Transcript of Mayor Daniel Brown's speech on the proposed budget
City of Knoxville's fiscal year 2011-2012
April 21, 2011
Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum
Good afternoon, thank you for joining us on this, another beautiful day in Knoxville. Mr. Walker, what a terrific job on the Anthem. Thanks, Vice Mayor Bailey for the introduction and Reverend McNair for the invocation. And a big thank you to Girl Scout Troop 20525 for leading the Pledge of Allegiance.
I really appreciate Vice Mayor Joe Bailey's agreeing to emcee this event. Joe is not the first member of his family to serve on Council. His father, Ed, served from 1983 to 1995. I am very pleased to announce that we are going to honor Ed Bailey by naming the City's Men's Baseball League the Ed Bailey Baseball League. I cannot think of a more fitting tribute. As most of you know, Ed played major league baseball – in fact he was in the major leagues longer than he served on Council. And he was a great player. In 1956, playing for the Cincinnati Reds, he was the starting catcher for the national league in the all star game. Thanks Joe, for your service, and for that of your father.
We are pleased to be here at the Knoxville Botanical Gardens. It has been great to hold this event in areas in every part of our city. This park, in the heart of the sixth district, represents so much of what we love about Knoxville. – It is inclusive; it has great natural beauty; it has a great history.
We all stand on the shoulders of those who served before us. I want to take a minute to mention some very special folks who served as sixth district council members ---- Theotis Robinson, Casey Jones, William Powell, Danny Mayfield, Raleigh Winn, Mark Brown, and Bob Booker.
I also wish to recognize the Dr. Lula Powell and Annie Jones, two special women who were married to Bill Powell and Casey Jones, who are no longer with us. Thanks to all of you. Your service and wisdom has been an inspiration to me.
I am particularly proud to be here because, as I often have to remind some folks, I serve wearing two hats – mayor and sixth district councilman. I am happy to be here as councilman, but I am speaking to you today as mayor. Today I will present my administration's budget to council and to the public. This is one of the most important things that mayors do. Former mayor Victor Ashe, our longest serving mayor, is here today. I want to thank him for his service and the great work he did in helping Knoxville become the city that I have the great privilege to lead.
My friend and colleague Mayor Tim Burchett is here, and I want to recognize him. It is so important that the city and county mayors work effectively together. Tim and I, along with our staffs, have a very good working relationship. While we know that we may not always agree, we know that we will always work from positions of mutual respect. Mayor Burchett, thanks for coming today.
Mayor Burchett and I are both presenting our first budgets this spring. We both face budgetary challenges. But we are not alone. Cities and counties all over the country find themselves very short on funds with a long list of deserving projects. Our job is to make difficult choices. The budget we have prepared summarizes these choices.
I want to thank our Governor, Bill Haslam, who stood up here seven times to tell you about the state of the city and our prospects. Thanks to a commitment to responsible budgeting, he left us a city in good shape, with great employees and a real culture of working together. Today, I am continuing that commitment to responsible budgeting.
[Governing in Uncertain Times]
These have been hard times for many in our city. While things look to be getting better many among us are still struggling. We are concerned that we have not seen an upswing in new development, and without that growth we are very concerned that our existing residents and businesses may have to pick up more and more of the cost of keeping our city safe and our neighborhoods strong.
The budget I present today is a budget that is cautious in its outlook. It has to be, due to escalating costs such as those for fuel, KAT, an expanded trolley system, increases in employee compensation, pressures on our pension, and other contractual obligations.
Our budget adds to our commitment to the neighborhoods, including those in the core of the city, and maintains our investments in infrastructure. It does so without adding to the burden born by our residents or our businesses. This budget does not include a tax increase.
This budget also keeps our fund balance at a very strong, healthy level. It does not pass the burden of present decisions to future taxpayers. It protects our bond ratings – the highest they have ever been. Moreover, it gives us the flexibility to deal with unforeseen problems and challenges.
Make no mistake, however. The budget that I present today, while cautious in its approach, continues our strong investment in every area of Knoxville. It keeps us moving toward where we all want to be as a city.
[Our Employees: Making the City Work]
I have only been mayor for a few months. I have to say that I have learned a lot. One of my greatest lessons has been that our employees work very hard and do a very good job. In addition to the challenges they face everyday, I have seen our fire department respond quickly and respond well to the challenge of an apartment fire. I have seen our police department handle difficult situations with professionalism and sensitivity. I have watched our public service workers tackle the challenge of ice and snow and flooding, all while keeping up with all their other tasks.
I have seen our departments work together without regard for who gets the credit. When our special events folks put on a great event, or support a great event, they do so by working with people from throughout city government – from police to fire to public service to engineering. They do so by working with folks from outside government, whether it is AC Entertainment, Dogwood Arts, or the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Authority.
Last year we on Council voted to provide funds to make sure that we fully implemented the third year of the Mercer study. This assures that our employees are fairly compensated at the levels of their peers. The budget that I present today again fully supports our employees. It provides a two and one half percent salary increase.
We have never missed a beat in providing these increases. I think it is safe to say that very few cities, states, or counties can point to such consistent support of their employees. Furthermore, there are no layoffs in this budget. We are realizing some savings by eliminating some presently unfilled budgeted positions, but we are not going to balance this budget by asking anyone to step aside.
We are also fully funding new classes for the Police and Fire Departments. It is a top priority to fully fund Fire and Police and to compensate our employees fairly.
The pension is of great concern to us all. I am recommending an increase of 2 million dollars in our contribution to the pension fund. This amount, which assures that the pension fund is actuarially sound, brings our annual contribution to over 11 million dollars. When compared to last year, this year's increase, along with that going to the two and one half percent raise, commits approximately 4 million additional dollars to employees.
[A New Service for our Neighborhoods: Recycling]
We have concentrated a lot on sustainability. Mayor Haslam and the previous Council took steps to insure that we took that approach and those of us who have since come aboard have kept this commitment. We have a responsibility for our care of the environment, and we take that seriously. Fortunately our environmental stewardship is aligned with our stewardship of fiscal resources. We know that the money saved will be left to our successors.
We are now well into implementation of our contract to update city facilities. We appreciate Council's joining the administration in investing one-time current dollars to cut back on long term, recurring expenses to heat and cool our city buildings. All of this will save taxpayers substantial dollars year after year, providing a tremendous return on our investment.
Just yesterday we closed out our participation in the solar cities program. We have solar panels on our transit center and our convention center. The industry standard for energy efficiency is "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" or LEED. We have taken a leadership role in LEED certification – with our transit center and convention center as well as with LEED certified homes constructed on Chestnut Street.
Energy conservation just makes good sense! It does very little good to help folks get into a home and be able to afford the payments if they have to write large checks to pay to heat and cool their homes. I am very proud that the City has played, and will continue to play, a major role in conserving energy and resources.
In this year's budget single stream recycling will be provided at no cost to folks in neighborhoods all over the city. This has been a priority of the energy and sustainability task force, which wrapped up its work at the end of 2010. The effort has been aided by a grant which will pay for over 10,000 containers. Our plan is to begin curbside pickup in October.
The implementation of the curbside recycling is being led by David Brace in public service, with assistance from staff in finance and in policy and communications. They have worked hard to minimize these costs and offer a good service. Simply put, much of what we throw away can be put to productive use. The time has come for us to move forward to conserve our natural resources and to keep from filling up our landfills.
Recycling is the right thing to do and this is the right time to take the first step. Our approach will let us move forward without any added net costs. This reflects our philosophy that we should use one-time funds for non-recurring costs, in this case, the large investment for the initial deployment of recycling bins, while keeping operating costs within manageable levels. We will further control costs by implementing changes to our solid waste system and correcting some long standing inequities regarding back door service.
[More Investments in our Neighborhoods]
We are continuing, and building upon, the investments we have consistently made in our neighborhoods. This budget contains an expanded set of services and projects and infrastructure all over the city.
We are recommending a small increase in the City's paving program. We are also continuing our tree planting efforts after an in depth effort to catalog our needs through a tree census. We are also increasing our investments in sidewalks through providing badly needed, accessible, curb cuts. We are also recommending further work on the sidewalk project along Gallaher View Road.
The city is cooperating with Legacy Parks to build upon the great potential of South Knoxville. We are recommending funding for a set of nature trails on the south side of the river. I am also recommending the funding for quarry improvements at Fort Dickerson. South Knoxville's natural beauty is a largely untapped resource that can help define the area for its residents and visitors.
Our zoo draws visitors to our city and also provides a great experience for our own schoolchildren. It is one of our greatest assets. I am recommending additional capital dollars for the Knoxville Zoo. In addition we are funding renovation of the bandstand, one of the historical structures at Chilhowee Park.
We also have to deal with the unexpected. Just weeks ago we experienced serious flooding around the city. While the water was quick to subside in most of the city, it remained for a very long time in the Prosser Road area. This budget contains $500,000 for work to deal with this drainage challenge.
These infrastructure projects, while not as exciting as some, are critical to the environmental health of nearby neighborhoods and businesses. We always must recognize that our infrastructure is old and our environment is fragile. It is imperative that we keep the budgetary flexibility to deal with the unexpected.
[Continuing to Invest Wisely]
I want to make clear that we are continuing all the day-to-day work of governing our city. We will continue to provide basic services at the same high level. We will continue to use 311 to provide the best service in the most efficient manner and to respond quickly and effectively to our citizens.
We are also continuing with our efforts in the core of the city. We have been particularly pleased with the progress downtown and in the Downtown North area. Despite the troubled economy we have seen continued investment in both areas providing real strength to the future tax base. I am recommending more funds to help the revitalization of the Downtown North area, in particular, the Central Avenue, Gay St. corridor connecting downtown to the neighborhoods to the North. We are also moving forward with Cumberland Avenue, long an underdeveloped resource for the UT area and for the city core.
I am recommending $800,000 to the future of Walter P. Taylor Homes. While federal funding has become problematic of late, I am absolutely committed to the Five Points area. We are very pleased to work with our housing and development partners at KCDC in reconfiguring Walter P. Taylor.
This builds on the investments we have supported in our housing programs. The Five Points area is absolutely critical to the health of the surrounding neighborhoods and I am committed to its vitality.
Our budget also fulfils a promise to those in the Lonsdale area. I am recommending $200,000 for an enhanced recreation and community center. And we will continue our work on chronic problem and blighted properties in every area of the city.
This is my first and last budget as mayor. I have loved the opportunity to serve my city while I serve my district. I am the first to take on this dual role and have really appreciated the opportunity. I am very grateful to those who have supported me during this time.
As I close today I want to address what in many ways is our greatest continuing challenge – maintaining a heightened sense of community and a respect for civility and open dialog. We do not always agree. We are here to resolve differences and make the best decisions on behalf of all our citizens. Our diversity reflects that of our city. Our diversity is our strength.
Our citizens expect that we go through the proper process of making decisions. Folks on this Council have set a good example, and as we get ready to approve the budget, it is critical that those of us entrusted with the responsibility of governing do so with respect for those who will follow. We will have a new mayor and four new council members before the year ends. I will be continuing on Council as well. I am looking forward to helping to make the transition to the next administration as smooth as possible.
Finally, I also want to note that four of my colleagues are in their last term as council members. They have helped write a history of good, sound government, government done right and government that has earned the public's trust.
I know you all will want to join me in thanking our three at-large council members – Vice Mayor Bailey, Councilwoman Roddy, and Councilman Woodhull, along with fifth district Councilman Charles Thomas. The at-large members are our longest serving, while Mr. Thomas has not been with us long. They will be leaving Council at the end of the year. It has been an honor serving with all of you, as it is an honor to serve alongside continuing Council members Grieve, DellaVolpe, Palmer, and Pavlis.
I appreciate the folks at the Botanical Garden for hosting us today. Thank you very much for coming and have a safe trip home.