to approve the rezoning.

However, the city’s failure to give proper public notice of a second reading and public hearing to rezone the Model Mill property required commissioners to start the process over. Tonight marks the final vote.

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

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