Transcript of Mayor Madeline Rogero's speech on the proposed budget
City of Knoxville's fiscal year 2012-2013
April 27, 2012
Victor Ashe Park
Good afternoon. I want to thank all of you for joining us on this beautiful day in Knoxville.
Councilwoman Palmer, thank you for welcoming us to your district. I think you know that 31 ½ years ago, my first home in Knoxville was right here in District 3.
It was just a stone's throw away in the neighborhood that backs up to this park - and across the street from where my daughter Carmen and grandchildren live today. My son Damian started school at Pleasant Ridge Elementary.
Of course, this land was a farm back then. I had my first taste of Knoxville politics and neighborhood activism when my neighbors and I got involved in a land use issue with this property.
I attended my first MPC and city council meetings and we ultimately prevailed. I never dreamed that 3 decades later I would be Mayor and hold my first budget luncheon on this same spot now a beautiful park.
Vice Mayor Pavlis thank you for emceeing today and for the great leadership you demonstrate as our Vice Mayor.
Rabbi Schwartz, Captain Warwick, KPD Honor Guard, students of Northwest Middle School, and the Knoxville Community Band I am honored by your participation here today. Thanks for making this a special event in the life of our city.
Mayor Tim Burchett, thanks for joining me here today. We both know how important it is that the city and county administrations work together effectively. The Mayor and I, or our staff, confer with each other on just about a daily basis.
We have a very good working relationship and I know that we will always work from positions of mutual respect. Mayor Burchett, I look forward to your budget address next week.
I particularly want to thank our current City Council. I am fortunate to be working with such a committed and thoughtful group of public servants.
I appreciate all of the elected officials who have been recognized and are here today. And allow me to give a special 83rd birthday wish to former councilman Rex Davis who is with us.
Of course, I want to recognize my wonderful family who are here today my Mom and Dad, Anita and Jack Waugh, from Athens, TN; my daughters Carmen and Joan; and my brother-in-law Marvin who came all the way from Dayton, Ohio.
I am also honored that Mrs. Lois Kelly at the young age of 104 is here with us.
As Mayor of Knoxville, I am always aware that I follow those who have come before me and build on what they have already done. That's never been more clear than right here at Victor Ashe Park.
This great space is a fitting tribute to Ambassador Ashe's legacy of parks and greenways spread throughout our city, and to Councilwoman Palmer for her strong advocacy for this park's continued improvement.
There have been 67 mayors before me. Former mayors Randy Tyree and our longest serving mayor Victor Ashe are here today, along with mayor and councilman Dan Brown.
Governor Haslam is not here but I want him to know how very much I appreciate not only the opportunity to serve him as Community Development Director but also the great eight years we enjoyed under his stewardship as mayor.
Facing the Challenge and Keeping the Momentum
When I took the oath of office in December, I asked the question "what makes a great city?"
This document I am presenting today has the key elements of making a great city. It is a vision for the future that establishes priorities and provides a mechanism for delivering on those priorities.
First and foremost, we will make a great city by serving as good stewards of taxpayer money. And we will make a great city by continuing to invest in our infrastructure, invest in our neighborhoods, and honor our commitments to those who make it all work our employees.
We will ensure that those who lead our city in the future will inherit a city that is fiscally sound, with neighborhoods that are stronger than they are now, and a place where businesses grow and prosper.
This budget keeps our fund balance at a very strong and healthy level, well above the minimum guidelines established for fiscal health for a city of our size. It protects our bond ratings at the highest level they have ever been. Just this month all three ratings agencies reaffirmed these high ratings.
This General Fund budget of $180.5 million does not require a tax increase. In fact, when adjusted for the impact of inflation and countywide reappraisals, the tax rate of $2.46 is actually lower than it was ten years ago.
With fairly flat revenue growth and higher fixed costs, primarily due to salary and benefit adjustments, higher pension contributions, and escalating fuel prices, we are asking department directors to do more with less, and to find greater efficiencies while delivering exceptional services.
In 2006 Mayor Haslam commissioned a comprehensive compensation study, called the Mercer Plan, to ensure that city employees are paid competitively. To stay current, this budget provides a 2.5% salary increase and additional adjustments for certain fire department positions to meet Mercer benchmarks. There are no layoffs.
The budget includes a $2.2 million increase to the pension plan to keep it actuarially sound, thus bringing total budgeted pension contributions to $14.4 million.
Future year budgets will be impacted by a large and growing unfunded pension liability due to major investment losses during the recession. I am working with city council to prepare pension reform for the November ballot that will affect future employees. The goal is to reduce costs and market risk to the taxpayer while continuing to provide competitive benefits that ensure recruitment of qualified applicants and retention of trained and experienced employees.
I have recommended a hybrid pension plan for new employees that, while reducing retirement benefits, is still fair, ensures that we attract and retain the best employees, and greatly restricts future taxpayer exposure. Council is now considering my recommendation and determining how they wish to proceed.
Council and I inherited a financial challenge that we must work together to solve with the cooperation of city employees and the public.
Before the end of this current fiscal year, we will take an important step. I will ask Council to allocate $10 million from the city's fund balance to pay down on the unfunded pension liability.
This is an immediate commitment that addresses future funding challenges. We will take a substantial portion of our present fund balance and make a commitment to reduce future obligations.
Now let's turn back to the vision and strategies of this proposed budget. It centers on my goals of Strong, Safe Neighborhoods; Living Green and Working Green; An Energized Downtown; and Job Creation and Retention.
Strong, Safe Neighborhoods
Strong, safe neighborhoods depend first on public safety. As in the past, the largest part of the city budget is devoted to the operations of the Police and Fire Departments. We will invest in operations and capital projects that allow our uniformed officers to perform their duties well and protect our citizens.
Great neighborhoods need quality infrastructure that is free from blight. We will continue our vacant and blighted property efforts that focus on prevention, codes enforcement, acquisition, and appropriate re-use.
I am increasing funding for the acquisition of blighted properties that are put into the city's homemakers program and then sold to people who will return them to the tax base, making them assets rather than liabilities in our neighborhoods.
Council recently approved four ordinances that put more teeth into our enforcement of neighborhood codes against irresponsible property owners. I am funding an administrative hearing officer with the power to address violations of building and property maintenance codes and impose administrative fines.
For years the city has had a "demolition by neglect" ordinance on the books to protect historic properties but has not allocated resources to implement it. I am creating a fund that will allow the city to act to stabilize these historic properties and ensure that they are not condemned to destruction through the inaction of their owners.
We will continue to invest in affordable housing rehab, new housing construction, and other community development programs, though the federal funds that support much of this work are decreasing. I am budgeting the fourth year of a ten year commitment to provide matching funds to KCDC for the redevelopment of Walter P. Taylor Homes.
The successful Office of Neighborhoods will continue under the able leadership of our neighborhood coordinator, with guidance provided by the neighborhood advisory council. The demands of this one-person office have continued to increase. In order to meet the need for an additional part-time staff person, I am assigning a member of my own staff in the Mayor's office to provide part-time assistance.
How we address homelessness has a direct impact on human potential, city services, and neighborhood security. This budget continues to fund case management for clients in Minvilla and Flenniken permanent supportive housing units. We will also provide match funding to continue a very successful homelessness prevention program that provides case management at four KCDC high-rises.
Great neighborhoods have access to parks, greenways, and recreation. They safely accommodate pedestrians, bicycles, public transit, and vehicles.
This budget invests over $2.3 million in various park and recreational improvements including upgrades at the Dr. E. V. Davidson recreation center and Chilhowee Park, and the realignment of the entrance to Fort Dickerson Park in South Knoxville to increase accessibility and public safety.
Fort Dickerson is an historic and scenic jewel in our park system. It is a part of the 1,000-acre Urban Wilderness Corridor in south Knoxville that was envisioned and branded by Legacy Parks Foundation.
The Urban Wilderness contains ten city parks, nearly twenty miles of hiking and biking trails, three civil war forts, historic settlement sites, and diverse ecological features and recreational amenities. We are pleased to partner with Legacy Parks to preserve Knoxville's Urban Wilderness and to promote a new initiative called Outdoor Knoxville.
Earlier this year we partnered with Legacy Parks to open the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center at the previously vacant Gateway building. Outdoor Knoxville and its website OutdoorKnoxville.com focus on making East Tennessee the best place to play outdoors which, in turn, will drive the economic engine of outdoor recreation in our region.
This year I am recommending that we draw from funds already set aside for the South Waterfront to begin work on the Suttree - River Plains Park. This will provide a great amenity for both residents and visitors and add to the Urban Wilderness Corridor.
I am confident that this public investment will jump start private investment contiguous to the park and begin to fulfill the Vision Plan for the South Waterfront.
My administration will continue to invest in the expansion of our greenway system. This budget allocates funds for the extension of the First Creek Greenway from Woodland Avenue to Edgewood Park, and provides for ongoing greenway maintenance and improvements to our 65 miles of greenways and trails.
Sidewalks are another important amenity that add value to neighborhoods and increase public safety. We will invest $1.73 million for new construction and maintenance of sidewalks and crosswalks including the intersection on Sutherland Avenue across from the new UT athletic fields. We are very pleased to work with the University to enhance this area as a benefit to students and nearby businesses and residents.
Ongoing maintenance of city streets and bridges is critical. I am recommending full funding of the City's paving program and other road, alley, traffic signal, and bridge improvements that total $7.5 million.
I have budgeted $1.7 million to address various neighborhood drainage and water quality improvements, including flooding in the Cross Park Drive area.
Living Green and Working Green
My second goal is to be an environmentally friendly city a city that lives green and works green.
We are taking every opportunity to use best practices in engineering and construction, to minimize the city's energy use, and to incorporate sustainability methods in our work.
This budget funds the city's Office of Sustainability and two existing staff members. This office guides our comprehensive, sustainability efforts across all city departments and manages the implementation of the city's energy and sustainability work plan.
I am committed to expanding and managing our urban forest and have increased the tree planting budget by $10,000 for a total of $50,000. This budget includes a new position of Urban Forester to coordinate the city's urban management plan.
Long recommended by the city's Tree Board, the position was made possible when the directors of parks and recreation and public service eliminated two vacant positions to secure this valuable expertise.
Our Tennessee River is kept clean of debris through a partnership with the Fort Loudon Lake Association. Their staff has worked for years with aging equipment and no increase in funding. I have budgeted the purchase of a new boat so they can continue their environmental stewardship of our river and creeks.
This budget also reflects a full year of operations for the residential single-stream curbside recycling program.
Previous administrations have advanced plans to build a new Public Works complex to address existing obsolete and inefficient facilities. Property has been assembled. This budget provides funds for the next phase of planning and design.
A modern complex will be energy-efficient, allow for centralization of operations, and provide cover for valuable equipment and inventory that are now exposed to the elements. This is a long term investment that will greatly improve operations and working conditions for employees.
An Energized Downtown
My third goal is continuing the momentum of downtown. Downtown is an economic driver, bringing jobs, new investment, entrepreneurs, and increased sales tax and property tax revenue.
Last year Council approved funds to add a new parking level to the State Street garage. Implementation was delayed to re-assess the size of the expansion and the design. I have budgeted an additional $2.6 million to shore up the structure for future vertical expansion and to build a pedestrian walk over State Street for pedestrian safety and to reduce costly escalator maintenance.
We are going to keep downtown going strong and we are going to continue to build out to the core neighborhoods by re-investing along the commercial corridors in the heart of our city.
I have budgeted funds to improve the one remaining stretch of Gay Street that will fully connect downtown to the area now known as Downtown North. We will begin planning work to continue the next phase of redevelopment of the Magnolia Avenue warehouse district.
We are moving forward on Cumberland Avenue redevelopment. The transformation of the road and streetscape will start in 2013. We are already reaping rewards as new investment comes to the area due to our transformative plan, a plan built on a strong public process and stakeholder involvement.
Our success along Central and in Downtown North is exciting. It shows that strategic public investment can be a catalyst for significant private investment. Think of Ironwood Studios, Three Rivers Market, All Occasion Catering, and Relix Variety, just to name a few.
Moving from disinvestment to investment in the heart of the city creates economic opportunity and hope. The revitalized walkable corridors tie neighborhoods together and connect businesses to their customers. The increases in property and sales taxes fund services all over the city. This has worked downtown and north, and will continue to work east, west, and south.
Job Creation and Retention
My final goal is to promote jobs and business development. We work closely with the Chamber of Commerce and The Development Corporation to grow, expand, and recruit new businesses. I have budgeted for Innovation Valley and Chamber of Commerce economic development efforts.
This budget also funds our Office of Business Support and the Business Liaison whose job is to assist businesses and cut the red-tape in dealing with city hall.
We will continue investment in the Knoxville Zoo, an economic and tourism generator. And we will invest in 21 arts and cultural organizations because it's good for the heart and soul of Knoxville and because they are also economic generators.
Conclusion: Keeping Our City Great
So, what makes a great city? I believe it includes a focus on strong, safe neighborhoods; living green and working green; an energized downtown; and job creation and retention. These goals are key elements of a great city and this budget will help us get there.
We have real challenges and difficult decisions to make this year and the years ahead. But we also have great opportunities and I have outlined them today. We will find the right path and we will find it the right way.
I know firsthand that great cities have great employees. Please help me thank my senior director of finance Jim York for his commitment to fiscal soundness and to prudent investment in the opportunities that make us a great city.
I also want to recognize all of the city employees who helped make this event a success.
Great cities plan ahead. Great cities squarely face their problems. Great cities respect all of their citizens.
And remember what I said at my inauguration, it's not just what makes a great city, but who makes a great city. And the answer is
.we all do.
May God bless each of you and our great city.