Knox Co budget vote expected June 15

Knox County Commission on Tuesday is expected to vote to hold a special called meeting in June to approve the 2015-16 Knox County Budget.

We’ve reported on the budget extensively – but the gist is this: no new taxes, and not much else, especially for building new schools.

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No new taxes: Rogero’s proposal for 2015-16 Knoxville budget is released

Bike trails, Magnolia corridor work and a planner for the former McClung warehouses site on Jackson are among the things that pop out initially.

Lots of sprucing up the place in the coming year’s budget, along with money for this or that community organization. No tax increase is apparent – at least from the release – which is really all anybody cares about across the board. Otherwise, a few neighborhoods will likely be pleased with what happens here or there.

Oh, and that administrative building at Lakeshore – which may not be all that headline-grabbing, but it seems useful for the people who use and keep the park.

Be sure to check out Megan Boehnke’s reporting on the state of the city address. Her Until then, here’s her Twitter feed

From city news a release:

In her State of the City Address today, Mayor Madeline Rogero presented a proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2015-16 that includes increased funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, parks and greenways, and youth development initiatives. It also includes continued support for economic development, blight abatement, center city redevelopment and historic preservation.

The proposed General Fund budget of $206.37 million is an increase of $5.87 million (or 2.93 percent) from the current year’s budget. The total proposed Net Budget, which includes debt service and capital spending, is $289.59 million, an increase of $5.14 million (or 1.81 percent) from the current year.

No tax increase is proposed.

“This is a responsible, strategic budget that will allow us to continue to invest in our neighborhoods and maintain the great momentum we are seeing downtown and across Knoxville,” Mayor Rogero said. “It supports economic development, public safety, and vital initiatives to provide opportunities and resources for young people in our most vulnerable communities.”

The proposed budget will next go to City Council for consideration. Council is scheduled to hear it on first reading at its May 12 meeting, followed by public budget hearings on May 21, and second reading on May 26.

Among the spending proposals:

$3.03 million for sidewalks and crosswalks, an increase of $850,000 from the current year; this includes $750,000 for the sidewalk safety program for sidewalks within school Parental Responsibility Zones;

  • $1 million for bicycle infrastructure improvements to begin implementation of the Knoxville Bicycle Facilities Plan, an increase of $715,000 from the current year; also, $1 million for continued development of greenway corridors across Knoxville;
  • $2.1 million for the renovation and refurbishment of the historic Administration Building at Lakeshore Park, which the City received from the state in 2013;
    $200,000 for ball field and tennis court improvements in City parks; and $75,000 for improvements at Fort Dickerson Park;
  • Youth development initiatives including:

— $250,000 to assist Community Schools in center city neighborhoods, in collaboration with the Great Schools Partnership and Knox County Schools, an increase of $150,000 from the current year;

— $50,000 for the City’s Save Our Sons initiative to increase opportunities and reduce violence-related deaths among boys and young men of color;

— And an additional $100,000 capital grant to support the expansion of the Caswell Avenue campus of the Boys and Girls Club;

  • $500,000 to begin implementation of the Magnolia Avenue Streetscapes project;
  • $150,000 for a “master developer” for the City-owned properties on West Jackson Avenue (the former site of the McClung Warehouses), along with $150,000 for streetscape improvements on South Central Street and $50,000 for the Downtown Improvements fund;
  • $400,000 in economic development funding for the Innovation Valley regional initiative, along with funding for the Knoxville Chamber, $50,000 to support the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, and $30,000 for the Visit Knoxville Film Office;
  • $851,000 in new capital funding for the Knoxville Police Department for enhanced training facilities and law enforcement equipment;
  • A total of $1.1 million for blight abatement and historic preservation including: $300,000 to address chronic problem properties, $200,000 for blighted property acquisition, $100,000 for enforcement of the “demolition by neglect” ordinance and $500,000 to support historic preservation across the city;
  • $500,000 for commercial façade improvements;
  • $875,000 in grants to community agencies, including capital funding of $250,000 to the Helen Ross McNabb Center for development of a domestic violence shelter, and $250,000 for ADA improvements at the Knoxville Area Urban League;
  • And $375,000 in grants to local arts and cultural organizations, along with an additional $250,000 for the City’s public arts fund.

The budget includes a $1.4 million increase in the City’s contribution to the employee pension plan, bringing the total annual contribution to $24.8 million for normal obligations plus the amortization of the unfunded pension liability. It also includes a 2.5 percent cost-of-living salary increase for all employees.

The budget adds two new positions, a project manager in the Office of Redevelopment and a parking meter technician in Engineering, bringing the total proposed personnel to 1,601 full-time employees. This is still two fewer full-time employees than the 1,603 the City had 10 years ago.

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Knox County Commission Work Session – observations

Odds and ends from Monday’s Knox County Commission work session:

Commission Chairman Brad Anders, funny man – When Commissioner Amy Broyles asked to defer an item on preparedness for family safety, he quipped, “what, are you not prepared?”

Wakka wakka.

Mike Brown and the beer board – There’s a thick agenda for the county beer board next week, which meets at 4 p.m., before the regular commission meeting at 5 p.m. Given the dense agenda, Brown asked how that might impact the start of the commission meeting.

It’s important to note here that Brown was perhaps the most outspoken critic of moving the work session and regular meeting times from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“Are we going to run that right into the commission meeting?” he asked.

Anders was ready for that one.

“We’ll finish the beer board and then have the commission meeting,” he said.

So then, it looks like the meeting Brown opposed starting later will probably start even later next week.

That said, it’s worth noting that commission meeting have been much more swift since the evening meeting times began. Maybe folks want to get home for dinner. Maybe politicians are more chatty after lunch. Might there need to be a commission nap time before meetings? They already get snacks delivered to each meeting from Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones.

Three commissioners missed the work session Monday: Sam McKenzie, Bob Thomas and Jeff Ownby. All are in California for a pension workshop. It sounds like a junket, but it’s a couple days of pretty intense figures and training on the intricacies of the pension markets. Thomas said he planned to take a little personal time while there to visit his son, who lives in L.A. and is an actor.

You know those coupon books that Knox County Schools students sell? They’re the thick books with the Chick-fil-a coupon you rip out for the free sandwich, go use, and promptly forget under the detritus of your junk drawer. Those bring in a nice hunk o’ change – up to $1.7 million annually – for Knox County Schools. The contract needed Commission approval, so a Missouri-based company can print about 160,000 coupon books per year at a cost of almost $86,000.

An amendment to the peddlers license in Knox County looks like it’ll get Commission support next week. May as well print the language verbatim: “to give the County Clerk the authority to not issue a license to an applicant if there are any outstanding warrants against the applicant or if the applicant has been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude within the past ten (10) years; to revise portions of the procedure for obtaining a license in Section 12-29; and to amend Section 12-33 to authorize the County Clerk to suspend or revoke a license if it is discovered that there is an outstanding warrant against a license holder or a license holder has been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude within the past ten (10) years.”

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Traffic counts and The Strip: real figures

Reading recent stories about traffic along The Strip had me wondering: Is Cumberland Avenue really one of the most heavily-traveled streets in the city?

Nope. Not by a long shot. Here are 2013 traffic counts from the Knox TPO. And a few of the more well-known roads in the city, with their counts:

  • Cumberland, East of Alcoa Hwy: 36,399
  • N. Broadway, South of Woodrow Drive: 42,407
  • Lovell Rd. South of I-40: 39,537
  • Clinton Hwy, South of Old Clinton Hwy: 30,371
  • Middlebrook Pike, West of Mars Hill Road: 25,910
  • Western Ave., E. of 44th St.: 41,404

At one busy intersection with an artery to interstates, Cumberland is busy. So are the other roads listed above – which also happen to be counted at intersections near interstates.

But if you look at counts where the road narrowing is actually happening on Cumberland, a dramatically different picture emerges:

  • Between 17th and 18th streets: 18,825
  • Between 17th and 16th streets: 15,864*

Keep in mind that the narrowing will really be evident between 22nd and 17th streets. There doesn’t appear to be huge changes near Alcoa Hwy.

*And on the other end, the project tapers off between 17th and 16th streets.

Will the construction hurt businesses? Surely, in some part. Will it be ultimately beneficial? Far too soon to tell. Is the pedestrian-friendly work going to be on one of the more heavily-used pedestrian areas in the city? Absolutely. Here’s a comparison between The Strip and another well-known pedestrian area in Knoxville, downtown.

Potential boondoggle or not, it’s surely well-known in the community. And taken a while to get to fruition. Even had a couple stumbles out of the blocks. Here’s a history of public meetings dating back to 2006.

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Ed Shouse is back to work

Knox County taxman Trustee Ed Shouse is back to work, doing partial days, after surgery to remove his prostate a couple weeks ago.

“I’ve half a day today. And half, or two-thirds tomorrow,” Shouse said Tuesday. “It feels great to have everything behind me. I’m happy to move on with life.”

As one might guess, the prostate removal was from cancer discovered by his doctor.

But he’s in good health now.

“The prostate was completely removed and it was totally clean bill of health,” Shouse said. “My urologist said there was no problem around the margins, and everything was totally contained. About 5 percent of the prostate had cancer. It was very successful.”

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UPDATE: Bridge for Bearden?

City Councilwoman Brenda Palmer said that Commissioner Jeff Ownby’s drive for a pedestrian cross walk/bridge at Bearden Middle is politically driven.

Ownby said his intentions are pure.

Draw your own conclusions, but here’s another tidbit: Knox County Schools Board of Education 4th District representative Lynne Fugate said she’s heard nothing of any need for a pedestrian bridge. From a phone message left after yesterday’s school board meeting:

No parents have ever contacted me about the traffic or the crossing of students …

and I was on PTA at Bearden Middle School for a couple of years.

… we’re going to keep following this, of course. Stay tuned, as the broadcast set says.

Here’s a video from yesterday showing the school SRO doing his thing there. Four students crossed the road at the end of class.

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Dems elect party leadership in Knox Co

From a release:

Cameron Brooks-  Chair
Jackie Clay-  Vice- Chair
Shannon Webb-  Secretary
Emily Gregg-  Treasurer

Additionally, new members of the Board of Governors was elected-  Click HERE to see a listing of members.

Finally, below is a statement from new Chairperson Cameron Brooks, which was read at the convention.

I first want to thank you for electing me as your vice chair two years ago.  It has been a great labor of love working with all of you and I am greatly appreciative of the trust you put into me when electing me two years ago.  I am running for chair of the Knox county Democratic party because I want to bring my over ten years of experiences in organizing with the Communications Workers of America and other organizations to this important struggle- that of building our local democratic party.  I pledge to you to give 100% over these next two years to do exactly that.

We need to continue to build and strengthen our party- we’ve made progress over these past two years but much more work needs to be done.

We need to further strengthen our ties with labor unions and community based organizations that are part of our democratic constituency groups- whether they be environmental organizations, immigrant organizations, lgbt, women, and organizations fighting for affordable healthcare.  We need to be seen as the voice in the electoral arena for these causes.

By doing this, and standing for these issues, we’ll be a party that is a real democratic alternative,  something voters can be excited about!  Building our democratic brand is something important that we will devote time and energy to.

From now until the candidate filing deadline, we need to recruit candidates for county, state house, and state senate races in 2016.  We need good, qualified democratic candidates so voters will have real choices to make next year.  We will work with the TNDP and new chairperson Mary Mancini to achieve these goals.

We need to continue volunteer recruitment and base building-  Volunteers are the lifeblood of our party-  we need to recruit more volunteers and  build up our precinct organizations and get people involved in their communities.  Our 9 districts can lead the way in this important endeavor.

We need to hire a county field organizer to work on the 2016 county races-  staffing is very important for campaigns and is a critical area for success of any campaign.  This person will be involved in helping candidates fundraise, recruit volunteers, use votebuilder, and mobilize their volunteers through phone banking and door to door.

We need an increased focus on fundraising-  not only through Truman day, but through other events and also through email solicitation.  There is a ton of money that we leave on the table by not asking of folks to give.  We must change that and improve our fundraising apparatuses.

I pledge to you that I will work hard for you and I will also have an open door to everyone who has an idea or even a criticism.  We need all heart and minds to move forward.  We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.  Now is the time for us to roll up our sleeves and get involved.

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