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Mayor Haslam presents budget in 2005Mayor Haslam proposes budget focused on quality services

April 28, 2005
- Mayor Bill Haslam today proposed a budget for the City of Knoxville that emphasizes neighborhood services that improve the quality of life within the city and invests in projects that benefit the community as a whole.

No increase in taxes is required to fund the proposed budget for the 2005-2006 fiscal year, although expenses like gasoline, utilities and health care continue to rise. To balance the budget, city government will continue to focus on gaining efficiencies to reduce expenses and fostering a climate for economic development to increase revenues.

The budget reflects the administration's four goals - stronger, safer neighborhoods; city services you can count on at a competitive price; an energized downtown - everybody's neighborhood; and more and better jobs.
"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 premier city in which to live, work and raise a family," Mayor Haslam said during the annual budget address held this year at Fountain City Park.

The Mayor noted that he spends "a lot of time listening, whether it be at our Listening Tours, Walking Tours, neighborhood lunches or other events. And there's no question about what I hear - you want us to do a great job providing the everyday services."

Residents responding to a recent city survey ranked sidewalks as their no. 1 priority. The Mayor's budget directs $1 million to building and improving sidewalks. Priority will be given to areas around schools where transportation is not provided, including Fulton, West and Austin-East High Schools and Holston and Bearden Middle Schools.

The City's goal of paving nearly 50 miles of street annually so that every street is paved at least once every 20 years will be fully funded this year at $3.2 million, and significant expenditures will also be made on bridge safety. Funding for projects that slow traffic within neighborhoods is also included.

The Mayor noted that fixing drainage issues is an expensive proposition, "but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't get started, it will only get more expensive as time goes by." The budget earmarks $2 million on drainage issues in the First Creek area, on Emily Avenue, and across the city.

Mayor Haslam also emphasized the importance of partnerships to leverage city taxpayer dollars.

The City will partner with Knox County to build a Skate Park for skateboarders and explore the creation of a "One Stop Shop" for planning, zoning and permitting services.

In Burlington and Lonsdale, the City will use city and federal dollars to build sidewalks, add lighting, provide façade grants and build new housing. Working with Knox County schools, the city will extensively renovate Lonsdale Park.

The private sector is the City's partner in renovating buildings at World's Fair Park to do some long-delayed maintenance and draw more residents and visitors to the downtown location. The agreement will net the City a financial benefit of $10 million over 10 years.

Mayor Haslam discussed the progress underway in downtown Knoxville, including the opening of the Tennessee Theatre - now ranked in the top 50 among venue theatres in the country - and a plan to turn the lights back on at the Bijou Theatre. The City administration, Regal Entertainment Group and Knox Heritage have also agreed to a design for a premier downtown cinema that preserves the S&W Cafeteria and increases additional retail space.

"Knoxville's downtown continues to shine," the mayor stated. "We hope to have more exciting announcements coming up very soon that we think will be a catalyst for even more development downtown."

"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," he said.

The City will commit $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."

Making city government more efficient and customer-friendly will continue to be a priority. The city is operating with fewer employees without reducing services, and last year reduced the number of city-owned vehicles and refinanced debt to provide significant long-term savings. Through better management and more aggressive marketing, the convention center has also reduced its operating loss by about $1 million.

Equipment for the City's new 311 customer service center is in place and staff is undergoing training. This summer, residents will be able to dial one number - 311 - to get help or answers to questions about City services.

The next stop in the City's budget process is City Council, which is expected to hold two workshops in late May. The City's fiscal year begins July 1, 2005.