Burchett says ‘No Tax Increase’

By Mike Steely

steelym@knoxfcous.com

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is scheduled to release the county’s 2015-2016 Budget proposal this morning just as The Focus hits the streets. In a meeting Thursday the Focus learned a few things that will be in Burchett’s address to be delivered at the City-County Building at 9 a.m.

There’s no tax increase. Apparently by projecting a small increase in collection of property and sales taxes revenue next year the increase isn’t needed. Financial Director Chris Caldwell told The Focus that property taxes should grow about 1.5% without a tax increase and that sales taxes are up by 6.7% over last year thanks to the sales taxes collected by Amazon online sales.

Mayor Burchett will ask for a 2.7% budget increase or $20.1 million more than last year.

The proposal will also include less money than the school system is asking, or $435 million versus the $441.5 requested. Overall, the General Purpose Funds going to the schools will increase just over $10 million. It is also likely that Burchett will not allocate funds for the construction of new schools.

Overall the county’s budget, if adopted by county commission, will be $747,189,546.

Michael Grider, the mayor’s Communication Director, complimented Caldwell and said that the Financial Director has the most difficult of jobs, predicting where revenues will be 18 months ahead. Caldwell said he just looks at what’s happening now, looks at past years for trends, and anticipates what the state may add to the county coffers.

“We are really conservative in our revenue estimates,” Caldwell said.

Mayor Burchett will also propose a 3% increase in the county’s share of employee health care cost. Knox County is “self-insured” and Caldwell said the past year has been “really good” in keeping cost in line with $22.9 million paid out as opposed to $26.4 million the previous year.

Caldwell said the county pays 80 to 100% of the health care cost but added that the cost of compounded drugs, which are not regulated, are increasing the cost of health care.

He also said that the revenue from the hotel-motel tax is up about 6.1% and applauded Visit Knoxville for their promotion of Knoxville and Knox County as an attraction to visit.

Burchett’s budget proposal also continues funding of community organizations at about the same level as last year.

Further details of the county mayor’s budget proposal may be announced this morning, when he may address the demand for new Middle Schools for Hardin Valley and Gibbs along with other items. The middle school push could come back up when the Knox County Commission meets to consider the mayor’s budget proposal.

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