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2019 State of the City

Prepared Speech of Mayor Madeline Rogero's State of the City Address

Proposed Budget for City of Knoxville's Fiscal Year 2019-2020

April 26, 2019

At the future site of Knoxville's Urban Wilderness Gateway Park located at the terminus of James White Parkway

Mayor Rogero presents State of City Address View Photo Gallery on Facebook

Mayor's State of the City on Community Television of Knoxville

Good afternoon!  Thank you all for being here at this very special place – the future site of the urban wilderness gateway park.  I’ll tell you more about this special place later in my remarks.

Thank you, Vice Mayor Saunders, Councilwoman Welch, and our entire City Council. It is a pleasure to work with all of you.  Knoxville has truly benefited from your progressive leadership.  

I want to thank Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs for being here.  I have enjoyed working with you these past eight months, and I appreciate the great cooperation and coordination among our administrations. And, by the way, I understand it is your birthday today.  Happy Birthday, Mayor!

Many individuals have contributed to this very special day, and I am grateful to them:

• Reverend Harold Middlebrook
• the KPD Honor Guard
• the students from Dogwood Elementary
• the choir from the Italian opera Cavalleria Rusticana
• our city Poet Laureate Marilyn Kallet,
• the Knoxville Fire Department who always brings the massive United States flag
• and all those listed in your program who have made this event possible

I want to recognize my family members who are here today. My husband Gene, two of our children: Carmen and Joan; and two of our 8 grandchildren: Jada and Silas.

We are especially excited that my mother Anita Waugh is here today! She will be 92 years old in three months.  Mom has always been my biggest supporter!  Thank you to all my family for your love and support.


This is always a special day in the life of our City when we come together to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to go.  It’s also the day when I present my proposed budget for the next fiscal year.  The budget is not just a financial document – it is also a policy document and a strategic plan for achieving our goals.

This is my eighth and final budget to present to you.  A new mayor and 4 new council members will take office on December 21st.  I want to recognize the council members who will also be term-limited in December:  Vice Mayor Finbarr Saunders, Marshall Stair, George Wallace, and Mark Campen.  Thank you for your service to our City.

Though we still have a lot to accomplish before our terms are up, my staff and I are already gearing up for a smooth transition.  We will hand the next Mayor and Council a City with forward momentum, in strong financial health, with an excellent workforce and top-notch services in place.


The two most basic functions of any city are public safety and public services.  This is reflected in the annual budget – with the Police, Fire, and Public Service Departments having the largest operating budgets and biggest workforce.

The Knoxville Police Department underwent a leadership change last June when Chief Rausch accepted a new job.  I appointed Eve Thomas as Police Chief, and she hit the ground running – implementing changes to improve service, recruitment, morale, and efficiency. 

But being a police officer today is a tough and dangerous job. Many cities across the country are facing the same issue we are.  As older officers retire, or mid-career officers leave for other jobs in a strong economy, we are not getting enough qualified applicants to fill the vacancies. Despite our best efforts, we are still significantly below authorized strength.

To be more competitive in the job market, this budget addresses police compensation. We will increase the starting salary of the rank of Police Officer to $40,000, a 7.7% increase, with corresponding adjustments up the ranks in the class/comp structure.

This budget also provides funding for an aggressive marketing campaign to help KPD attract a diverse group of qualified applicants for our future police academies. We are funding necessary equipment, tactical gear, software, and vehicles.

The Knoxville Fire Department, with its recent academy graduation is very close to authorized strength.  We have a highly qualified and professional fire department led by Fire Chief Stan Sharp. The budget includes equipment, cameras, and extrication tools to help firefighters do their job better. In an unfortunate sign of the times, we have budgeted for body armor vests to protect our firefighters. This budget also addresses salary compression inequities among our firefighters.


Last year at my State of the City I announced that we would build a new Public Safety Headquarters that would house the administrative offices of police and fire, as well as City Court. The necessary funds were approved in that budget. 

Due to circumstances beyond our control, the original site for the new HQ in a partnership with Knoxville College did not work out.  We were then approached by Tennova who had made the final decision to close their North Knoxville hospital. 

North Knoxville residents had major concerns on the potential negative impact a vacant and blighted campus would have on a community that has worked pro-actively for decades to revitalize mixed-use areas and rebuild great neighborhoods like Oakwood Lincoln Park, Edgewood, Old North, and Fourth and Gill.  We shared those concerns.

After much due diligence and public discussion, we are now in the process of finalizing an agreement with Tennova to transfer ownership to the City of the former St. Mary’s Hospital campus which was closed last year. 

At the May 7th City Council meeting I will present those plans and a package of documents that, with Council’s approval, will make this transition a reality.

This centrally-located property, after renovation and some new construction on the southern half of the site, will provide modern, efficient, accessible space that meets current and future needs of our professional and accredited police and fire departments, City Court, and the City Pension office. 

The northern part of the campus will become a site for future redevelopment that benefits the community, adjoining neighborhoods, and businesses.

I have proposed 6.5 million dollars in this budget to secure the northern campus, protect the historic hospital building for a future use, and demolish obsolete structures. We are currently exploring potential re-uses of the property and remaining buildings with various interested parties. 


After public safety, our next core function is providing reliable and efficient city services. 

City departments have re-organized and modernized. City workers are utilizing newer technology and better equipment to help them work more safely and efficiently. 

We are communicating to city residents more often and through various mediums and 311 to inform them of city services and answer their questions.

We have broken down silos among departments and partner agencies in order to deliver services better and quicker to city residents.

For example, this year, we completed our re-organization and re-location of City Development Services to create a more efficient one-stop shop for property owners and developers.  Engineering and Building Inspections are co-located on the 4th floor of the City County Building, next door to the Planning Commission.

The Public Service Department is re-organizing their work zones and brush pick-up schedule to more efficiently serve our residents. This proposed budget includes funding to help communicate those changes to the public, so you will hear more about that soon.

A smart city invests in its infrastructure.  Deferred maintenance leads to bigger problems down the road and inefficiencies in service. 

Every budget year, we invest across the City in infrastructure - with improvements to intersections and roads, drainage, bridges, traffic signals, bridge maintenance, and ADA accessibility. We pave streets and fill potholes. We upgrade parks, tennis courts, ballfields, recreation centers, and fire stations.

Recent budgets have funded renovations of the Tennessee Amphitheater, the World’s Fair Park Performance Lawn (now under construction), the Sunsphere, the World’s Fair Exhibition Hall, and the Civic Coliseum and Auditorium.

We completed a major new city facility, the Public Works building, and, with Council’s approval, will begin soon on the long-awaited Public Safety building.

We previously invested $10 million in capital improvements to the Zoo and $5 million in infrastructure at Lakeshore Park, both of which have leveraged millions of dollars in private donations for their respective capital improvements.  

This budget year, we will fund a major renovation of Fire Station #6 in Burlington and further upgrades to the Convention Center, Coliseum, and Chilhowee Park.

We are currently developing a strategic plan for future uses and development of Chilhowee Park.  With significant input from the public and park stakeholders, this plan will help inform and guide future capital investments and programming in this public facility.


This budget continues to supports our efforts to create multi-modal options and complete streets that safely accommodate vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles, and transit. 

In 2015 we created the Bicycle Facilities Plan to identify priorities for infrastructure improvements to make Knoxville a safer place to bicycle for both recreation and transportation.  This budget continues to advance that plan.

In 2015 KAT developed a Five-Year Plan to improve service frequency, hours, and days on bus routes.  Over the past 4 years, we have improved service on 19 routes.  For Year 5, we are budgeting to extend service on Route 42 between UT and Fort Sanders Hospitals. 

In 2016, we completed a Greenway Corridor Study to serve as a guiding document for connecting Knoxville’s greenways and parks.  Current greenway projects include the Northwest Greenway Connector, First Creek Greenway Connector, and East Knox Greenway.  This budget includes $1.2 million for greenways.

Our annual street paving program is again budgeted at $5.8 million and an extra $200,000 is funded for traffic calming.

We are currently working on a city-wide sidewalk study to help prioritize sidewalk connections. In the meantime, Engineering is working on 13 sidewalk projects across the city totaling more than $6 million.  This budget includes $1.25 million in additional sidewalk funding.


Along with public safety and basic city services, a city must take care of its most vulnerable populations.  A great city provides opportunities and support for all of its people.  A great city is a compassionate city.

Affordable Housing.  Increasing the availability of affordable housing has been a priority of my administration. The City does not own or operate housing units.  Instead our Community Development Department works with public and nonprofit partners and private developers to encourage the construction and renovation of a variety of affordable and energy-efficient housing units.

Since I took office in December of 2011, the City and our housing partners have together invested more than $230 million in the construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing.

During this time, our programs have invested $45 million and have leveraged an additional $186 million from other public and private sources. These investments have resulted in the creation or rehabilitation of close to 4,300 (4,277) units of affordable housing, with some 3,500 (3,478) completed and 800 (799) additional units now in the pipeline.

We and our partners are addressing the availability, accessibility, energy-efficiency, and affordability of housing for low- to moderate-income households through a variety of programs and partnerships:

One great example of this partnership is the current revitalization of KCDC’s Walter P. Taylor Homes in Five Points.  The City’s investment of $13 million over several years helped KCDC leverage another $62 million in funding for this transformational project that is nearly complete.

KCDC will next focus on a major revitalization of Austin Homes. I am proposing in this budget an initial investment of $4.25 million as local match to help KCDC leverage additional funding for this transformational housing development.

Two years ago, we created the Affordable Rental Development Fund to provide gap funding for affordable rental housing. To date, we have allocated $5.5 million from this fund which, so far, has leveraged another $86 million from other sources, with 517 units completed or in process.

I am proposing another $2.5 million for this very successful fund for affordable rental housing.  Capital grants will also go the YWCA and the Community Coalition against Human Trafficking for the creation and renovation of housing for their clients.

In total, this budget includes more than $10 million that will be invested in affordable housing, which will leverage many millions more. 

It is important to know that, despite the great efforts in our community over recent years, the issue of affordable housing availability will not be solved quickly.  It will take a continued and sustained effort by the City and its partners.

Homelessness.  Another challenge that takes continued and sustained effort is the issue of homelessness.  Some three dozen service and government agencies and nonprofits meet regularly through the Knoxville/Knox County Homeless Coalition and the Mayor’s Roundtable on Homelessness to coordinate efforts, report successes and challenges, and track progress.  This budget continues to support our efforts to provide case management, outreach workers, a safe day space, agency grants, and more to enable individuals who are homeless to connect with available services and find permanent housing. 

The Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center had a successful first year. Funding is increased to support Year 2 of the BHUCC to divert those with mental health or substance misuse issues from jail and into treatment. This is a partnership between Helen Ross McNabb Center, Knox County, and the City.

Substance Misuse.  Mayor Jacobs and I are also working together to address substance misuse and the opioid epidemic.  We first listened to the experts last fall at a forum that we sponsored, and we are now planning a community summit later this summer with the goal to produce a community strategic plan.  The Metro Drug Coalition is a key partner in our efforts.

Save our Sons.  This budget continues to fund the Save Our Sons imitative which works to create opportunities and reduce violence-related deaths among boys and young men of color.  The SOS Roundtable of youth serving groups meets regularly to coordinate programs and activities.  One priority for them is to collaborate on effective programs that help youth with adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs trauma. 

Community Schools. We are increasing our investment in Community Schools, a program which serve as a hub to connect youth and their parents to community resources that improve their health, safety and student academic success.  

Second Chance. This budget continues to fund the Second Chance program in the Public Service Department that provides temporary employment, job skills, and referrals leading to permanent jobs for formerly incarcerated and homeless individuals.

Community and Social service grants. There are so many needs in our City that government can’t begin to address.  That’s why we depend on our nonprofit partners to deliver those necessary services.  This budget grants $1.291 million to 42 community and social service agencies,


To provide public safety and public services, to maintain public facilities, and to meet the needs of the most vulnerable among us, we have to have a strong tax base. We need a strong economy with successful businesses that provide good jobs with good pay and benefits.

In this budget I am recommending a continuation of funding for the Knoxville Chamber, The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, the Mayor’s Maker Council, Innovation Valley, the Development Corporation, Visit Knoxville, and our City Office of Business Support. 

These partners work well together and with us to support existing businesses, recruit new ones, market our community, and help entrepreneurs and makers start new businesses.


We have made major investments in downtown and our older commercial corridors to bring back businesses that create jobs and offer services to adjoining neighborhoods. Our strategy has been to invest from the center-out - and to strategically invest public dollars to maximize private investment. This has been tremendously successful.

Through the strategic use of TIFs and PILOTS, streetscape and public improvements, a commercial façade loan program, historic preservation grants, and support for a growing number of festivals and events, we have seen a major resurgence of downtown Knoxville and our older commercial corridors. 

Think of the old Farragut Hotel that re-opened as a Hyatt Place, the Embassy Suites under construction on Gay St, and the former green KUB building that is now the headquarters of the Tombras Group advertising firm.

Surface lots are being grabbed up for new infill construction, like Marble Alley Lofts, the newly-opened double-flag Marriott at the former Knoxville News Sentinel site, and Regas Square condos at the former Regas Restaurant site.

Because of these types of investments, the number of downtown residents has soared.  

Major streetscapes projects like on Cumberland, Central, and Sevier are leveraging millions more in private investment.  Phase 1 and 2 of Magnolia Avenue improvements are under construction and this budget provides funds for the design of Phase 3. It also includes funds for streetscape improvements in Burlington. This project has evolved from a model collaboration of the Community Design Center, the UTK College of Architecture, neighborhood residents, and the City.  

Our investments in the South Waterfront are catalyzing private development that is transforming Blount, Sevier, and Chapman highways.  This transformation is providing job opportunities as well as great amenities for those who live south of the river.  This budget will fund a pilot project for trolley service that links downtown and the south waterfront. 


Sustainability is a key component of all that we do. With the completion of the LED streetlights retrofit this year, we will exceed the goal we set over a decade ago to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020 for municipal operations.  We have made great progress over these past ten years, and now is the time to set bold new goals that will challenge us to do more. 

Our Office of Sustainability has been working on new goals and meeting with City Council members.  We will soon present these new goals to Council for their approval.  Our aim is to have bold goals that require a continued spirit of innovation, collaboration, and leadership. These goals will lead to a sustainable future that protects our environment while creating economic opportunity and improving the quality of life for all our citizens.


Another major Herculean effort over the last two years was Recode.  Recode is a comprehensive update of Knoxville’s zoning ordinance to incorporate modern planning practices and remove obsolete regulations and contradictions. The goal is to have a clearer and more consistent land use code, easier to use and to administer, that serves as a blueprint for the future.

Council will vote soon on Recode and I fully support its passage.  It is meant to be a living document. Any element that has unintended consequences can be dealt with through the legislative process, as has been done for the past 50 years. We cannot let our image of the perfect be the enemy of the practical and the possible.


Next I want to talk about the Urban Wilderness, and I’ll begin showing this short video.

Today we are at the future site of the Gateway Park to Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness. This special place is being designed to unite two worlds  - urban and wild – to create a distinctive gateway.

The entry curtain that was hanging from the bridge as you entered gives a glimpse into the park features that will be under the bridge: shaded picnic areas, bouldering, and a rock scramble to hillside slides. There will be play features for all ages. 

Enhancements to Baker Creek Preserve (which is behind me) will create a more open public entrance to the site’s famous mountain bike trails with a large sloped lawn, gathering space, picnic pavilion, and parking. The greenway will wind through the site and end at the trailhead. The 2 acre Baker Creek Preserve Bike Park will offer something for riders of all abilities and will provide for a progressive user experience. 

We will be breaking ground soon on this Gateway Park.

We are currently in the planning phase with TDOT for the next project - a greenway that will connect South Knoxville and the Urban Wilderness trail system to Downtown across the bridge. One lane will be converted to a greenway and connect into the existing greenways at Morningside and Ned McWherter parks. 

The Appalachian Youth Cycling Team, Knoxville’s first, was organized by Doug Sharp 4 years ago and today has a roster of 75.  The team is made up of students from the 6th-12th grade from all Knox County Schools. The Urban Wilderness trail system has helped build their skills.  Team member Hunter Connell joined the team his sophomore year and has received a cycling scholarship to attend Milligan College in Elizabethton this fall. He is a true product of this team and a success story for the trails!

I also want to acknowledge the Design Team for this project:  PORT (also coordinated, designed and implemented the graphics for this event), Sanders Pace Architecture, Equinox Environmental, Vaughn and Melton and Gresham Smith

Major partners with the City in this and other Urban Wilderness projects are our Urban Wilderness Alliance Partners which include the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club, The Aslan Foundation, Ijams Nature Center, Knox County, and Legacy Parks Foundation.

Several neighborhoods are also key partners:  Old Sevier, South Haven, Lindbergh Forest, South Woodlawn. 

The Urban Wilderness initiatives of  the City are coordinated by our Parks and Recreation Director Sheryl Ely (who is also celebrating a birthday today) and Urban Wilderness Coordinator Rebekah Jane Montgomery.

The entire 1,000 acres of Urban Wilderness is an incredible quality of life amenity for our City and County.  It is a cultural, historic, environmental, recreational, and health asset.  And it is an economic strategy that is already showing very positive returns.

This Gateway Park is part of a larger 4-year master plan for the Urban Wilderness that we created in 2016.  To keep this implementation plan moving forward, I am proposing $1.0 million dollars for improvements at the Augusta Quarry at Fort Dickerson and $500,000 to Ijams Nature Center for their capital campaign.


Now let’s talk baseball.  When the Smokies left for Sevier County in 1999, many of us were very disappointed.  My kids and I had spent many memorable nights watching the K-Jays and then the Smokies at the old Bill Meyer stadium.  Since then many of us have held on to the hope that baseball would return to Knoxville.

As we have discussed publicly, we have been working with the management of the Smokies for months now with the goal of returning the team to Knoxville.

The team owner has secured land and invested resources in creating preliminary designs and layouts of a ballpark on the eastern edge of the Old City. 

We have researched successful ballpark models that serve the community year-round and have spurred significant economic investment.  A ballpark will be a catalyst for more housing, retail, and mixed-use development in the area.  We are working with KCDC to invest in a revitalized Austin Homes to ensure that future housing development in the area remains mixed-income. 

Over the past year we have purposely preserved fund balance and borrowing capacity to be able to package an agreement.  We have talked to Knox County about a potential financial partnership. 

So here is where we are now. This is a complex transaction and it is now unlikely we will have the time to secure the commitments and votes necessary before the end of my term – less than 8 months away.   For the good of the project, I have come to the conclusion that the proper way to proceed is to let the next Mayor and Council bring the runner home. 

The next Mayor and Council should have ownership of this significant public investment that would be implemented during their terms.  And, frankly, I don’t want to risk the batter striking out due to the political vagaries of a campaign season. We will continue to work with the baseball team to prepare options for the next Mayor to consider.  Our goal is to get the runner to second or third base - scoring position, so the next administration will, I hope, safely bring the runner home.

That’s the end of my baseball analogies.  


I’ve shared with you an overview of some of our many city services, programs, and investments, and my proposals for the next budget.  There are so many more I wish I had time to share. 

It takes a big team of talented and committed people to make all of this happen – almost 1,600 people.  It is an honor for me to work with them.

It’s important that we provide competitive salaries and benefits to recruit and retain the very best.  This budget includes a 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise for all employees. For the sixth straight year, health insurance premiums for employees will not increase.  We are also changing tuition reimbursement to cover more expenses.  We are adding one paid holiday to move closer in line with the County.

Finally to remain competitive in a tight job market, all class/comp pay structures will be increased 2.5%, except for police ranks that get a 7.7% increase, as I previously mentioned.

I want to recognize our city employees who are here with us today, starting with my  executive assistant Terry Alexander…..members of my Cabinet:  Bill Lyons, David Brace, Charles Swanson, Chief Sharp, Chief Thomas, Avice Reid, Eric Vreeland, and Jim York….and now department heads….and all city employees.  Please help me thank them for the great work they do for the residents of this City.

The proposed net budget is $336,237,690, a decrease of 10.8%, mainly due to a drop in capital spending after some large projects were budgeted last year (like the Public Safety building).  The General Fund, which is the main operating fund, is up 1.72% due to higher salaries, benefits, and operating expenses. 

There is no property tax increase; the tax rate remains at $2.4638 per hundred dollars of assessed value.  When adjusted for inflation and countywide re-appraisals, the adopted tax rate is actually lower than it was ten years ago.


When I leave office in eight months, we will be leaving this City in excellent financial health.  The next mayor will inherit a vibrant, growing, economically healthy city. 

With the support of our employee groups and City Council, we took steps in my first year in office to reform our pension system so that it was sustainable.  We reduced the City’s financial exposure while maintaining security for our employees.

We have invested in our employees, while using technology and innovation to deliver services in a more cost efficient and reliable way.  We have made major investments in our infrastructure, and improved our asset management.

After seven years of significant capital investment that has leveraged significantly more in private investment, this budget projects a healthy fund balance of $71 million at the end of FY19-20. 

We have the ability to support substantial borrowing for strategic capital investments, and we continue to hold the highest credit rating in the history of the City. 

I want to thank finance director Jim York, deputy director Boyce Evans and the entire finance team for their excellent stewardship of our finances.


A great city is more than a financially healthy city.  It is a city that also makes informed and tough decisions that set the stage for future actions.

We have been bold in creating a blueprint for modern and smart land use. We have been advocates for engaging residents in meaningful public process.

We have worked hand-in-hand with our business community.  We’ve nurtured public-private partnerships to drive investments in people and places that create opportunities and a higher quality of life.

We are a city that invests in its residents, particularly those who are most vulnerable, to create opportunities for them to survive, thrive and to give back.

We have found strength in our diversity and opened our arms and our hearts as a welcoming community.

For many years, our City struggled to find our own identity and that “silver bullet” that would be the economic boost that put us “on the map.”  Project after project was proposed, but none really caught our imaginations.  None really moved us. 

But what seems evident to me is that we have had that silver bullet all along.  That silver bullet is our historical buildings, our walkable downtown, our interesting neighborhoods, our land and river and wilderness, our music and culture, the diversity of our people, our volunteerism and big hearts, and our spirit.  Authentic Knoxville.  We are learning to honor it, preserve it, and share it.  That’s our silver bullet.

Thank you for the honor you have given me, and be assured that I will be working hard for you until the next Mayor takes office.  Thank you all for coming today.  Safe travels.