JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Johnson City commissioners will consider the city’s first tax increase in a decade Thursday during the first of three readings on a $114 million general fund budget.
“Not even local government is immune to the national inflationary pressures that individuals and businesses have been experiencing,” City Commissioner John Hunter, who supports the 25-cent property tax increase, told News Channel 11 Wednesday.
If approved, the increase would leave Johnson City property owners with a rate of $1.98 per $100 of assessed value, up 14% from the current $1.73. For a person who owns a house assessed at $200,000, yearly property tax would increase $125, from $865 to $990.
Johnson City’s general fund budget for fiscal 2024, which begins July 1 is $114.5 million. That is a 6% increase from the current year’s estimated expenses and is almost 17% higher than the actual expenses from fiscal 2022’s $98 million.
“We look at surrounding cities and communities, they’re doing the same thing,” Vice Mayor Aaron T. Murphy told News Channel 11. “This is the only way we can keep up and provide the best service that this community deserves.”
About 10 cents of the increase will fund increased infrastructure spending (7 cents) and additional funding for two of the city’s partner agencies, 911 and EMS.
The new budget also includes increases spending for roads, police vehicles and parks and recreation, which Hunter called a key to the city’s attractiveness.
“When we look at our overarching themes of how we look at the city to maintain its success … one of those is quality of place, and the amenities and activities provided through Parks and Recreation are one of those key aspects,” Hunter said.
The other 15 cents is primarily earmarked for debt service on an estimated $40 million project to build a new Towne Acres Elementary School. Hunter said the 55-year-old school is overcrowded and not built to modern safety standards.
Without additional tax funding to issue debt, Hunter said, “we’d be waiting until almost 2040 to start the project, and we need it yesterday.”
Murphy said the city has strong schools, infrastructure and quasi-governmental support.
“We want to maintain that, and as a matter of fact, we want to take it to the next level,” Murphy said. “We have one of the most desired regions in our country, and I think it’s like that for a reason because we have worked hard in ensuring that this community has the best of the best, and in order to do that we have to come together and support this tax increase.”
He said leaders have looked for “other ways to make this happen, but this is the best we could do for now. With the support of the commission, with city management and the community, we believe we’re moving in the right direction.”
Some budget highlights include:
- A 19% increase in public works’s budget, to $17.1 million.
- A 14% increase in parks and recreation’s budget, to $9.7 million.
- A 28% increase in “general government,” to $5.1 million.
- Budgets of $16.7 million for police and $14.1 million for fire.
- A $40 million bond issuance for the new school.
- 17 new police cars, a new fire pumper truck, two new solid waste front loaders and seven school buses.
- $2 million for Towne Acres school design.
Hunter, who has served on the commission since 2018, said he believes people may be more amenable to the added expense than they were when the city raised taxes in 2015.
“I’ve not heard anybody singing joyous tunes about the idea, but I think people understand the city is in the same situation we’re all in personally and professionally, that this is a very clear problem that we’re all facing together.”