City Manager recommends funding for routine and special projects

Published 9:11 am Friday, April 22, 2016

Star Photo/Rebekah Price  City Manager Jerome Kitchens reviews the budget proposal for 2017 with City Councilmen and department directors.

Star Photo/Rebekah Price
City Manager Jerome Kitchens reviews the budget proposal for 2017 with City Councilmen and department directors.

The recovering economy is having a noticeable effect on project plans in this 2016-2017 City of Elizabethton budget proposal. With greater confidence, department heads are requesting funding for overdue equipment replacement and maintenance, and projects for recreational improvement are also among the City Manager’s recommendations.

“I felt like on the budget as a whole, we worked to make incremental improvements in all departments,” said City Manager Jerome Kitchens. “We’re working on things you don’t see very much, like traffic loops, wiring — things that you’ll see a lot — restrooms, but what we’re trying to do is to make the community better, to work on goals that we’ve identified, such as tourism. We’re not able to do everything. A prime example you’ll see is the baseball stadium.

At two workshops this week, Kitchens reviewed budget recommendations and standard appropriations for all city departments with City Councilmen and department heads.

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Kitchens announced good news for both residents and city employees. Residents will not see a tax increase, he said, and he recommended a one percent raise in wages for city employees paid by both the General Fund and enterprise funds. In addition, Kitchens said health insurance is budgeted at a 15 percent increase at an additional cost of $113,000 from the General Fund.

The General Fund pays for departments like Police, Fire, Street and Highway, Planning and Development, Parks and Recreation, the library and others. Enterprise funds are generated by both rates and grants, like in the Water and Electric Departments.

The total of all funds is more $91.4 million, of which  The General Fund budget for the upcoming fiscal year is at $18,515,168, an increase of nearly $570,000 from last year. More than half of the increase resulted from an increase in sales tax.

If Council approves the proposed budget as is, some of the more noticeable improvements that residents will see are new restrooms at City Park and Harmon Park along with restroom renovation at Covered Bridge Park. Additional budget requests for Parks and Recreation projects were for additional playground equipment at Douglas Park and replacement equipment at Riverside Park.

After reviewing a number of proposed spending from the Fund Balance of $753,950, Kitchens said, “You can do all of these or you don’t have to do any of these. One of the things I’ve concentrated on is Parks and Recreation, because if we’re going to focus tourism as a big part of our economy or if we want people to come into the area and be able to stay for several hours, and not have to worry about where a restroom is, all these things fit into it.”

Some of the departments’ high dollar requests are for replacement of industrial vehicles.

The Water Resources Division, which is funded by enterprise funds, requested approval of spending $389,000 on a Vactor truck, which is used to clean out sewer stoppages. Director of Engineering Johann Coetzee believes the current nine-year-old truck will have a trade in value of $65,000, reducing the cost of the purchase.

“If that truck is down, we are down,” Coetzee said. “…We run that truck all day long.”

He said the truck has been used to clean and help map sewer lines which is part of an ongoing line repair and replacement project that spans more than 80 miles of problematic sewer lines.

The Street Department requested a $225,000 street sweeper with storm drain attachment. Hilbert said they use the current truck three days weekly to sweep and pick up larger debris. The state reimburses the city $32,895 annually, Kitchens said, which helps to subsidize the cost. The new truck would be a sweeper and vacuum. This would come out of the General Fund.

The ongoing downtown canopy repair project is estimated to cost $115,000 out of the Fund Balance.

Coetzee requested approval of enterprise funds in the amount of $140,000 to paint the inside of a water tank.

“If these are not painted, the inside will rust,” he said.

They are painted with food grade paint which preserves their life span, he said. The city has ten water tanks, he said, and each needs to be painted every 15-20 years.

“We are about three years behind our schedule because we did not have the funding previously,” he said.

The Elizabethton City Schools requested $130,000 for a new 66-passenger school bus, a classroom renovation that would make space for 50 additional students at T.A. Dugger Junior High School and a $10,000 software program which identifies visitors to the schools and informs administrators if the individual should not be on premise. The county schools already have this program in place.

One other improvement to the city is the repair and replacement of some traffic signal loops. Kitchens said this will involve new wiring and at some intersections, a radar system where the pavement is rutted and the sensors detect traffic presence weakly.

A request that rolled over from last year was for police and fire radio upgrades. Kitchens said most of the funding is already in the budget for these, but they will probably take place in the upcoming funding cycle. The cost of these upgrades will be $166,000.

Additionally, crosswalks, handicap accessible ramps and crosswalk indicators were one of Kitchens’ priorities, at a cost of $55,000.

Department heads seemed pleased with the financial flexibility to do some much-needed repair and maintenance and asked councilmen for consideration on these various requests.