The budget is the guiding financial document for the city and is made up of many parts – the general fund (main operating and capital fund for the city), water and sewer systems, the school fund and several smaller funds for things like solid waste, Bays Mountain Park and MeadowView.
The BMA held a strategic planning session in February along with two budget workshops in May to review and discuss the budget. The budget has to be approved by the BMA on two readings, the second of which took place Tuesday night. The new budget goes into effect July 1 and runs through June 30, 2023.
The FY-23 budget allocates over $2.7 million for paving, $2.5 million for a 5% cost of living increase, as well as a step increase for employees and assumes the funding for school resource officers within Kingsport City Schools (previously split 50/50 with Kingsport City Schools). Additionally, the budget funds a new Building Inspector to assist with the continued housing boom the city is witnessing.
In addition to the operating budget the BMA also set the stage for the FY-23 capital budget which focuses funding towards school renovations, Justice Center renovations, Academic Village, facility maintenance, and bridge repair. A formal vote on the FY-23 capital budget will occur later in the year.
“Fortunately, we have seen strong growth in sales tax and state shared revenues, which has helped cover the impact inflation had on this year’s budget,” said City Manager Chris McCartt.
A majority of general fund expenses (71.25%) saw an average increase of more than 13% in FY-23. Fuel costs have risen nearly 87% since last June and the city experienced higher costs with its retirement plans and health insurance.
These and other factors resulted in Kingsport seeing a $3.1 million increase to non-personnel expenditures last fiscal year.
While tackling inflation and supply chain challenges, Kingsport is also experiencing an all-time high turnover rate (20%) among employees with pay being the number one reason for leaving based on exit interviews.
“Due to the number of vacancies, an issue currently impacting both the public and private sector, we are at critical staffing levels to provide the level of service our citizens expect,” McCartt said. “The number of unfilled positions, including public safety jobs, will continue to grow if we do not remain competitive on salaries. We simply cannot sustain a skilled workforce and deliver the services our citizens expect with a 20% turnover rate.”
To help address both retention and attraction, Kingsport increased pay for nearly 400 positions, mostly entry level, allocating an additional $800,000 in salaries throughout the current fiscal year. The FY-23 budget allocates an additional $2.5 million for a 5% cost of living increase and step increase for employees, which is in line with what the public sector market is or has already considered for the coming fiscal year.
In order to balance the budget, provide raises to all city employees, and maintain a strong level of service to the citizens, the BMA approved a 12-cent property tax increase in the FY-23 budget. This is the first property tax increase since 2014 and takes the tax rate for the City of Kingsport from $1.8783 to $1.9983 per $100 of assessed value.
“Anytime you are faced with having to increase revenues, whether through increased fees or taxes, it is something no one takes lightly,” said McCartt. “The city staff takes great care and consideration when presenting a budget with a tax increase as we know there will be an impact for all residents.”
The initial budget presented to the BMA in May did not include a tax increase and as a result fell short of providing the necessary funding for employee pay, service delivery needs across multiple departments, as well as firmly positioning the city to manage present and future growth. “The BMA has been in step with city staff over the last ten months as we have battled a tight labor market and inflation. Their decision to raise taxes insures our ability to remain competitive on multiple fronts moving forward,” said McCartt.
The FY-23 budget also includes increases to the water rate (7.5%) and sewer rate (13.5%). The increases are due to a number of issues – flat revenues, federal regulations, inflation and an aging infrastructure.
“Over the past 10 years, revenue in water and sewer has been flat. People just don’t use as much water as they used to,” said Deputy City Manager Ryan McReynolds. “Kingsport is also trying to stay ahead of regulatory requirements.”
Even after the increases, Kingsport’s water and sewer rates will still be lower than our neighbors in Johnson City, Elizabethton and Morristown.