The Mayor of Knoxville gets one chance each year to make clear his or her priorities. The moment when the budget is presented, a statement is made. The moment after it is made, the critics set in: Too much money was spent, not enough money was spent, or the right amount was spent, but the priorities were misplaced. This year will be no different, as Mayor Kincannon presents her 2021-22 budget. Two readings will happen before City Council, which must then vote the proposal up or down. They do not have the power to make changes.
Knoxville’s mayors always face pressure from the right to contain spending and to avoid new taxes. This year, pressure is intense from the left to fund greater social service support for the community, particularly in the area of affordable housing and racial justice. It’s never easy, but coming out of a pandemic with forces hitting from both sides, makes this year perhaps tougher than some others. The budget does not raise property taxes.
The budget, of course, reflects the mayor’s priorities. Of the budget, Mayor Kincannon said, “A budget should be a clear, easy-to-follow roadmap that moves us as a city closer to where we want and need to be. This budget reflects core values shared by my administration and the community, and it prioritizes spending accordingly.”
The priorities that she said shape the budget are “public safety, healthy and connected neighborhoods, a clean and resilient future, thriving businesses and good jobs, and good governance. Everyone in Knoxville has sacrificed this past year – some more than others . . . This proposed budget supports our community’s continuing recovery while we take big steps forward, together, toward our shared longer-term priorities.”
Given the recent shootings and the tension over the last year regarding policing, it should be no surprise that as a part of what she framed as “public safety,” Mayor Kincannon emphasized, not only funding for fire and police departments and first responders, but committed $4.3 million to “addressing specific safety-related needs, combating violence and crime, and addressing root causes of public safety challenges” That money will be spent as follows:
$1.9 million for core public safety partners, such as the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center and the Family Justice Center
$400,000 to expand KPD’s Co-Response Team, a pilot that began last year, pairing behavioral-health specialists with crisis-trained officers
$1 million for new violence interruption programs and partnerships to reduce homicides and address violent crime, including the launch of a CrimeStoppers rewards-for-tips program
About $500,000 to support health and mental-health service provider partners
More than $500,000 to assist local non-profits that provide safe places and enrichment programs for children and young people
She also announced that as part of the development of the Public Safety Complex at the previous site of St. Mary’s Hospital, a Criminal Justice Career Path program will be created in conjunction with Fulton High School, which is next door. Additionally, Lincoln Memorial is offering nursing classes in the facility. She promised more community services will be added.
Regarding the priority for “healthy and connected neighborhoods,” she is directing $8.2 million toward affordable housing as a beginning for her proposed $50 million commitment over the next ten years to a new Knoxville Affordable Housing Fund. The money will go toward improvements in existing housing, as well as increasing funding for permanent supportive housing. Major funding will go to streetscape improvements in Burlington, completion of the next phase of Waterfront Drive, over $2 million for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and over $4 for citywide park improvements.
It is no secret that environmental concerns and climate change have been a focus of this and the previous administration. As a part of her emphasis on a “clean and resilient future,” she is committing over $15 million for continued conversion of the KAT fleet to all-electric buses. She’s dedicating $150,000 to additional public electric vehicle charging stations and almost $5 million to stormwater infrastructure improvements and protection and expansion of Knoxville’s urban forest.
The budget includes support to switch the Knoxville Convention Center to 100% renewable energy. Also of interest on the environmental front, “the City is partnering with KUB to support a community solar project at the City’s Public Works Service Center. Mayor Kincannon noted that Knoxville is now the top city in the Southeast for investing in solar power, thanks to the TVA/KUB Green Invest program.
A healthy business environment and good jobs are often how a city is judged, and the budget doesn’t neglect these areas. One initiative that doesn’t require money, but could help is the launch of a Developers Roundtable “to look for ways to cut through red tape and make it easier for property owners to invest in their neighborhoods.”
The budget includes “more than $1 million to support the City’s economic development partners, $90,000 in new funding will support business development in the city’s Latino community; $150,000 in new funding for the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center includes support for the 100Knoxville project to grow Black-owned businesses, and $900,000 to support local non-profits that help families thrive by supporting community schools and promoting literacy and financial stability.” The city will also launch an economic disparity study.
By good governance, the Mayor expressed support for city employees and has included the 2.5% salary increase that has been standard in recent years. “Reflecting the City’s support for City Council’s December 2020 resolution recognizing systemic racism, the budget also provides $100,000 for facilitation of the African American Equity Restoration Task Force.
The budget also includes “more than $10 million proposed for street paving, traffic signals and bridges, more than $1 million in local funding, supplemented by $4 million in federal funds, directed to help individuals experiencing homelessness and $750,000 dedicated to support Knoxville’s arts, culture and historic preservation.”
The budget, totaling $384 million, will be presented for first reading at City Council on Tuesday, May 4, followed by legislative budget hearings (Thursday and Friday, May 13-14) and a public hearing (5 p.m. on Friday, May 14). Council’s second reading of the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, May 18.
You can view a more complete summary (153 pages) here. For a deeper dive, yet, you can view a 36 page summary of the 2022 – 2027 plan for capital improvement.