The Daily Pulse:

County Budget Mostly the Same as Last Year's, but Schools Might Not Get What They Want

It seems the Knox County Schools budget adopted by the school board might not be the actual operating budget this fiscal year. County Mayor Tim Burchett proposed a budget yesterday that allots about $4 million less to the school system than requested. The School Board of Education adopted a budget that called for $432 million.


Before the mayor's budget presentation, schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre jokingly told Burchett that "if you hear a sonic boom, that's not me!" McIntyre said after the presentation he didn't have any expectations going in this morning, but said he'd have to "sort through the details and see what the implications might be," since there's a discrepancy in how much the School Board approved for the schools' budget, and how much Burchett proposed.


"This is one step in a multi-step process, and we look forward to continuing the conversation about the importance in investment in our community, and I look forward to the conversation with County Commission," McIntyre said. "We have extraordinary educators in Knox County Schools. They're doing a wonderful job providing great instruction to our kids. We're seeing strong results from our kids, and I think we need to recognize the great work that they're doing, and invest in the people, in our kids, and our community."


County Commissioner Tony Norman said he was disappointed that the mayor essentially agreed to continue funding the school system's incentive pay plan and the evaluation system.


"Basically, I need to go through their budget a little more closely," Norman said. "I don't think [those initiatives] have been fruitful. Those are places where we're still trying to get some movement."


But Commissioner Sam McKenzie said the whole budget was rather "uninspiring."


"It's what I expected," McKenzie said, but "I really wish we would make bold steps in education and economic development."


Burchett emphasized the fact that the county was able to expand and/or improve its services over the last fiscal year without any tax increases, which he said would continue, and pointed to the opening of the county's newest senior center in Karns (by the end of the fiscal year), the launch (today) of the Health Department's new electronic medical records-keeping system, the opening of the Knox County Regional Forensic Center by the end of the year, and the county's veterans service office as examples.


The county's total budget grew by 2 percent this year ($15.1 million) to $729,914,278, and nearly two-thirds of that total budget was allotted to the school system. But the Knox County Sheriff's Office also received an increase in funds (about $2 million) to a total of $77.5 million. Plus, part of the county's capital improvement plan includes money for 30 new vehicles for the sheriff's office, and technology and security upgrades.


The rest of the general fund budget remains pretty similar to what it has been. Burchett said it was "only appropriate, given lackluster revenue collections statewide during the current fiscal year."


Other highlights of Burchett's budget include:


-$1 million toward "economic development agencies," though they include existing non-profits in Knox County, and not just new efforts to recruit businesses and workers


-$375,000 for the Arts and Culture Alliance of Greater Knoxville (which comes from the hotel/motel tax fund)


- The Knoxville Zoo, the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum, and the Beck Cultural Exchange Center will receive $25,000 each; Legacy Parks will receive $50,000; the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame will get $150,000, which will also come from the hotel/motel tax fund


-Visit Knoxville will receive the lion's share of the hotel/motel tax fund ($2.26 million, to be exact)


-Burchett's capital improvement plan gives $2 million to the library and parks systems for maintenance and improvements, including the development of Plumb Creek Park and the completion of Clayton Park; $5 million for the second phase of the Ball Camp Drive project; and $750,000 for the upgrade and expansion of the Carter Convenience Center.



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