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Prepared Speech of Mayor Indya Kincannon's State of the City Address

Proposed Budget for City of Knoxville's Fiscal Year 2022-2023

April 22, 2022

At the Historic St. Mary's Hospital Campus

Mayor Kincannon
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View Poet Laureates' Poem
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Thank you Lauren. And, thank you all for being here today for my first in-person State of the City luncheon.  

I also want to acknowledge Rhea Carmon, Knoxville Poet Laureate and Melody Dalili, Knoxville Youth Poet Laureate, for that beautiful tribute to our City’s strength and resilience. We are indeed still standing!

We have had an incredibly challenging 2.5 years. We have gotten through the worst of COVID, pulled together after the tragic deaths of young people from gun violence, and now are coping with supply chain challenges and the worst inflation since the 1970s.
But Knoxville is resilient.  And through it all we have stayed true to our mission and values.  Because of that we have a lot to celebrate today. 

We are fortunate to have a history of dedicated leaders in Knoxville.  Councilwoman Rider already recognized you, but I want to reiterate how glad I am to see you here today.  

St Mary’s:  A Special Place
I want to start by welcoming everyone back to the historic St. Mary’s campus,  a special place born from a desire to serve the people of East Tennessee. In just a few short months that tradition of service will live on – when we open the new home for our Police and Fire Departments this Fall.

I want to give a special shout-out to Mayor Madeline Rogero for initiating this transformation.  

When the hospital closed in 2018, this could have become an abandoned, blighted property.   Instead, Mayor Rogero found a perfect solution! 

Thanks to her leadership, and City Council’s continued support, we are adapting this historic site to fill a new purpose: creating a much-needed public safety campus, on land that already has sidewalks, streets, lights and infrastructure. 

Thank you Mayor Rogero for a job well done!  .

St. Mary’s holds a special spot in the hearts of so many Knoxvillians.  With a show of hands, how many of you were born at St. Mary’s, had a child here, or maybe worked at the hospital? 

These memories are important and that’s why we have carefully preserved:

-The original building
-Many of the memorials
-And even some of the bricks

In fact, we have set aside nearly 1000 bricks for anyone wanting to take a little piece of St. Mary’s history home with them today. They will be available immediately following our luncheon.

I also want to take a moment to thank the Sisters of Mercy, who dedicated St. Mary’s – on this very day– 92 years ago!  Their legacy continues with a mobile clinic, parked here today, that brings health care to underserved people across East Tennessee.

Thank you Sisters for all of your work, for being here with us today, and for sharing your stories with us. .

The Sisters are joined by students and leaders from the LMU School of Nursing and the LMU School of Dentistry!  When all is said and done, LMU will have invested nearly $50 million dollars in this campus to support the health care workers of the future.  A big thank you to Pete DeBusk and the entire LMU team!

While the City of Knoxville is not in the health care business, we know that our community desperately needs more access to care, particularly mental health services. 

That’s why I’m so proud to partner with the State of Tennessee, Mayor Jacobs and Knox County, the McNabb Center and all three of our local healthcare systems – UTMC, Covenant Health, and Tennova – on yet another component to this campus:  the conversion of the former Surgery Center on the south end of this site into an urgent care facility for the neighborhood and a behavioral health center for those experiencing mental health crises.  

A special thanks to our entire delegation for supporting this effort, and especially Senator Becky Massey and Senator Richard Briggs, who worked at this hospital for many years.  Look what we can do when we work together to make good things happen for our community!


It’s exciting to celebrate the revitalization of this St. Mary’s campus, but my main job today is to let you know the ‘State of the City’ and here, I have good news:  Knoxville is on a roll. 

Our neighborhoods are strong. Our economy is vibrant.  People want to visit Knoxville, invest in Knoxville, and move to our city.  
Yet, like any city we face challenges. We have too many people living in poverty, too many people struggling to find affordable housing. We have too many families mourning loved ones lost to gun violence.
The people of Knoxville expect our City government to be an active player in seeking solutions to regional challenges and we know there is power in partnerships.

Thankfully, we have an excellent City Council who are true partners in governing and problem-solving. Elected on a nonpartisan basis, our Council members are diverse in outlook. They act with civility and respect and, most importantly, they act effectively. I so appreciate their support and so appreciate the vision we share for our city.  Would all members of City Council please stand to be recognized.

Thanks to the support and partnership of City Council, we have much to celebrate:

Let’s start with our employees. I am so honored to work with almost 1600 men and women who dedicate their time to serving the residents of Knoxville and supporting a quality of life we can all be proud of. They patrol our neighborhoods, pave our streets, patch potholes, fight fires, maintain our beautiful parks—and so much more! 

Whether you live in West Hills, Holston Hills, Harrill Hills or Colonial Village, whether you are visiting or doing business in Knoxville, City employees make our lives better.

Our employees keep our city running, 24/7.  Even during the height of a global pandemic, our crews never halted work.  That alone is worth a round of applause—thank you! 


I’ve always said that Public Safety is job one, and that remains more true today than ever.  What is also clear, is that public safety is not just the job of police officers alone, but the work of the entire community.   When we were experiencing unprecedented homicides, I asked for emergency funds to help stop the violence.  Our City Council stepped up big time.

With those funds, we created the City’s first-ever Office of Community Safety, under the leadership of LaKenya Middlebrook, to harness the power of partnership in addressing violent crime.  

We’ve awarded hundreds of thousands in grants to area nonprofits working to interrupt violence in our City. And we are about to award even more for similar work throughout the summer months— when our children are out of school, and most vulnerable.

We started CrimeStoppers – an anonymous tip line program that has, in just one year – helped solve over 3 dozen cases!  

And, we are working with local nonprofits like SEEED and the Community Mediation Center to train and equip a team of street violence interrupters. Folks like Denzel Grant, Wando Stacy, Nicole Daniels and many others, who are ready to respond in a crisis to help individuals break the cycle of violence.  Thank you for dedicating your time to help us find solutions! 


We all saw – during the pandemic – how access to high-speed, high-quality internet became a defining factor in one’s ability to work, learn, connect with loved ones, and even to access health care. 

That’s why it is so exciting that KUB – with the support of City Council – will offer municipal broadband services to every electric customer, with the first homes scheduled to come online this year.
I am especially proud of the City and KUB’s commitment to bridging the digital divide.  This budget supports the Student Internet Access Program so low-income students aren’t left behind.  Another example of The Power of Partnerships.


Of course, I also want to mention the multi-use stadium and bringing baseball back to Knoxville.  I have always said I would support this project if the benefits outweighed the costs. Thanks to the power of this public-private partnership, they most certainly do. This is a huge win for our city, and especially for those who have suffered from the legacy of urban renewal.

The total estimated economic impact of the stadium project is $480 Million!

In sharing the cost with Knox County and Randy Boyd—the owner of the soon-to-be Knoxville Smokies -we have kept the city’s yearly commitment low and manageable.  This project will connect East Knoxville to Downtown, breathing new life and energy into another corner of our City. The stadium is a huge win for Knoxville! 


But—-often some of the biggest “wins” in our City are not the ones you hear about.

I am talking about the heroes in our community.

People like Traffic Systems Supervisor Phillip Reyes. At 2am Saturday March 12th, while most of us were sleeping peacefully, Phillip and his crews worked in the midst of heavy snow fall to address 57 broken, twisted, or flashing traffic signals, successfully repairing all signals by mid-day so that we could stay safe on the roads. 

I’m talking about people like Police Officer Nick Adams, who, on February 9th, arrived at the scene of a crash to discover a driver trapped in a burning truck.  Without hesitation, Officer Adams climbed into the bed of the truck, helped the driver cut off his seat belt, and quickly led him to safety, escaping the wreckage just moments before the truck was engulfed in flames.

And, I’m talking about people like Master Firefighter Justin Ingle. Last August, as floodwaters rose rapidly along Papermill Drive, he heard a woman scream “Jesus help me” and jumped into action – and into the water. 

As her vehicle was being overtaken by the rushing water, Ingle cut through nearby brush, jumped toward the woman, and was able to  get a rescue line around her just before the water went over her head.

With help from other firefighters, they were both pulled to safety.

Phillip Reyes, Nick Adams, and Justin Ingle would you please stand. 

Now—could all Firefighters, Police Officers and General Government employees  please stand to be recognized. 

These are the faces behind so many acts of bravery, hard work, and selflessness in our City!  

One of my core goals for this year’s budget is to support and retain these heroes in our City and to recruit the heroes of tomorrow.
This very site is a part of that – through a new partnership that teams Fulton High students with our First Responders.  

The benefits of this program will be far reaching —let’s take a minute to hear from kids already taking a new Criminal Justice class and the first responders they will soon be working with.

Could everyone involved with this partnership–please stand. 

This is proof positive—We must continue to build and support the heroes of tomorrow.

We must all strive to continue the positive momentum.

And—we must provide quality services and infrastructure for all who live and work here.

At the same time—

- Our population is growing.
- Building permits are up by 10%.
- Residents are calling on city services more than ever: Police calls alone are up 12%
- We face skyrocketing inflation
- We have an acute number of unfilled positions across departments, 
- This Spring we could not recruit enough qualified applicants to hold a Police academy.

The American Rescue Plan Act has been a welcome band-aid the last two years—but is only temporary relief, and cannot be used for salaries.

Like every administration in recent history, We are at a crossroads.

We must face the realities and make difficult choices.

Do we scale back city services, undermining our safety and quality of life? 

Do we stop building and maintaining core infrastructure and risk short-changing our future?

Or, do we consider new revenue to fill the gap? 

This is not an easy decision. 


I have heard your requests for more police officers on our streets.

I have heard your requests for quality roads and sidewalks, for more greenways, and top-notch parks in all neighborhoods.

And, I’ve heard your requests to protect Knoxville as an affordable city.
I want all these things too!

I’m not willing to sacrifice Knoxville’s safety and quality of life by being penny-wise and pound-foolish.  We need high quality core services and infrastructure to keep Knoxville’s positive momentum going.

We cannot print money or go into the red, and we cannot use our savings account for recurring expenses.  

That is why I am proposing a 50-cent increase in our property tax rate. 

This will generate the new revenue needed to maintain core services and support our first responders and public works employees while also ensuring we can invest in the infrastructure our City needs to thrive in the years to come. 

Remember that right now Knox County Property Assessor John Whitehead is wrapping up the State’s required property reappraisal. And, although we are still waiting on the estimated certified tax rate, by August we anticipate that even with this increase, the equalized rate will be the lowest tax rate in the City since at least 1974. 

Please know that this decision was not made lightly. We have tightened our belts and have looked at areas to cut back—but we must meet the needs of our City. 

My budget proposal is a path forward that meets those needs. 

So, let me share some highlights. 


As a service organization, the vast majority of the City’s budget every year goes to employee salaries and benefits.  Unfortunately, those salaries have been lagging for some time, especially for our first responders – and acute staffing shortages put our safety and quality of life at risk.

- We are short over 50 police officers
- We have almost 50 vacancies in Public Service
- More than 250 employees could retire today.

City employees, the people who save lives and provide essential services, have been doing more with less.  Their commitment is unwavering, but working short-staffed is not safe and it’s not sustainable.

It’s past time to address this challenge—but we needed to know the real numbers, so we could plan for real change. 

That is why we hired an outside firm to do a comprehensive study analyzing City wages. It revealed that, on average, City of Knoxville employees are about 10% below market.  

No wonder we are facing challenges in hiring and retention!  When we pay thousands of dollars to train a police officer, only to lose them to a higher paying job a few years into their career, that is not good fiscal stewardship.

The budget I am presenting today includes $16m to bring our employees up to fair market compensation. That includes paying ALL full time employees a minimum of $15 an hour.  [Applause]

This investment will bring our police officers, firefighters and other essential workers up to market level wages across the board and put us on the path to being fully staffed. And, these proposed raises are for the rank and file, not for me, not for City Council members, not for my Executive team.

This is not only the right thing to do for our hard working employees. It is the right thing to do for all of us who work and live here and rely on the city to keep neighborhoods safe and liveable.  

Our first responders always have our back, and now it’s time we’ve got theirs.


Responsible leaders should not only deal with what's immediately in front of them—they must plan for the future. 

This is especially true when it comes to infrastructure.  To neglect investment in our roads, in our storm sewers, in our parks would risk our community’s future as a great place to live.  It’s not a responsible option.

That’s why this budget includes a robust capital plan of over $77M to make sure we are investing in the infrastructure needed for long term economic stability and resilience. 

I call the capital budget proposal the Parks, Pavement, and Pipes plan.


During the pandemic, our parks got more use than ever.  I’m proud that we were recently ranked the most accessible park system in the state—with nearly 51% of all residents living less than a 10-minute walk from a park.

This budget keeps our commitment to green spaces—with more than $10 Million to support improvements and maintenance at parks across our City like: Lonsdale Park, Lakeshore Park, Williams Creek Golf Course, and August Quarry at Fort Dickerson. 

Thank you to all of our park partners that help make our outdoor spaces accessible to all —and places we are proud of!


Now to Pavement.  Knoxvillians expect good roads – and safe roads for all the people who use them – whether driving, walking, or biking. 
Our multi-modal roadway infrastructure is critical – and building and maintaining it is a big driver of our budget. 

This budget includes $10.8 million for safety investments such as repairs to roads, bridges, guardrails, signage, signals and other basic safety assets across the City. This is the money to fill those pesky potholes! 

I am also recommending $8.6 Million for transportation infrastructure, including improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians, at specific high-priority locations.

And, as someone who loves walking in Knoxville neighborhoods – and especially since today is Earth Day – I am also thrilled that this budget invests over a million dollars to support pedestrian infrastructure and improvements, including funds for traffic calming, curb cuts, and sidewalk design and repair across City neighborhoods. 

PIPES (Stormwater)

And, finally, Pipes, a.k.a. stormwater – another major driver of our capital proposal.  This budget includes a major $20M investment in our stormwater system.  

I want to say this is not just about pipes.  This is an investment in the resilience of our community — a way to make our neighborhoods and roadways safer and less susceptible to flooding and sinkholes. 


I started this afternoon talking about the Power of Partnerships, and I want to come back to that theme to talk about one more key component of the proposed budget:  Affordable Housing. 

We are so fortunate to be a city that people want to move to and that includes students who want to go to the University of Tennessee.   
And yet, as more people choose to make Knoxville home, the shortage of affordable housing has become even more acute.  Housing affordability is the number one challenge facing many Knoxvillians.  
The City does not build housing, so how can we help?  The power of partnership.  

This time last year, I convened a task force of realtors, homebuilders, financiers, Justice Knox advocates, Councilwoman Lynne Fugate, and more. And, with all of Council’s support, we created the Affordable Housing Fund and committed $50 million dollars over the next 10 years.

This year, we are appropriating nearly $10 Million to that fund. That includes:
$1.6 million to finish First Creek at Austin Homes.
$2.5M for the Affordable Rental Development Fund.
$4.2 million to Transforming Western Heights.
And, $1.5M for permanent supportive housing.

In all— these investments will equate to 2100 new affordable homes in our City.

Our community – our economy – needs more housing – period – housing for all types of families and all types of incomes.  And, while this is a regional challenge, the City of Knoxville will remain at the table – doing our part to make sure we remain a community where families can afford to thrive.  


So, as you leave here today—remember Phillip Reyes, Nick Adams, and Justin Ingle—and all of the other heroes in our City—and ask yourself: Do I have their backs?

I do—and this budget reflects that.

It also reflects my unwavering commitment to providing you with quality services.

Maybe it is just as simple as what my father used to say to me: “Take care of your people, they will take care of you.” 

Thank you for being here today and enjoy the rest of your afternoon.