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Knox Commission goes on 'spending spree' with surplus revenue

5:56 PM, Aug 26, 2013   |    comments
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By Mike Donila, WBIR 

The Knox County Commission on Monday unanimously approved a $3.7 million governmental shopping list with more than half of it targeted for health care, employee raises, new patrol cars, software upgrades and service contracts.

The money will come from some $7.6 million in surplus revenues the county is expected to reap when it closes the books on the recently wrapped up fiscal year.

"It's all one-time money, so it should only be used for one-time expenses," said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, whose office, along with the county's finance department, put together the designations. "We're not Washington where we're going to start putting this toward recurring expenses. But these are items that are good for the county."

Commissioner Ed Shouse agreed.

"As long as it's one-time money, then I'm fine with it because we can't always plan on having a big surplus," he said.

Of the overall $7.6 million in additional revenues, officials plan to allocate $2 million for the reserves and another $1.9 million for additional health insurance coverage; risk management areas, like worker's compensation; and air quality matters.

The remaining $3.7 million will pay for the designations approved Monday. Of that money, just under two-thirds was set aside for public safety and the health department.

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

"What we're asking for - these aren't luxury items," said Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones. "They're a necessity."

Commissioner Brad Anders added: "Some of the stuff on the list makes a difference and is going to save lives."

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:
• $600,000 in contracts with the Knoxville Zoo, YMCA, McClung Museum and Senior Citizens Home Assistance Service
• $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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