Economic development, schools and public safety topped Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs’ priorities for the county.
While there are other priorities, Jacobs said he sees those three issues as where the county needs to make investments while sharing his vision for Knox County, as featured speaker, at Farragut West Knox Chamber of Commerce’s Breakfast Speaker Series in Rothchild Catering & Conference Center Tuesday morning, April 30.
“To chase your dreams, you have to sometimes be flexible,” Jacobs said on the subject of economic development. “You have to say, ‘when one thing ends, it’s just the beginning of something else,’ and you have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone and take advantage of the opportunities, which are afforded you in a free market economy.
“I think on a much larger scale, that translates into what’s happening globally and what’s happening across America,” he said, adding Knox County needs to ensure “we have great economic opportunities.”
“I believe that is my most important job is jobs — good, high-paying jobs,” he added.
Jacobs noted the economy has changed from manufacturing to an innovative economy, where jobs are being outsourced to machines. However, it is opening up jobs in innovation and service.
Jacobs said students’ focus on career paths also need to adapt, noting there is a gap in skilled labor jobs. At the same time, he pointed out the state cuts in education, adding “The (state’s Basic Education Program) is broken — at least for Knox County. It’s terrible and it punishes Knox County.” He explained all the sales tax goes to the state, which has a formula that determines how much each county gets for education.
“We get punished because we’re economically vibrant (and) because we keep our taxes low,” Jacobs said. “They are saying, ‘You guys have the capacity to raise taxes, so we’re not going to give you as much money.’
“If you look at the per student average across the state of Tennessee, Knox County gets $70 million less in our school system,” he said. “We have 58,000 students. We get about $1,600 less per student than state average.
“Over the past three years, we’ve seen an increase, statewide, of about $200 million that went into the BEP,” Jacobs added. “This year, Gov. (Bill) Lee only did $117 million. So, for Knox County, what that translated is schools thought, based on the past seven years of BEP, that we would be looking at a $12 million increase in state BEP funding for the schools. It turned out to be about $7.1 million.
“That had an impact on our funding levels,” he said. “We’re going to be OK, but basically what it does is it unfairly burdens the citizens of Knox County.”
The following day, Jacobs proposed an $853.1 million budget, which is a $34 million increase over the 2019 county budget. The proposed budget still must be approved by County Commission, which will take the vote the first week of June, said 5th District County Commissioner John Schoonmaker, whose district includes Farragut.
While no tax increases are proposed, the budget would include 3 percent raises for county employees, as well as a 6 percent salary increase for Sheriff’s Office personnel and 3.5 percent raises for teachers and other school personnel.
It also would include $2.1 million for the county’s closed pension funds to make up for market conditions, $800,000 more toward debt service and — with a recommendation to accept Knox County Schools’ $506 million budget — to build Lonsdale Elementary and Adrian Burnett Elementary schools and a new elementary school in northwest Knoxville.
Jacobs' budget represents a $34 million increase over the current Knox County plan. Last year, then Mayor Tim Burchett presented a proposed $819 million budget.
Jacobs' $853 million budget includes Knox County Schools' request for $506 million in general fund spending.