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New Knox County budget reaches $1 billion level, funds KCS requests and features no tax increase

Mayor Jacobs presented his proposed 2023/24 spending plan Monday morning to Knox County Commission.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Mayor Glenn Jacobs' proposed budget for the county shows $1 billion in planned spending, no tax increase and may foreshadow a standoff with Sheriff Tom Spangler over pay increases.

Jacobs presented the plan, his first since being reelected in August, on Monday before Knox County Commission in the City-County Building.

To the surprise of no one, there's no request for a tax increase. The budget reaches the $1 billion mark for the first time in county history; it was inevitable under spending and revenue trends.

It also includes Knox County Schools' requested general purpose budget of about $660 million. The schools budget routinely makes up about two-thirds of every annual county budget.

Jacobs' spending plan features no flashy additions, no major initiatives, no big hiring.

Spangler asked for $95.9 million for patrol. The Mayor's Office proposes giving him $84.7 million, documents show.

The sheriff wanted to boost pay for captains and below by 30 percent. He also offered to close out 58 vacant mostly corrections positions, according to the Mayor's Office.

Spangler told WBIR this spring he wanted to offer a starting salary of $50,000 for uniformed personnel.

If Spangler persists in asking for what he wants, the county could be in for a court fight. The sheriff could file what's called a salary suit, asking the court to intervene and approve his spending request.

Spangler released a statement regarding the budget: 

"Although Mayor Jacobs's budget address didn't come as a surprise, it was disheartening nonetheless. We are at a critical juncture in Law Enforcement in Knox County. The safety of our citizens, the schools we protect, and our officers are at risk. If we aren't paying a competitive wage for a job that could require an officer to sacrifice their own life, ultimately, we are placing everyone in grave danger.

Our surrounding sister agencies pay more; we must become competitive to recruit and retain experienced officers. With approximately 140 veteran officers eligible to retire in the coming year, the time to act is now. The safety of our citizens depends on it.

I've requested a 30% increase for our Law Enforcement and Corrections Captain and below. A 10% for our Chiefs and a 5% for our civilian employees who play a crucial role in assisting our officers in their day-to-day functions.

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office has lagged in competitive pay for far too long, and we are now seeing the results of that with countless experienced officers leaving for other agencies that pay a livable wage.

I appreciate the Mayor’s offer of 8%. Still, as the Top Law Enforcement Officer in this county overseeing the third largest county in the state of Tennessee I could not in good conscience accept this knowing it would not come close to closing the current pay gap and therefore leave our citizens and our Officers vulnerable."

The overall county budget represents a $90 million increase from the current plan. Of that increase, $69 million is going to the school system.

Highlights in Jacobs' budget include:

*3 percent raises across the board for county employees

*The general fund is at $217 million, up from $204 million.

*The paving budget will rise to about $7 million, boosted 12 percent by an injection of state road money.

*Knox County has seen an obvious bump in hotel/motel tax revenue for increased visitor traffic. It's currently about $9 million and is forecast conservatively to go up to $10.5 million. It could go even higher, Chris Caldwell, the county's director of finance said. The county will tap that fund to cover its share of debt service contributions -- perhaps $800,000 annually -- starting in 2025 for the new downtown stadium.

*The capital budget, which is set aside for building projects, includes $10 million for a new Regional Forensic Center. The state also would kick in $20 million. The center's current site off Concord Road is in a primarily residential area and has outgrown its space.

One possible place for a new center is in the Cherokee Farms development east of University of Tennessee Medical Center along Fort Loudoun Lake.

*Future capital budgets envision hefty allotments for Advance Knox infrastructure improvements. Advance Knox is the growth plan that's being debated right now in the community as the county figures out how it wants to plan for growth and demand for services.

*Property taxes, a key component of the county budget, are projected to be $295 million in the coming year. Sale tax collections are expected to be $249 million.

*Adjusted for inflation, the proposed county budget represents about a 5 percent increase.

Credit: Knox County
Knox County's current general fund allotment.

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