Knox $3 million surplus wish list: Cruisers, health care, supplies

4:24 PM, Aug 6, 2013   |    comments
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(WBIR - Knoxville) Knox County officials have put together a shopping list for how they would like to spend what is expected to be as much as $6 million in surplus revenues, with roughly half the money targeted for health care, employee raises, new patrol cars and software upgrades.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said there's "nothing fancy" about the designations and noted that they are "basic needs" rather than "wants."

"I think the departments understand that I'm serious when I say that we need to be fiscally responsible," the mayor said. "They're not coming to me with outlandish proposals. They're coming to me with fiscally responsible ones, unlike what they're doing in Washington where the politicians continuously spend more money than they're taking in."

As it stands, the county's finance department on Tuesday said the general fund should get between $5 million and $6 million more than what officials projected last year when they put together the budget for fiscal year 2013, which ended in late June. The mayor's office has earmarked just under $3.1 million of the money for purchases, and expects to put the rest into the reserves.

The Knox County Commission will discuss the proposal during this month's meeting, and decide whether to approve the expenditures.

Commission Chairman Tony Norman said a number of officials already told board members about the requests, so he doesn't expect any surprises. However, he also doesn't want the list to grow, either.

"My hope is that the commission doesn't add to the designations based on their interpretation that we've got all this money that we can spend," he said. "That's not the case because (the surplus) helps us build the general fund for the purpose of the county's bond rating."

In addition, he said money is needed to supplement the county's health insurance reserve fund, which currently stands at a low $500,000.

"If we go on a spending spree with the surplus, we can't help the things that are very important to the financial stability of the county," Norman said.

Commission Vice Chairman R. Larry Smith agreed, adding that he'd like some money, if possible, to buffer current pension plan contributions and the rest placed in the reserves.

The administration designated more than two-thirds of the proposed surplus expenditures for public safety and the health department.

The Sheriff's Office is set to get $1 million to purchase about 30 patrol cars, and another $86,350 for emergency rescue and DNA testing supplies and equipment.

"The mayor understands that officers have to get to these calls in emergency situations," said Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones. "We need vehicles that are in good shape and can hold together, so we can provide help when we're called."

The sheriff added that a majority of the vehicles in the department's fleet have more than 100,000 "hard" miles on them.

The county also set aside $1 million to cover indigent care costs, something it was set to receive before Gov. Bill Haslam rejected the federal government's expansion of Medicaid, officials said. The administration also earmarked $166,250 in dental office and other upgrades, and Wi-Fi for the county's Health Department.

Other designations include:

  • $500,000 to cover employee raises that were tied to a salary survey the administration conducted earlier this year that said some 400 employees were underpaid compared to governments comparable to Knox County.
  • $170,700 for new software for a number of offices, including the property assessor, engineering and the Knoxville, Knox County, Knoxville Utilities Board Geographic Information System. The enhancements will provide more detailed mapping for the departments, according to Knox County Property Assessor Phil Ballard.
  • $70,000 to cover "additional supplies" for the parks and recreation department
  • $37,500 for office chairs in the criminal court clerk's office
  • $25,000 for lighting upgrades in the county clerk's office
  • $23,000 to hire a special project assistant in the community development department

The surplus is mostly a result of additional property and sales tax revenues, which are ahead of projections, as well as overall savings in the county's various departments, county Finance Director Chris Caldwell said.

Last year, the county's general fund received $8.7 million, and officials set aside all but $2.8 million of it for senior transportation, an elementary school reading program, pension contributions, new technology and fuel.

The school system, which anticipates a $10 million to $12 million surplus, discussed what it would do with its extra revenues in early May. At the time, the county's Board of Education agreed to set aside $11.4 million for textbooks, technology, maintenance and matching grant funds. The board agreed to use reserve funds to cover any difference.

Last year the school system realized a $14.1 million surplus, which it applied to school renovations and upgrades to the district's science labs and technology assessment.

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