Cox introduces city budget proposal

Morristown City Administrator Tony Cox on Tuesday provided an overview of his proposed 2014-15 budget.

Councilmembers, who had not seen the proposal prior to the two-hour presentation, will have their first real opportunity to comment on the budget and ask questions at a May 27 budget workshop at Morristown City Center.

Cox’s proposed $36.3 million general-fund budget includes no increase in property tax or fee, although Cox told councilmembers they may be forced to consider both in the foreseeable future.

All city employees would get a 2.5-percent “step” raise, a pay increase that distinguishes reimbursement among employees with the same rank or job title, according to the city administrator’s proposal.

A pay study completed last year indicated one weakness with city government’s pay scheme was that, in many cases, employees with greater experience were getting the same pay as those with less experience, a phenomenon known as “salary compression.”

The proposed budget includes no funds for building construction, including a community center.

Providing guideposts for the city administrator’s proposed budget are priorities established by councilmembers during a brain storming session and the results of a community survey that starkly indicates Morristown has a long way to go to be among the state’s top cities.

The top priorities councilmembers identified were infrastructure improvements, improving community appearance and keeping city government on sound financial footing.

Cox told councilmembers he wants to maintain a $10 million reserve fund, about 27 percent of one year’s general-fund budget. He intends to spend $1.15 million above the $10 million level for both long-delayed and new purchases.

The big-ticket items include $425,000 for a new fire engine, $240,000 for a software package that will prevent the re-keying of data generated by the police department and $200,000 for a permanent farmers market structure.

Under Cox’s plan, the police department would get eight new Dodge Charger cruisers and one new detective vehicle. Money for those nine vehicles would come from the general fund.

Another proposal designed to improve the marketability of property inside the East Tennessee Progress Center involves spending about $200,000 to make the land “pad-ready.”

Cox says the prospective sites look like “pastures.” The idea is to make them more attractive to prospects by grading land in the industrial district.

The city administrator says grant funds will also be used to for the ETPC site upgrades.

Cox’s budget proposal also includes reorganizing the city’s stormwater operations, public works department and two recently hired people to manage and operate an expanded computer-mapping system.

The city administrator wants to transfer significant expenditures – right-of-way mowing and street sweeping – to the general fund.

Filling a large portion of the stormwater budget hole will be three new employees who will work on small-scale stormwater projects like clearing ditch lines.

The team would include a supervisor, an equipment operator and a field worker. City government would purchase a backhoe from the $1,15 million in proposed reserve spending for the three-man crew, according to the proposal.

Large state-mandated stormwater projects would be handled by contractors as they have in the past, according to the city administrator.

Cox says he wants to eliminate specific work-duty designations for public works employees and those who work at City Center in building and grounds.

The city administrator says he wants to move to a system in which public works and maintenance employees are cross-trained to perform a wide range of duties.

The city administrator earlier released the list of roads he wants to pave this season with general-fund revenues.

Allocations for non-profits will be unchanged.

-By Robert Moore, Tribune Staff Writer

Posted on Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at 12:06 pm