Though the two-hour discussion focused on the key projects aimed at making Kingsport a better place to be, an underlying theme among the Board of Mayor and Aldermen dealt with Johnson City and what the Model City needs to do to be more competitive with its sister city.
The BMA got its first in-depth look at the CIP during a work session Monday afternoon, the key budget messages for the coming fiscal year and the projected timeline for reviewing and approving the 2017 fiscal year budget.
City leaders are scheduled to hold a special called meeting next Tuesday to review the general fund and public works, then finalize the budget on May 16. Since Kingsport City Schools is not requesting a maintenance of effort increase and is satisfied with its CIP allocation, the BMA will not be hearing another presentation from KCS.
The BMA will then have to approve the budget on two readings before the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1.
City Manager Jeff Fleming said key budget messages for this year are to continue focusing on the fundamentals, maintain a healthy reserve balance and provide merit pay increases for employees.
The proposed CIP includes $16.6 million worth of capital purchases and projects broken down as follows:
• $7.8 million in bonds going toward such projects as local road improvements ($3.8 million), school building maintenance ($750,000), Bays Mountain dam repair ($370,000), Lynn View improvements ($200,000) and sidewalk extensions and repairs ($100,000).
• $3.5 million in bonds from Project Inspire funds going toward renovations at Meadowview.
• $1.4 million in surplus cash from last year earmarked for Centennial Park, technology infrastructure and public art.
• $345,000 in cash for minor road improvements, the Bays Mountain septic system and public art.
• $3.45 million from the power franchise fee approved last year, going toward establishing a sustainable paving program.
Not included in this list are $3 million worth of year one ideas from the One Kingsport initiative. Lynn Tully, development services director for the city, gave the BMA a rundown on those ideas along with projected costs.
As mentioned last month, the quick hits for year one include beautification efforts and the creation of neighborhood commissions and an existing business council.
Bigger ideas include the creation of a large outdoor venue space on the old General Shale property, developing a downtown master plan, improving the greenspace in downtown neighborhoods, upgrading Bays Mountain Park, expanding the city's materials agreement and developing the concept for maker-space downtown.
Tully noted that more than 22 percent of all first year costs are generated from outside sources.
“We have a plan and we do know the big ideas and recommendations. They came from our community and we know what the community wants to do,” Mayor John Clark said. “The question is how do we make that happen?”
Clark pointed out several issues facing the Model City. Kingsport, like every other city across the state, will be losing Hall Income Tax revenue in the coming years. For Kingsport, that amounts to $1.1 million over the next five years.
Kingsport also has an attraction and retention issue, in that population growth is flat. Clark said during the past 20 years, about 90 percent of the population growth in the city has been due to annexation.
“In reality, annexation by ordinance has been our growth driver,” Clark said.
Now, Kingsport is in a “pretty challenging situation” Clark said when it comes to attracting and retaining residents, businesses and developers, noting that Johnson City is investing $14.5 million more a year than Kingsport.
“I'm not a big government guy, but we have to compete,” Clark said.
Vice Mayor Mike McIntire questioned the $14.5 million figure and asked city officials about Johnson City's per capita spending, rather than total spending, pointing out how Johnson City has at least 10,000 more people than Kingsport.
Kingsport's charter mandates the legal debt limit of the city not be more than 20 percent of its assessed value. A BMA imposed rule set during former Mayor Ruth Montgomery's tenure sets the limit at 10 percent. Currently, the city is at 6.6 percent.
“Can I ask the board your thoughts on this in general, why can't we go to 10 percent to fulfill the One Kingsport investments?” Clark asked.
“You have to pay it back,” Alderwoman Colette George said.
“And you have to look at the money coming in,” McIntire said.
The 10 percent BMA imposed limit, “to me it's a lost opportunity,” Clark said.
McIntire said running a city is different than running a business, that return on investment figures can be “pretty subjective numbers.”
Alderman Tom Parham described the CIP and One Kingsport process as a measure of the BMA's commitment.
“The main job of the BMA is to determine where we’re going and if we really believe in ourselves. Are we committed to being a city greater than we are now?”