The “wish list” for the city of Maryville carries a hefty price tag, City Manager Greg McClain told those gathered at the Blount County Chamber of Commerce for a “State of the City” presentation.
Each department was asked to present a “wish list” of what they would like to have in capital needs, McClain said. “The price tag was $300 million in capital needs,” he said. “And, as we have very little debt capacity left, it quickly became a matter of prioritizing what was most needed. We handed it over to the city council for their input, to ask, what are our priorities? We have to be very deliberate and prioritize those needs.”
A history buff himself, McClain opened his presentation with a little history of the city, reminding the audience that, at 214 years old, the city of Maryville is older than the state of Tennessee. He cited the influence of Alcoa, Inc., on the area’s movement toward being an urban area in the early 1900s, and referenced with a laugh the “slight of hand” that took community leaders in “North Maryville” to the state legislature in the early 1900s to get legislation passed for the incorporation of the city of Alcoa.
“The Maryville population of 27,000 is all contained in a 16-square-mile area,” McClain said. “We continue to grow, driven by folk’s love of this area and our city school system. There is always a lot of talk about growing too fast and losing all our land. But if all the communities -- Maryville, Alcoa, Townsend, Friendsville -- grew to fill up within their urban growth boundaries, 80 percent of our county would still be undeveloped.”
We are lucky as well, McClain said, “that 26 percent of our county is in the Park in a protected preservation area.”
The city has just launched into a two-year exercise “to look at where we are and decide what we want to be. We will be engaging you all as community citizens as we go along and look at this.”
McClain discussed from what sources city revenue comes, with the largest being property taxes. He explained the city’s debt cap -- a self-imposed cap on how much they can borrow.
“We can borrow up to $111 million,” McClain said, “and we aren’t far from that now.”
Even before the economy slowed to where it is today, McClain said the city was instituting a “very deliberate slowing in spending. Sales tax revenue at the close of June 30 were $380,000 less than the year before, and we had budgeted for a 3 percent increase.”
Property values are holding their own, McClain said, while sales tax revenue has dropped.
The challenge for the city, McClain said, is to weather the economic downturn with their general philosophy intact.
“Our general philosophy is not to see an erosion of services, and we don’t want to lay off people. That may sound simple, but it’s a hard road.”
The credit for the city’s success in keeping to that philosophy should be credited to the city’s employees, McClain said.
“Out of a $130 million budget, $30 million is general fund, and 80 percent of that $30 is employee costs. We cut $2.5 million out of the general fund and kept our philosophy in place. We were able to do that because the city of Maryville employees took a cut in pay, and they did it without complaining. They said they understood. We could have laid off six people or cut out a city service, but our employees said, ‘We understand. We can do this.’ There have been no raises, no step increases, six positions held open and a cut in pay. They deserve to be commended for their sacrifices.”
Departments funded by the city also stepped up to the plate when they could, said McClain. “Joe Huff with Parks & Rec came in and said, ‘we want to do our part,’ and he voluntarily cut back 2 percent on the Parks & Rec budget.”
McClain was not optimistic about the time frame for economic turn around, saying he believed it was another 18 months out.