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Roundup: Council Approves New City Budget; Knox County to Start Phase II of Reopening Next Tuesday

Official White House Photo by Amy Rossetti

City council approved the new budget in an 8-1 vote Tuesday 

In a vote Tuesday evening, Knoxville's city council approved mayor Indya Kincannon's $334.4 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year, but not without debate. Before the city council voted, Mayor Kincannon said, “It’s not the budget any of us wanted. I think given the pandemic it’s a fiscally responsible budget that responds to the community’s needs.” 

The city is anticipating a major drop in tax revenues due to lower consumer spending and a near-halt in travel. The new budget did not drop significantly from last year’s $336.3 million budget, but it does draw more than $6 million from city reserves. 

The newly passed budget includes increased funding and employee bonuses for the police and fire departments, slightly decreased grant funding for local agencies, and provides city employees a 2.5% salary increase, as required by Knoxville's charter. 

During a 30-minute public comment period, residents expressed issues with a range of proposals in the budget, including a lack of investment in long-term development plans for East Knoxville’s historic Burlington neighborhood. Councilmember Amelia Parker said the MLK Corridor study plan for Burlington has been in the works for almost 15 years. 

“There are issues that the community has been waiting to see prioritized in the budget," Parker said. "Meanwhile, we have projects in the budget that have only been discussed in the last few years. Also we have projects in the budget that have had no public input process."

Vice mayor Gwen McKenzie represents the Burlington neighborhood and said there needs to be new public input on the two-year-old design plans for the area. Mayor Kincannon said the standing $612,000 budgeted for Burlington could be used to gather more public feedback and develop construction plans to include in a future budget, pushing development to an uncertain date.

Councilwoman Parker also called for a motion to reallocate funds in the proposed budget from unfilled human resources and Knoxville Police Department positions, to instead staff the city’s Title VI office, which monitors discrimination, and the city’s police advisory committee (PARC). But according to the city law director, this kind of budget modification without a specific dollar amount is not covered in the city’s charter and the motion was dropped. 

Mayor Kincannon’s proposed budget passed 8-1, with Amelia Parker voting no. The new budget is for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2020.


Knox County to start phase II three days earlier than planned

Knox County Health Department announced Wednesday that the county will move forward into phase two of its reopening plan on Tuesday, May 26. This is three days earlier than originally planned.

County health director Martha Buchanan said the city county joint task force considered over 5,000 responses to a community survey and input from 500 businesses in making this decision.

A full list of agencies that can operate will be released this Friday. It will include libraries, food trucks, bars, indoor leisure facilities, and most outdoor recreation spaces. The limit for social gatherings will increase from 10 to 50 people. However, Buchanan warned the risk of infection we still be present in phase two.

“As the community continues to reopen, there is a greater risk for increased cases and clusters,” Buchanan said.

There are two Knox County residents currently hospitalized for COVID-19. 
Great Smoky Mountains National Park to open all trails Saturday

Second lady Karen Pence and the country’s deputy secretary of the interior were at Clingman’s Dome Tuesday at the announcement of the park's transition to phase two of its reopening plan. All park trails will be open on Saturday, May 23. Campgrounds and visitor centers will remain closed. 

Clingman's Dome Road and observation tower opened Tuesday. The following roads will also open on Saturday.  

· Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

· Big Creek Road and Big Creek Picnic Area

· Cosby Road and Cosby Picnic Area

· Greenbrier Road (to Ramsey Cascades Trailhead only)

· Tremont Road