Johnson City commissioners on Friday morning voted 3-2 to amended the proposed 2015 budget, which now involves the use of various revenues to pay for expenses added back into the city’s financial plan.
Commissioner Jeff Banyas first proposed the method late Thursday night after hours of deliberation and a separate vote that likely snuffed out any hope that a property tax increase would fund millions of dollars of unfunded needs.
Banyas, Vice Mayor Clayton Stout and Commissioner David Tomita voted for the amendment Friday, which moves on to a third reading on June 27. Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin and Commissioner Jenny Brock, who were the only commissioners voting for a 22-cent property tax increase to prop up both the city and the school system, voted against Banyas’ plan.
The tally for Van Brocklin’s amendment to the city’s $204 million budget using the tax increase failed in a 3-2 vote after an extremely arduous evening. Banyas, Stout and Tomita voted against the increase.
As things stand, the city would divert more than $1 million in revenues generated by the golf fund and Freedom Hall, raise the gas franchise tax from 3 to 5 percent, make cuts to the Public Works Department, Convention and Visitors Bureau and figure in savings from moving the municipal election.
These revenues would fund $1,257,000 in items added back into the budget. The school system would receive $500,000 in addition to the current year’s funding (administrators had asked the city for $3.4 million). Partial funding for a special prosecutor has been reinstated, as has money for up to six police officers, Legion Street Pool, video services and funding to help construct the new farmer’s market.
The $250,000 difference in the amount being added and the revenue proposed would come out of the city’s fund balance, which stands at about $14.5 million.
“Trying to reduce our expenditures isn’t something we just started thinking about a few months ago,” said City Manager Pete Peterson. “It has been a very challenging budget, probably one of the most challenging I’ve seen in the past 20 years. Revenues simply have not been keeping up with expenditures. We still have a structural deficiency that’s going to have to be addressed again in the next budget cycle.”
Peterson said citizens can still expect infrastructure improvements. The city now own Kelly’s Foods across the street from Founders Park, and a new storm water project is coming at that site. So too for the downtown U-Haul site.
“This is not a doom and gloom budget,” he said following Friday’s brief meeting. “We’re still going to be able to provide services, and there are projects planned.”
On Thursday, after hearing pleas from several people with local nonprofit agencies, Stout made a motion to end all special appropriations funding. That amount in 2015 was set at $322,000. Commissioners struggled over the value that would be lost from these services, but they also had to weigh this against priorities, such as basic services to residents.
Special appropriations is a line item in the city’s budget that has been purposefully on the decline for about four years. An alternative proposal on the table Thursday called for special appropriations funding to fall by half, but Stout’s suggestion was folded into Banyas’ amendment -- an amendment that was outlined in detail early Friday morning.
“I’ll obviously go back and study this some more,” Stout said about the various budget proposals. “There’s still many places to look for revenue -- there’s the $1.3 million for street resurfacing, for example. I kept my word regarding raising taxes. I also think we need to use an unbiased consulting firm to look at the possibility of consolidating some services with the school system, such as transportation, maintenance and information technology.”
No raises are included in the budget for general city employees. About two-thirds of school employees will get a 2.2 percent raise. This is a state-mandated step raise based on enrollment.
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