JC commission approves first reading of budget with major cuts, - WRBL

JC commission approves first reading of budget with major cuts, still no tax increase

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Johnson City Commissioners approved a budget with no tax increase, a $500,000 funding increase for Johnson City Schools, but no city funding for more than two dozen non-profit organizations previously funded by the city.

The vote came after the commissioners gaveled into session at City Hall Thursday night.

Commissioners voted 3 to 2 in favor of an amended budget plan proposed by Commission Jeff Banyas and supported, eventually, by Vice Mayor Clayton Stout and Commissioner David Tomita.

Much of the discussion centered around the Banyas amendment and another amendment proposed by Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin. Both emerged as replacements for a draft budget proposed by City Manager Pete Peterson that had no tax increase, no additional funding for schools, and deep funding cuts including the elimination of special appropriations spending.

The previous year's city budget including $367,000 in special appropriations funding for 25 non-profit organizations in Johnson City.

Johnson City Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin proposed a budget amendment that called for a 22 cent property tax increase with 10 cents going to Johnson City Schools and 12 cents going to Johnson City's general fund. The Mayor's plan provided full funding for charities through special appropriations, six police officers, Legion Street Pool, helmets for firefighters, and televised City Commission meetings.

The Mayor's amendment seemed to have the support of Commissioner Jenny Brock who said she wouldn't support any budget that didn't provide for a funding increase for Johnson City Schools. "We must be diligent in the way we treat our school system," said Brock, a former school board member. "These children are 100 percent of our future, and we need to invest in them."

The competing amendment from Commissioner Jeff Banyas kept the current tax rate, enacted a city-wide hiring freeze, provided only $500,000 in additional funding for Johnson City Schools, and called for a review of all city employee salaries and responsibilities. Banyas called for a reduction in the subsidy to city-owned golf courses and to Freedom Hall. The plan provided for funding for the six requested police officers, Legion Street pool, and televised Commission meetings. But the Banyas budget amendment did not fund special appropriations.

Commissioner David Tomita said he supported the Banyas plan because it gave the City time to exhaustively evaluate expenses and priorities, something he says hasn't adequately happened yet. "My agenda is to buy some time," Tomita said. "We can pay our bills. We're not on the verge of bankruptcy. This is serious, but it's not dire."

After emerging as the swing vote, Vice-Mayor Clayton Stout said he couldn't support the Banyas plan because it didn't fund special appropriations and called for a recess. After a break, Stout's amendment called for money to be removed from the City's roads resurfacing budget to give $600,000 in increased funding for schools and $190,000 for special appropriations.

The Stout amendment to the Banyas plan failed 3-2 with Commissioners Tomita and Brock and Mayor Van Brocklin voting no.

The next vote on the Banyas plan passed 3 to 2 with Mayor Van Brocklin and Commissioner Brock voting no.

"I'm not going to be supportive of it because I don't believe that it adequately tends to the needs of the community or the needs of the schools. I think were not investing money in the community as we need to," Van Brocklin told News Channel 11.

Commissioners went into recess at 10 p.m.. They plan to return to session at 7 a.m. Friday for a second reading on the budget.

News Channel 11's Allie Hinds contributed to this report.

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