“Like us, their ability to attract and retain employees is really challenging right now,” said Johnson City Manager Pete Peterson.
The Johnson City Commission voted to increase the city’s funding to the organization during a special meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday. During the meeting, commissioners unanimously passed the second reading of the city’s fiscal year 2020 budget. The board will vote on the third and final reading on June 20.
Peterson pointed to two factors that have made it difficult for the center to keep and attract employees. He said the state recently opened a dispatch center in Knoxville, where employees are starting at $20 per hour.
“We’re very challenged to compete with them and with the private sector in terms of being able to pay people enough to keep them,” he said. “There’s an extensive amount of training. It takes a lot of time and a fair amount of cost.”
Peterson said Washington County 911 also hasn’t seen a recent increase in the state funding it receives from a monthly fee Tennessee adds to telephone bills.
“The cost of doing business has gone up every year, but their appropriations haven’t gone up,” he said.
To pay for the increase, the city plans on making a corresponding decrease to the money budgeted for road salt in FY 2020, bringing it from about $250,000 to about $180,000.
Peterson said the city normally spends $250,000 in a year on road salt, but the city is starting out the year with its salt reserves full.
“Since we’re already full, I feel pretty comfortable that we can go this one year on a reduced appropriation for road salt and still be in good shape in having enough salt to take care of the roads next winter,” he said.
Washington County 911 is not a department of the city or Washington County, but receives funding from both entities. The additional funding from the city is contingent on the county increasing its appropriation for the service.
“This is a mission critical piece of delivering public safety, and I’m really thankful that the city and county commissions have recognized this need and appropriated this additional funding,” Peterson said. “This is a big one.”
The city’s proposed budget this year is slightly smaller than fiscal year 2019 and accounts for a 0.7% growth in its general fund revenues. It does not contain an increase in the property tax rate.
The proposed budget sets aside money for the purchase of a new $500,000 fire truck, $3 million for the implementation of new financial software at the city and about $500,000 to bolster the city’s data security infrastructure. The budget also sets aside funding for construction design for the improvements along West Walnut Street and money for a 4% increase in the pay scale for city employees.
During its meeting Thursday, commissioners also approved revisions to its beer ordinance on second reading. The changes would modernize the ordinance by removing outdated language and would allow the sale and consumption of beer in movie theaters, live theaters and the Pine Oaks Golf Course.
Johnson City attorney Sunny Sandos said there are currently nine cities in Tennessee that allow the sale of beer in movie theaters.