Budget, beer in theaters receives final stamp of approval from city

David Floyd • Jun 20, 2019 at 10:56 PM

Wrestling with minimal revenues, the Johnson City Commission unanimously approved a slightly smaller fiscal year 2020 budget during its regular meeting on Thursday night.

“Growth is slow, and so this is a very conservative budget with very little growth programmed into it,” said Mayor Jenny Brock.

The roughly $248.9 million budget is $1.9 million smaller than the city’s FY 2019 budget and accounts for 0.7% growth in the city’s general fund. The budget does not include changes to the city’s property tax rates.

Brock said the city is experiencing a “flattening” in its sales tax revenue, which stems in large part from the popularity of online shopping.

“As everybody’s pushing that buy on your internet sales, it’s affecting your local schools because sales tax is what funds your local schools,” Brock said, “and we may be getting a little bit back through internet sales, but we’re not getting back anything compared to what our local option sales tax produces.”

The budget includes money for a 4% increase in the city’s pay scale, $500,000 for a new fire truck, $3 million for the implementation of new financial software and $500,000 to bolster the city’s data security.

Commissioners also approved a $2 fee increase for residential curbside garbage collection for customers in the county, bringing the rate for one cart from $16 to $18. The increase would not impact residential customers in the city, who received a $2 increase in fees last year.

The city also approved a $7 fee increase for commercial customers in both the city and the county for front loader collection for each size of dumpster. The cost of extra front loader pickups will increase in the city from $25 to $50.

“Your solid waste budget is built with these rate increases included on the revenue side,” City Manager Pete Peterson told commissioners. Peterson said it’s been nine years since these fees have gone up.

Beer in movie theaters

Commissioners also officially approved an ordinance that will allow the sale of beer in movie theaters, live theaters and the Pine Oaks Golf Course.

The change comes as AMC Theatres moves forward with roughly $6 million renovation of the AMC Classic Johnson City 14 cinema at 1805 N Roan St., which would include the addition of a bar.

Joe Baker, a youth minister at Oak Grove Baptist Church, was the only person who walked up to the microphone to comment on the ordinance. He expressed concern about the impact allowing beer in theaters would have on kids, who he said typically go to the theater without parental supervision.

“When youth go to restaurants, usually they go with parents or family,” he said. “Most youth that I know of they go to theaters, they’re not supervised by family. ... It’s not cool to go to the movie with your mom, OK? There’s just not that influence there.”

He argued that alcohol can have a detrimental impact on youth, and pointed to a 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that about a third of high school students reported consuming alcohol within a 30-day period.

“I cannot see how this would better our community or protect our youth, and for me, it’s not about a matter of fairness, it’s a matter of money,” he said “That’s why this request was brought before the commission.”

Vice Mayor Joe Wise defended the ordinance and said alcohol sellers in Johnson City do a good job of checking IDs. “They checked the ID of my 85-year-old father if he tried to buy beer at Kroger,” he said.

He said it’s important to separate legitimate public health and safety concerns, which he said were part of the city’s deliberations about the ordinance on prior readings, from whether it’s appropriate to single out a certain type of business and bar it from serving alcohol.

“I am going to continue to support on third reading not because I’m excited about exposing young people to alcohol, but because I just can’t in my mind single out that a theater creates a unique public health or public safety risk but a trampoline park selling beer doesn’t or a bowling alley selling beer doesn’t,” Wise said.

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