On Monday evening, during the first of three scheduled budget workshops in the Johnson City Municipal and Safety Building, school system representatives requested $3,146,053 in additional funds from the City Commission.
With the value of Johnson City’s penny of property taxes set at $170,000, JCS Director of Finance Pam Cox said the request would equate to a property tax increase of 18.5 cents.
The request for the increase came on top of the system’s projected revenue increase of $1,009,890, which was estimated based on local property and sales tax rates and state-sponsored Basic Education Program funds. Despite that increase, however, Superintendent Richard Bales told the commission the system had challenges.
“With the growing student population, our growing academic needs, funding related to legislative mandates ... and a visible need to maintain programming that’s vigorous, we’re going to respectfully request a budget increase for our students this year,” Bales said. “I believe strongly we need additional recurring dollars to serve our students academically, to provide strong arts and athletic programs and to ensure that our students have the best safety measures possible.”
Of those recurring dollars, Bales said, none had been allocated toward new local ventures or teacher wage increases. He added that before approaching the commission, the school system had managed to trim its budget by $800,000, and had received $200,000 in grant money.
“There’s no innovation in this budget,” Bales said. “There are no new programs. It’s basically the status quo of what we’re doing, to be able to keep what we’re doing.”
Though there were no new programs at the local level, Cox said the school system needed to account for $1,433,054 in funds to support new federally mandated initiatives. Even with that increase, however, Cox said the request would not have been made if the system had been able to offset that cost with a projected revenue increase.
“If this was our only need, with the $1 million that we project to come in, we’d be really close to having a balanced budget,” Cox said. “It’s really important that we get these things we’ve been dealing with year after year with one-time monies taken care of, so that we can go on each year to take care of the needs as they come.”
In addition to the federal mandates, however, Cox estimated that $1,169,708 was needed to cover programs that had previously been paid for with federal dollars, $780,000 was needed to cover one-time needs, and $773,100 was needed to cover the cost of new textbooks.
Despite the school system’s needs, the city’s preliminary budget offered little room for additional expenditures. In presenting the preliminary budget to the assembly — before the school system made its presentation — City Manager Pete Peterson said he and his staff had worked to create a balanced budget that would not require a property tax increase. That budget, however, would not be without its costs.
“It is also a budget that will eliminate services and positions that this community has been accustomed to for decades,” Peterson said.
Among those eliminations would be six police officer positions, the JCTV government information channel and a vacant assistant fire marshal position. The proposed budget also called for the closing of Legion Street Pool.
“There’s no other way to balance this budget without the infusion of additional revenues,” Peterson said. “Revenues are flat. They have not kept up with operational expenses.”
Despite the proposed budget, however, after the school system’s presentation, Peterson recognized the system’s achievements and said the idea of investing in the community was worth examining.
“The best way to ensure having the opportunity to minimize tax increases is to get others to invest in our community,” he said. “The best way to do that is to reinvest in our community and send a strong message that we know this is a great place to live ... and we’re willing to help pay to continue growth (in) the great things we have.
“We’ve got to continually reinvest in our community if we want others to do the same.”
Discussion on the budget and possible community investments will continue throughout the budget process. This week, another workshop will be held this evening at 5:30, and another will take place Thursday at 1:30 p.m.
Follow Max Hrenda on Twitter @MaxLHrenda. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/jcpresshrenda.