Mayor Kincannon, State of the City Address, Vermont Avenue, Knoxville, April 2023
As has been the tradition in Knoxville, Mayor Kincannon presented her State of the City address yesterday, along with highlights of her proposed budget for the next year. Held in the Western Heights community, the chosen neighborhood underscored plans for the “Transforming Western” initiative, which will include, “more than $200 million collaborative plan to revamp, renew and reconnect Knoxville’s largest public housing community.”
Vice-Mayor Roberto emceed the event, introducing speakers, including the mayor. Students from Beaumont Elementary led the crowd in the pledge to the flag, and the Appalachian Equity Chorus sang the national anthem. Knoxville Poet Laureate Rhea Carmon paid tribute to the city with a poem.
Starting with a non-partisan appreciation of a generation of mayors from each party, Mayor Kincannon pointed to strides the city made under each. She mentioned Mayor Tyree’s efforts in bring the “last successful World’s Fair hosted in an American City,” and the park that we enjoy in its aftermath. She mentioned Mayor Ashe’s leadership in bringing the Convention Center which she said, “is now book years in advance.”
She credited Mayor Haslam for his efforts at downtown revitalization, including putting his own money toward bring the Regal Riviera to Gay Street. She mentioned Mayor Brown, who became the first African American mayor when Mayor Haslam became Governor Haslam and she mentioned that his service to the city would soon be commemorated in a space at First Creek at Austin. She thanked Mayor Rogero, the first female mayor of the city, for her vision in pushing forward the Urban Wilderness which has made Knoxville a destination for cyclists.
Noting that crime in the city is dropping, she expressed her pleasure that the city has increased funding for both police and fire salaries and thanked them for what they do to keep the city safe.
She acknowledged that housing is one of the primary issues the city faces – at all economic levels, but particularly for those at lower incomes and for those who are homeless or in jeopardy of becoming homeless. She said 105 families are now living at First Creek at Austin and 180 more homes are under construction there. These homes offer low-income and workforce housing a short walk from downtown. Caswell Manor, she noted, to be dedicated next week, will offer homes to 57 homeless individuals. She also mentioned Callahan Flats, approved last week by the city council, which will be the sixth permanent supportive housing location in the city.
She mentioned the new Office of Housing Stability and thanked Mayor Jacobs for his partnership in that. She said the joint effort will help families avoid homelessness. In the private housing sector, she said there are currently 3,800 new residential housing units moving through permitting. The city has added two new positions and is updated procedures and software to make those approvals move more rapidly.
She also touted the city’s financial health, announcing that 2,300 new jobs were produced in the city last year. The city’s budget is balanced, and the city’s tax rate will not increase and remains at the lowest tax per dollar of value since 1974. “The City’s fiscal health is strong,” Mayor Kincannon said, “and that allows us to invest wisely in core services and in strategic initiatives that will serve Knoxville well in the long run.”
She said the proposed budget represents the city’s priorities of “public safety, building up our neighborhoods, creating economic opportunity, and becoming a greener and more resilient community.” She added, “We must lift up everyone.”
Other highlights included in the accompanying press release include the following:
City funding in the proposed budget that support the creation of unique and special public spaces:
“Transforming Western” – $4.2 million
Knoxville’s Community Development Corp. has been awarded a $40 million U.S. Housing and Urban Development grant, and Mayor Kincannon and the City are investing $26.5 million in infrastructure and financial assistance for affordable housing in the area over multiple budgets. The new Western Heights community will prioritize access to transportation, jobs, health care, and technology, with new destination park amenities.
Lakeshore Park – $2 million Mayor Kincannon is proposing direct City support toward the Lakeshore Park Conservancy’s $42 million project, underway since last year, that is adding baseball fields, pavilions, a new playground and new parking. Also being improved: lighting, roadways, and drainage infrastructure.
Lonsdale Park – $1 million
More than $30 million in private-public partnership investments have been or are being made in Lonsdale – including a new Lonsdale Elementary School, the Haslam-Sansom Ministry Complex and a new $1 million City sidewalk on Texas Avenue. With the old Sam E. Hill School now vacated, the City will be converting the site into a new community park.
Wee Course at William Creek – $100,000The City is investing $300,000 over three years – this is the second installment – to fund improvements to the golf course cart paths, building and other infrastructure.
Multi-use public stadium – public plazas, Willow Avenue streetscape improvements and other public amenities near the City-Knox County stadium in East Knoxville – $4.5 million The stadium, to be built and open in early 2025 to accommodate festivals, concerts, and professional baseball and soccer, will feature $14 million in City-funded public amenities. Mayor Kincannon’s 2023-24 budget includes $1 million for Willow Avenue streetscapes and $3.5 million for other public amenities – part of a total $14 million investment over three years.
Pedestrian bridge – $100,000
The proposed City-owned bridge spanning the Tennessee River would be a collaboration between the federal and state governments, the University of Tennessee, the City and other partners. The state is funding an initial $20 million grant, and the City is seeking additional grants from the federal government and other partners. The City’s $100,000 in the 2023-24 budget would go toward additional design work.
The proposed budget focuses on the City’s core purpose of providing a stable foundation for safety, health, and the common good by providing high-quality services, creating, and maintaining infrastructure, and working through partnerships to advance opportunity and address challenges in our community. As is typical, employee compensation is the single most significant expense in the proposed budget, with the largest portion supporting operations of the Police and Fire departments.
Additional highlights of the proposed 2023-24 budget include:
More than $4.5 million for local non-profit partners to complement City services. Example partnerships include:
$2.2 million for long-standing public safety partners, including the Family Justice Center, ChildHelp, the Metro Drug Coalition, the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center, Young-Williams Animal Center, and others.
More than $1.5 million to local non-profits directly engaged in the critical work of responding to local health needs, including mental health and addiction, and providing safe and enriching programming for Knoxville’s youth (including Community Schools)
$805,000 to support arts and culture non-profits, as well as public art partnerships
$7.5 million for affordable housing, including the $4.2 million for “Transforming Western” and also:
$500,000 for permanent supportive housing for military veterans at a new facility to be called Liberty Place, in partnership with Knox County and others.
$2.5 million for the Affordable Rental Development Fund, which to date has worked with builders to create 1,500 new, energy-efficient, affordable homes for Knoxville families.
Nearly $12 million to create and maintain safe streets for all types of users, including
$9.3 million – repairs and maintenance for roads, bridges, guardrails and signals
$2.4 million – sidewalks, curb cuts and other pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, including creation of a separated greenway on Neyland Drive
$200,000 – neighborhood traffic calming, continuing the progress started with a historic $1.25 million investment in the 2021-22 budget
$230,000 – initiatives to help achieve the City’s climate goals, including green fleet upgrades and community EV charging stations
$1.3 million – Support for economic development partners, such as the Knoxville Chamber, Centro Hispano and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center
$100,000 to continue to support the Spark Cleantech Accelerator and companies focused on solutions to address the climate crisis
The budget also proposes expanded resources for a new, combined Department of Community Safety and Empowerment that will align the work of what previously had been two departments. The budget adds staff for the new department, as well as expands funding for community partnerships like Turn Up Knox and the work of the African American Equity Restoration Task Force.
The proposed net budget totals $432.9 million. Of that, the General Fund – which is the City’s main operating fund – is $304 million.
Mayor Kincannon’s proposed budget will be presented to the City Council for first reading on May 2, 2023, followed by a legislative budget hearing and public hearing on May 9. The council’s second reading of the budget currently is scheduled for May 16, though City Council is expected to move the second reading to May 30.