Johnson City Commission passes $247 million budget on second reading

Zach Vance • Updated Jun 21, 2018 at 11:35 PM

Within 30 minutes Thursday, the Johnson City Commission swiftly maneuvered through its sparse agenda, but within that time frame, the four commissioners present approved perhaps the most important ordinance of the year: Johnson City’s $247 million budget for 2019. 

Thursday’s budget proposal remained unchanged, with no additional amendments, from the one commissioners voted to approve on first reading in early June. 

One of the notable items on the 2019 budget is the allocation of $1.3 million toward the creation of a water feature and natural playground at King Commons Park to celebrate Johnson City’s 150th birthday, or sesquicentennial. 

The Sesquicentennial Commission, formed to organize the anniversary’s signature project and events, has been tasked with fundraising the remaining $2 million to build the water feature, which includes a splash pad. 

To hammer home what a splash pad could mean for downtown, during his bimonthly report, City Manager Pete Peterson praised the success of the Rotary Park splash pad and boundless playground, saying over 6,000 people visited it last weekend. 

“It’s a phenomenal addition to our park system, and those numbers alone, I think, warrant the additional splash pads that are being considered,” Peterson said.

Talking after the meeting about the sesquicentennial project, Mayor David Tomita said, “It just took looking at Rotary Park’s (splash pad) and the boundless playground there to realize the impact and usage of those amenities.”

“We’re not just going to go out and spend a $1 million, right? We’re going to match. So we expect to get a $3.5 million asset for $1 million. That’s a pretty good deal, it’s a great deal and great use of taxpayer dollars, if we can do that. If the private sector funding isn’t there, we’re not going to do it.” 

Mentioning some of the community leaders serving on the Sesquicentennial Commission, Tomita did add that he has confidence the commission would reach its goal, considering the fundraising experience and drive of its members. 

Despite Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin’s objections last month, commissioners once again voted to dole out $100,000 out of the 2019 budget to be used by the Sesquicentennial Commission to organize monthly celebratory events, beginning with a New Year’s Eve party.

Following adjournment, Peterson briefly spoke about another fundraising effort, led by the Langston Education and Arts Development Corporation, which is trying to raise $500,000 to combine with the $1.8 million already committed by the city to renovate the former Langston High School into a multicultural community center. 

During the Langston project’s early stages, the city spent $700,000 preparing the former African-American school for renovations, such as installing a new roof and asbestos abatement. 

The LEAD group had a June 1 target date to raise the funds, but at the June 7 meeting, Peterson said the group is still trying to get commitments, while the base bid for the renovation project came back at $2.1 million. 

“Since my last report, we have met internally, as a staff, to look more closely at the project as designed to see where there might be some savings available, or where there might be some things that are now in the contract that we could perform with city crews to try to get the cost down,” Peterson said. 

“We have not had the opportunity to meet back with the LEAD group as far as how their fundraising is going. We’ll be meeting with the architect early next week to discuss some things that staff has identified, and hopefully, we’ll be talking to the LEAD group, as well.

An ultimate decision on whether to move forward on the project will likely be made at the City Commission’s July 5 meeting. 

Commissioners will meet during a specially-called meeting June 28 at 6 p.m. to vote on the budget’s third and final reading. 

Here are some general questions and answers related to the City of Johnson City’s budgetary process:

How is Johnson City’s budget determined?

Department heads present their budget requests to administration early in the year and meet with the city manager to discuss their department’s needs. Administrators determine what to present to the City Commission. A series of department workshops then takes place so that the commission can better understand what everyone needs to operate. The budget director then compiles it into an ordinance.

How is the budget approved?

Like any ordinance, the budget must pass three readings to be approved. The first reading has to take place during a regularly scheduled meeting, which was at the June 7 commission meeting this year. The second reading was held on Thursday and the third reading is set for June 28. Whereas most ordinances allow public hearing on second reading, the budget is the exception — public hearing is always on first reading.

Can the budget change between readings?

Absolutely. Additions, amendments, cuts … anything is possible until the third and final reading.

How much is the city’s total budget this year?

$247,216,582, which includes schools, all enterprise funds and the general fund. The general fund budget is $66,062,091.

Where does the money come from?

The general fund is made up of sales tax, property tax, and funds from the state and federal government as well as local charges and fees. Water and sewer services, solid waste, and stormwater are enterprise funds, which are self-sustaining from user fees, do not contain funding from the general fund.

So can you borrow from an enterprise fund for the general fund or vice versa?

Nope. Those pots of money are not mixed.

Is there a property tax increase in this year’s budget?

There is not. The $1.89 rate is the lowest of the Tri-Cities, behind Kingsport’s $1.98, Bristol’s $2.25, Washington County’s $2.38 and Sullivan County’s $2.55.


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