The Daily Pulse:

Mayor Proposes $295.8 Million City Budget

Mayor Madeline Rogero announced her proposed budget of $295.8 million this afternoon in front of Mead's Quarry at Ijams Nature Center. 

After much pomp and circumstance (including a singing of the national anthem, bicyclists, and some zoo animals), emcee/Vice Mayor Nick Pavlis turned the show over to Rogero.

"I have to, again, thank voters for putting their trust in me," Rogero said as she began her speech. "I love my job!"

After reviewing major events of the past year (highlights included city pension reform, being a finalist in the Bloomberg Mayors' Challenge, the opening of the entrepreneur center downtown, and the Brookings Institute's pronunciation that Knoxville is out of the recession), Rogero got down to business. 

Rogero would increasethe general fund by 1.45 percent from last year's budget to $183.2. And that, she said, could be done without a tax increase. But though that fund would see an increase, Rogero is proposing the city invest $1.6 million into the pension fund, which would bring total city contributions to $15.9 million. Despite the pension increase, Rogero proposed a 2.5 percent salary increase for all city employees.

Public safety will receive the bulk of the budget--that goes to police and fire services. There will be a new police academy and technology upgrades for the fire department.

The proposal has the city continuing its commitment of $8 million to the redevelopment of the Walter P. Taylor housing project by pledging $800,000 to KCDC. 

"The new housing model is very important to the vitality of the neighborhood and the safety of residents," they mayor said of the new single-family and duplexes that are replacing the old model.

The mayor proposed creating a new plan to address homelessness in Knoxville which would build on what was learned from the ten-year plan.

Residents should be on the lookout for some significant improvements if the city council approves a few of the mayor's proposals.

Of the $1.8 million Rogero proposed for sidewalk and crosswalk work, $550,000 would be used for new sidewalk construction. The mayor specifically referred to Pleasant Ridge Roads need for a sidewalk so that kids can walk to school safely. Rogero also proposed dedicated $500,000 to match a grant for and advanced traffic management system to improve "those long lights that never seem to change,"

Regular purveyors of transportation other than cars got some good news. Rogero proposed $60,000 be put toward bicycle infrastructure improvements, and suggested hiring an alternative transportation coordinator in the city's engineering department, who would bring expertise in designing streets that give more consideration to pedestrians, cyclists, and mass transit. The mayor also proposed contributing $170,000 to a public-private partnership that would attract more low-fare flight service to McGhee Tyson Airport, which will help attract more business to the city.

But the mayor also proposed four new capital projects, which would issue $31.4 million in debt for the first time since 2004. 

"We are already comitted to these projects," Rogero said. 

And indeed, the first and largest project she wants to fund is the new public works facility. The design of the new complex was funded in last year's budget, and now it needs to be built.  The new building will be energy efficient, provide a centralized place of operation, and will house equipment that's currently "exposed to the elements." 

"[The building] will bring 50 years of use," Rogero said. 

The Knoxville Zoo receives $10 million under this proposal. It's aiming to become a national leader in species conservation (one mentioned was the Malayan tiger! Save the tigers!). Rogero said the zoo's goals could be achieved by smaller contributions over the years, but the $10 million right away "will make a more rapid return on investment." 

Rogero proposed contributing $5.2 million to the new 61-acre Lakeshore Park. In order to make it a park and not a medical complex, several buildings need to be demolished. 

The last capital project Rogero proposed was $1.2 million to fix up Prosser Rd. near Chilhowee Park. That project, like the others, is already under way, and "this [investment] will allow us to complete the project." 

"The budget I've presented today is balanced," Rogero said. "Great cities plan ahead. Great cities respect their citizens."

The city council will vote on whether to approve the budget in May, and have hearings on the budget May 21-22. Stay tuned for more info on some of the proposed projects.

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