Johnson City Press: Johnson City weighs funding requests in tight budget environment

Johnson City weighs funding requests in tight budget environment

David Floyd • May 23, 2019 at 10:09 PM

Johnson City is grappling with a tighter budget than normal, but City Manager Pete Peterson says the city is still finding a way to adequately fund what it needs to preserve the quality of life of locals.

"We’ve still found a way to take advantage of efficiencies to adequately fund the capital and the operations that we need to to keep making good reinvestments in our community,” he said.

As they continue planning for the fiscal year 2020 budget, Johnson City commissioners heard presentations from departments on Thursday afternoon, including the fire department, the police department and the Johnson City School System, about their funding outlook for the upcoming year. 

Two departments, the school system and fire department, are requesting funding beyond what’s included in City Manager Pete Peterson’s proposed budget.

School officials requested a roughly $1.38 million increase — $233,798 for renovations at the Science Hill High School library and $1,146,367 in additional operating expenses — beyond their proposed allocation. The fire department is seeking funding for several additional positions.

School officials highlighted a list of new expenditures for FY 2020 totaling about $2.92 million, which will be offset in part by an approximately $1.52 million increase in revenues from the state’s Basic Education Program, the funding formula through which the state distributes dollars to Tennessee schools, and other revenue sources.

The system expects its total revenues for FY 2020 will be $75.4 million and its total expenditures will be about $76.5 million.

The system’s expected expenditures for FY 2020 include $1,044,000 for a 2% salary increase for teachers, $435,700 for the system’s technology plan, which has previously come out of the system’s textbook funds, $206,000 for additional teachers and $61,600 for an increase in substitute pay.

After the presentation from the school system, Vice Mayor Joe Wise cautioned school officials that the city is dealing with finite resources. 

"If only we had 3% revenue growth ... but that’s not what we have,” he said. Mayor Jenny Brock said Tuesday that the city is accounting for a 0.6 percent increase in city revenues this year.

Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner said the police department budget in FY 2020 should be fairly flat over its total in FY 2019. “Basically, it’s pretty stagnant and pretty much what it was last year,” Turner said. 

The department is expecting a 3.5%, or $504,024, increase in its operating and personnel expenditures for the upcoming fiscal year, bringing the total cost to $14,803,171. That increase has occurred in part because the department has moved purchases that would come from its technology fund to its general fund.

The proposed budget also includes a 4% across-the-board increase in pay for city employees, which is on top of a 4% increase the city implemented in FY 19. “That’s in direct response to our inability to attract and retain employees,” Peterson said. Peterson said the city is also dealing with a rise in health insurance costs, which he believes should be covered sufficiently with city fund balance for the next couple of years.

There are nine total positions in the fire department’s long-term staffing plan that Peterson said he did not include in his proposed budget this year. “Part of what’s driving that is we added three positions last year, and we’re picking up funding for six existing positions now that were previously grant-funded,” Peterson said. Each additional fire department position would run the city about $60,000.

The city is also buying a $500,000 fire truck this year, and Peterson has recommended commissioners approve another $500,000 firetruck in the upcoming fiscal year.

“The rest of this staffing is going to have be in a subsequent year somewhere, or we would have to do a tax increase in order to do it,” Peterson said. “We have adequate staff to supply all of the fire prevention and protection that we need.”

Commissioners will continue refining the budget during an agenda review meeting on June 3 and will vote on three readings of the budget in June: The first on June 6, the second on June 13 and the third on June 20.

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