Burchett faces 'tight' budget, says 'no' to increases

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett needs an additional $19 million to cover everything the executive branch department heads and other elected leaders have so far requested in his proposed upcoming budget.

And that doesn't include any money the school system needs to close a $9 million gap in order to maintain its current level of services.

The mayor, however, says "he doesn't see it happening."

"The title of this budget is 'There will be no government growth,'" Burchett said. "We want to maintain the level of funding we have for things that are important . . . and I'm not looking to cut departments, but I'm not looking to increasing them, either."

Burchett will publicly unveil what he called a "tight" budget on May 1.

He said "everything is on the table except for a property tax increase." He added that he doesn't expect to give employees a raise this year and that "layoffs are on the table, but they're very undesirable."

"I like using attrition, but that doesn't always work out because you can't plan on it short term," he added.

The county finance department in January began seeking requests from each of the 45 or so county departments. Since then, officials have gone back and forth, looking for a compromise based on overall revenue projections.

At this point, county Finance Director Chris Caldwell says officials have asked for a combined $176 million in spending while the county expects to bring in combined revenues of $157 million to cover the general fund, which finances much of the day-to-day operations.

"We still have a lot of work to do," Caldwell said. "We're analyzing revenues line by line and we'll do that probably four or five times."

Caldwell said some of the proposed increases come from the overall cost of doing business, but "a lot of it would cover capital," like equipment or major projects.

A big chunk of the additional proposed spending also comes from the Knox County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones asked the mayor to give his workers raises – a 3 percent bump as well as a one-step increase – that will cost an overall $3.5 million.

He also asked for 55 new patrol cars, four animal control vans and a transportation van for the jail, all which would cost a combined $2.2 million.

In addition, Allison Rogers, the sheriff's office finance director, said the department is requesting a roughly $700,000 bump to cover increasing costs for inmate food and medical supplies, and fuel for patrol.

The current budget, which runs through June 30, was approved at an overall $734.5 million, with about $419.8 million put toward the school system. The general fund was approved for $161.5 million – up about 5.3 percent from the previous year.

Officials acknowledge that the Fiscal Year 2015 budget will experience some natural increase, but they don't expect it to jump too high.

Although property tax collections are up about $7.1 million, sales tax revenues are down roughly $10 million compared to this time last year.

County officials also say they don't plan on tapping into the county's $51.5 million reserve fund to pay for any increases.

"We're saving the reserves for a natural disaster," the mayor said. "I don't want to have to wait on the federal government to come rolling in six months after the fact."

The Knox County school system will complete its budget proposal by the end of the month. Then Burchett will incorporate it into his own plan before turning it over to the Knox County Commission for final approval.

"I don't expect anything earth shattering," said Commission Chairman Brad Anders. "This is the tightest year we've had under Burchett. "But we'll see how it rolls."


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