Cookeville wants to spend some $31.4 million in the new fiscal year, an increase of some 7.54 percent.
The expenses include some $28.6 million in operating expenses with $1.8 million in capital expenditures. Mayor Ricky Shelton said he feels good about where the city is with its budget plans.
“We’re blessed in the city of Cookeville–we’re in very good financial shape,” said Shelton. “We’ve weathered the pandemic and other the other side, we’re able to look at funding projects, funding infrastructure, and it’s really great, I’m really thankful for that.”
The budget includes a four percent increase in pay scale ranges as well as a market adjustment. The city increased the pay scale in December citing the need to compete in the competitive job marketplace. Merit increases of up to four percent are also part of the budget. Finance Director Brenda Imel said they implemented merit increases to the pay scale in 2013 starting at two percent.
“We’re proposing another adjustment to the scale at four percent, and that market adjustment to all employees,” Imel said. “We went for quite a few years without doing any changes to the ranges.”
City Manager James Mills said the city had too many workers below $10 and $11 per hour. As a result of that, it made it harder to bring people into the job force and keep them working.
“We couldn’t keep up with the market,” Mills said. “I think we’ve made some great improvements but we were actually at a point where we couldn’t compete.”
The budget plan includes the addition of 11 new employees, led by three firefighters and two new public works employees to help with city projects.
“We’ve got a long list of street projects and other projects we need to get done, and I think long-term this is a good investment for us,” Mills said.
Health insurance costs are expected to increase in January, 2022. Imel said the current fiscal year will likely end with a record number of claims.
“We’re looking at everything,” Mills said. “The city’s going to have to put in more money, the employees are going to have to put in more money.”
53 percent of the money goes to police and fire protection. The budget includes seven new police vehicles, with four being hybrid vehicles. The budget includes engineering studies on rebuilding stations two and three. Both stations are approaching 50 years of age.
In the Leisure Services Department, the budget includes a $124,000 feasibility study for an Ice Center and Aquatics Facility.
“This will tell us is it feasible to have these types of facilities in the city,” Mills said. “Before we spends millions of dollars we want to find out if this is something to apply here.”
The budget includes 29.9 million in revenues…with 51 percent of that revenue from sales tax and 22 percent from property tax. Imel budgeted sales tax revenue of $15.1 million for the new fiscal year. The certified tax rate for property taxes will be set with state input in July. Imel said the current 99 cent rate would be used for budgeting purposes. Imel said she expected a decrease in the certified tax rate based on the amount of growth in Cookeville.
72 cents of the 99 cent tax rate will go to the general fund. 15 cents goes to the transportation infrastructure fund. Five cents of the amount are used for pay as you go projects, based on council mandate. The biggest expense will be work on the expansion of 10th Street.
The legislature approved $394,000 in state money for one-time expenses for Cookeville. Imel said the state reduced the final amount of funding, but also cut the amount of reporting the state would demand.
Cookeville will begin this new fiscal year with more than $25 million in its general fund, thanks to better than expected sales tax revenue. All in, the budget includes a 7.46 percent increase in revenues. Imel said the COVID year will be an asterisk going forward.
The city will receive some $9.3 million in American Rescue Plan money, COVID money from the federal government.