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City's 5-year capital improvement plan begins with look at citizen survey

Gary B. Gray • Jan 12, 2017 at 8:03 PM

City Manager Pete Peterson headed an extremely long capital improvements plan workshop Thursday, which began with an overview of Johnson City’s 2016 Citizen Survey.

Results from 2012 and 2014 have been used as planning tools to guide future investments. Budget Manager Lora Grogg said the official version of the survey was not yet ready to be rolled out, but Peterson revealed some basic findings that likely will play into the projected $245 million, five-year spending plan. About 2,000 surveys were mailed out; about 550 responded.

From road projects to ladder trucks, software, golf carts, printers, roofs — these are among the list of needs that must be prioritized so the strongest needs are in place to begin the new 2018 fiscal year.

“If you want to put a Band-Aid on a severed arm or lipstick on a pig, you’re going to get what you get,” Peterson said about the importance of prioritizing. “We now have results from three surveys, and they’ve been very good indicators of what citizens want us to do.”

So what did the citizens say is most important?

Transportation improvements topped the list, followed by tax incentives for new business development, improving downtown parking, increasing the diversity of retail development and increasing the number of athletic fields.

Respondents rated the city’s quality of life higher than the past two surveys, and 90 percent said they would recommend Johnson City as an excellent place to live and/or retire.

“In summary, the perception of the community is that its safety and economy is getting better,” Peterson said.

Eighty percent of respondents favorably rated Johnson City as a place to raise children, while about 70 percent gave excellent or good ratings to the overall image and appearance and their neighborhood as a place to live.

About 80 percent of residents gave positive ratings to the overall feeling of safety in Johnson City, as well as to feelings of safety in their neighborhoods and in the city’s downtown/commercial area.

In general, residents were most pleased with the overall ease of travel and ease of travel by car, both of which were rated similarly to the national benchmark.

Residents were the least pleased with the ease of walking and ease of travel by bicycle, and these ratings were lower than elsewhere. Other relatively low-ranking categories include code enforcement, traffic signal timing, street repair and employment opportunities

All recreation, wellness, education and community engagement aspects were rated positively by a majority of residents and were similar to comparison communities. Several aspects trended upward from 2014 to 2016, including travel by bicycle, cost of living, the vibrant downtown/commercial area and the availability of affordable quality food.

More residents in 2016 said they voted in local elections, campaigned for an issue, cause or candidate, attended a city-sponsored event and expected the economy would have a positive impact on their income in the coming six months.

About three-quarters of residents were pleased with the customer service provided by Johnson City employees. About 60 percent gave positive ratings to the value of services for taxes paid, the overall direction the city was taking and the government acting in the best interest of Johnson City.

City commissioners began what will end up being a six-month journey through immeasurable paperwork, presentations and rows and columns with citizen feedback. Recall, citizen concerns were cited as a big reason for past tax increases to provide more money for street and road repair.

“I was reading that,” Commissioner Joe Wise jokingly told Peterson as the latter quickly rolled to another page of numbers on a large screen in an effort to complete a first run through the material.

Some points to ponder include a potential $24 million expense to either create more space for police and public safety at the Municipal & Safety Building, or move city offices out and build a new city hall.

Facility improvements, including another fire station, Freedom Hall improvements and a new Johnson City Public Library roof are among a separate “facilities” category which amounts to more than $30 million.

This was the initial plunge into the capital projects needs list, which includes money for the new West Walnut Street District. But as is true with many other projects, commissioners must decide how much to spend and when to proceed.

The $500,000 lighting replacement at TVA Credit Union Ballpark, for example, is a commitment the city made when in signed a 10-year lease agreement with Boyd Sports to manage the Johnson City Cardinals. Currently, the expense is penciled in for 2022, but that may change.

Email Gary Gray at [email protected]. Like Gary B. Gray on Facebook at www.facebook.com/garybgrayjcp. Follow him on Twitter @ggrayjcpress.

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