|BUDGET 2005-2006: MAYOR'S SPEECH
Transcript of Mayor Bill Haslam's speech on the proposed budget
City of Knoxville's fiscal year 2005-2006
April 28, 2005
Fountain City Park
Thank you for coming out on this beautiful day to enjoy one of our city's great places - Fountain City Park. I'm proud to say it's the first time a budget address has ever been given here in the heart of North Knoxville.
We're here today to talk about your money, I always want everyone in my administration to remember it's not our money - it's your tax dollars that create and preserve our parks, roads, sidewalks and buildings. It's your tax dollars that pay for police and fire protection, trash and brush pickup, roads and bridges, and recreation and transportation services. It's my job in partnership with City Council to make sure we use your money in the most efficient way possible.
I'm going to break all the rules and give you the punch line first,
but you can't leave after you hear it…. I'm pleased to tell you that
I'm NOT going to ask for any more of your hard earned dollars to fund
city government this year. I will present a budget to city council
that does NOT include a tax increase.
That doesn't mean there's lots of extra money, running a city is much like running your household. If I were to ask each of you which bills at your house had gone up the most, I bet it would be the very same bills that have seen big increases at the city. And you can all easily name them -.gas prices, utilities and health care costs. When you're filling up your tank and saying "Man, how much higher can gas go" think about all the tanks we fill up every day at the city. Our cost for gasoline alone will go up about three quarters of a million dollars. And these wonderful assets across our city use lots of electricity; we'll probably use another three quarters of a million EXTRA dollars to keep the lights turned on and the heat and air going. Added together that's 1.5 million dollars OVER what we paid last year just for gasoline and utilities. And a cost that spirals upward every year - way more than the cost of living, is health care. I know that each of you experiences the rising cost of health care for your families, the city of Knoxville shares that expense for 1,500 families. We pay $14 million for health care for our employees. While we're doing everything we can to control those costs, we do expect an increase this year.
You may get tired of hearing me say this, but I can't say it enough, our expenses have been going up about 4% and our revenue has only been going up 2%. It's the fundamental issue we face as a city. That's why I stress cost savings so much and it's why we work so hard to have good development in the heart of the city. To keep from raising taxes, we must find ways to reduce spending and look for development opportunities EVERY DAY.
But before we get into the nuts and bolts of where we're spending your tax dollars this year, I'd like to take a moment to look at what's been accomplished over the last year. I believe that we've been good stewards of your money and I want to share the credit with city council and the men and women who work for city government. Let me just tell you that the longer I'm in office the more impressed I am with the folks who work for you at the city, whether it's the police officer on the beat, the public service worker picking up your brush, the firefighter rushing to the scene of a fire or the accountant making these numbers work, our city workers are committed to providing great services for you, the taxpayer.
We promised to create efficiencies and we've done that. We have fewer employees, but we haven't cut services. We've reduced the number of cars, saving the cost of the car and gasoline and maintenance costs. We've saved over $6 million dollars by refinancing our debt - that's $6 million over ten years, a substantial savings. Through better management and more aggressive marketing, the convention center has reduced its operating loss by a million dollars. We paved 48 miles of road and replaced and repaired about 2 miles of sidewalks across the city.
We heard you when you said you're tired of cars flying through your neighborhoods, and we can report results….special patrols were set up in neighborhoods and since February they've issued 2,800 tickets for speeding. We hope the message is loud and clear, SLOW DOWN WHEN YOU'RE DRIVING THROUGH OUR NEIGHBORHOODS.
We promised to make Knoxville's Downtown a shining star.
The Tennessee Theatre reopened to rave reviews and it's ranked in the top 50 among venue theatres across the country, it even beat the Grand Ole Opry.
We're working to turn the lights back on at the Historic Bijou
Knox Heritage, Regal Cinemas and the City worked together to come up with a solution to save the S & W Cafeteria and build a premiere downtown cinema
There's a waiting list for residential development downtown and there are some exciting retail developments in the works
Looks like our star is pretty bright to me.
This year we've invested in technology that's up and running and helping us serve you better. We also invested in economic development through the Chamber Partnership's Jobs Now program and the numbers are impressive - more than 11,000 new jobs for the region over the last two years.
This little corner of the world is getting national attention as a great place to do business. We KNEW that, we just needed the tools to let the world know. Inc. magazine's recent list of best places to do business ranks Knoxville 18th and we're the only Tennessee city in the top 25; Expansion Management ranked Knoxville 14th among the 50 hottest cities for business and a Milken report in Forbes ranked us 13th for best places for businesses and careers. That's what I call Good News.
I'd like to pause for a minute here and talk about another partnership which benefits our city, that's our relationship with the County. I really enjoy working with Mayor Ragsdale, he's a great partner in government, but the partnership extends beyond our relationship and into the general government. It's something you as citizens should insist on from us. Working together enabled us to pull off a property swap which will result in a new cinema downtown and a new transit center; we are presenting a united front to our legislators in Nashville and Washington which will help us leverage state and federal dollars; and our police department and sheriff's department are willing to work together. This attitude of cooperation makes a real difference.
Now it's time to talk about what we want to do in this year's budget.
As Mayor I spend a lot of time listening , whether it be at our listening tours, our walking tours, our neighborhood lunches or at other events. And there's no question about what I hear. You want us to do a great job providing the everyday services. You pay us money through your taxes to provide services that you can't do for yourself and to invest in projects that benefit the community as a whole. In our most recent city survey you ranked our services and you told us that SIDEWALKS are your #1 priority. Sidewalks are not just concrete pathways - sidewalks connect neighbors and neighborhoods and they keep our children safe as they walk to school or play. So, we're investing almost $1 million dollars to build and repair sidewalks. Our first priority will be sidewalks around schools; we hope to have new sidewalks around Fulton, West and Austin East High Schools, and Holston and Bearden Middle Schools.
Nobody likes to drive over rough roads, nor do we want to send our school buses or our kids out driving on them. We've set up a schedule to make sure every road gets paved at least once every 20 years and we're spending $3.2 million dollars this year to make sure we stay on that schedule. I don't have to tell you that TDOT is everywhere, even though we may all be frustrated by the delays, we need those investments in our roads and bridges. We will be paying our share of highway construction including major bridge repairs and replacements. And if you decide driving through the mess is too much for you…take the bus and you'll be riding on one of the best bus systems in the country. Last year our own KAT was named Public Transit System of the Year and KAT is working hard to keep our air clean, 98% of the buses are using biodiesel fuel. Plans for a new Transit Center downtown are moving along, we have 60% of the federal funding in place, and we hope to break ground sometime in 2006.
Our neighborhoods are a reflection of who we are and they need lots of tender, loving care. We spend $15 million dollars to make sure your trash and brush get picked up regularly. Police and fire protection are critical to all of our neighborhoods and it's worth noting that about half of the city budget goes to pay for this protection.
I believe that the greatest service we perform is protecting you, your family and your property. The men and women of the police and fire departments accept this responsibility with pride. We have new leadership in both our Fire and Police Departments and I would like to thank Chief Perez and Chief Owen for joining our team to lead the uniformed bodies.
A couple of neighborhoods will get a little extra care and nurturing. Burlington will be getting new sidewalks and lighting. We're also going to give grants to some of the businesses so they can rehab their buildings and give them a better look.
Lonsdale will be getting a complete facelift. This area will get new sidewalks and lighting, but there's much more….we're going to buy up some of the vacant lots and put houses there. We're partnering with Knox County Schools to improve Lonsdale Park, we'll incorporate the playground into the school property by closing a street. There will be new playground equipment, new picnic shelters, new landscaping and better parking, Lonsdale Park will be a brand new park when we're finished - investing in our neighborhoods is the right thing to do for all of us.
And there's more good news about our parks….we have some young people out there who have a future as lobbyists, I can't tell you how many kids have asked me when we're going to build a skate park, I'm happy to tell you that the time is now. We're partnering with Knox County to build a Skate Park. I'll be there for the grand opening next year, but don't expect me to get on that ramp on a skateboard. We will also continue to invest in our greenways, ball fields and tennis courts across the city. And we haven't forgotten that gem in the heart of our city, the Knoxville Zoo.
At World's Fair Park, there are some city assets that aren't being used as well as they could be. You may remember that last year I committed to fixing up one of Knoxville's icons, the Sunsphere. We've grouped the Sunsphere, the Candy Factory and the Victorian Houses together and asked for bids from private investors. The winning bid proposes to turn the Candy Factory into condos with retail on the main level, the Victorian Houses will be used for the Arts and the Sunsphere will have a restaurant and offices. We've put these building to better use, brought new life to the park PLUS the city gets a financial benefit from all of this of $10 million dollars over ten years. We think this is good government and a win for the citizens.
Knoxville's downtown continues to shine. By next fall we'll have a premier Regal cinema on Gay Street and retail will be in the old S & W Cafeteria. We hope to have more exciting announcements coming up very soon that we think will be a catalyst for even more development downtown. Sundown in the City started off with a crowd of more than 10,000 people and the Rossini Festival brought 60,000 people into downtown on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. Who says our only big Saturdays are in the fall.
The next step we want to take is to expand our downtown to include the South Waterfront; we believe that's a natural extension. There are so many possibilities across the river, but we need to make sure it's done right. We don't get second chances on waterfronts, so I'm committing $400,000 toward a Master Plan to look at what we need to do, what are the right uses for this valuable riverfront property and what's the best way to develop it. We want our grandchildren and their grandchildren to say, "They really did a good job on that waterfront." This will be a living, working document and not a plan that gets put on the shelf. It's time we paid attention to one of Knoxville's great assets, the South Waterfront.
Being close to the water is good for development, but it's bad when it floods our neighborhoods and businesses. I know lots of you, especially in this neighborhood, are just fed up with it and I don't blame you. It's very expensive to fix our drainage problems in this city, it will literally cost millions and millions of dollars, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't get started - it will only get more expensive as time goes by. There's an old African proverb that says, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago and the next best time is today. So in the next budget we're planning to spend nearly 2 million dollars on drainage issues, a million dollars of this will go for First Creek Improvements, which will include design and property acquisition. Also included will be a drainage master plan and the purchase of houses on Emily Avenue that continually flood; we'll also be taking care of minor repairs all across the city.
There's one area of city government where I think we can do a better job and that's in customer service. Coming from the retail world I know that if you don't get the kind of service you want, you can take your business somewhere else. That's true for governments too. We want you to live and work in the city of Knoxville, so we've got to make sure we provide good customer service. We want to give you a reason to say it's really worth it to live in the city. Whether we're picking up your leaves and brush or approving plans for a new building, we need to do it with a positive attitude toward our customers, our citizens.
We've got a couple of ways to make it easier for you to interact with us and get better service. We know that it's often difficult to deal with any government agency, you're in a hurry, you need an answer, but we have an obligation to protect the safety and welfare of our citizens and to protect land use. One of our goals is to set up a One Stop Shop. We think life would be a little easier if you could visit one place for planning and zoning and permitting and we'd like to put our One Stop Shop in a convenient location for our customers. This is a work in progress, so we're still in the planning stages, but we want the money to be there when the plan comes together.
The second way we want to improve customer service is with our new 3-1-1 call center. Last year we talked about 3-1-1, the first step was to invest in the equipment to get our 3-1-1 system up and going. The equipment's been purchased and installed and our staff is in training right now. Before the summer is over you'll be able to dial
3-1-1 to get help or answers to your questions about city services. I am personally committed to making customer service a priority for this administration.
Finally I want to share with you the four goals of my administration that are now part of our new strategic plan which we call Knoxville Works!.
Stronger, safer neighborhoods
City service you can count on at a competitive price
An energized downtown: everybody's neighborhood
More and better jobs
We are presenting a balanced budget to City Council that reflects these goals and the strategies in Knoxville Works! I am convinced that if we focus our energies on these four goals, our city will grow and prosper and we will be America's permier city in which to live, work and raise a family.
Two years ago my campaign was built around the theme, "It's Knoxville's
Time". I believed it then and I believe it more than ever today.
I've never felt as excited about the future of Knoxville as I do
standing before you today. I am so grateful to be serving as your
Mayor. Thank you for coming today and thank you for your encouragement