A multi-million dollar budget shortfall could mean higher taxes for people in Johnson City.
It has been 12 years since Johnson City increased the property tax. City Councilman David Tomita told News 5 he hopes to keep it that way. "Growth first, cuts and efficiencies second. It doesn't mean cutting across the board. There's a lot of efficiencies we have not taken a look at and that would come well before I would support any increase," said Tomita.
This is welcome news to Louise Jackson, who told News 5 a tax hike would be hard to manage personally. "It's hard for me to get it paid because I'm on a fixed income. All of us older people are going to have a hard time getting it paid because of everything else being so high anyway," said Jackson.
"We're already overtaxed," said Johnson City resident Wesley Barnett. "With my land taxes and everything else involved, I'm paying quite a bit out in taxes. I'm not for any tax increase at all."
Councilman Tomita tells us the Commission needs to replace the $2.5 million the city used from the fund balance to make ends meet in 2014. "Its your rainy day fund. The intent is to never draw that rainy day fund out," said Tomita.
Johnson City had to use those cash reserves because of lower than anticipated income in recent years. "Revenues are down," said Tomita. "Flat at best. They're not up."
So how does a city find millions of dollars without raiding the pockets of its citizens? "We can outsource a lot of things that we traditionally we haven't. Between the city, the county, the schools, the intergovernmental agencies, 911, EMS, there are a lot of efficiencies we can find, especially in technology," said Tomita.
Johnson City traditionally pays for big ticket items, like fire trucks, with cash. But Tomita, who is also a financial advisor, told us the city can save some money by being creative.
"Interest rates are very, very low right now. We can borrow money at less than the rate of inflation. That's a pretty good business decision to do that when you can do that," said Tomita.
Favorable borrowing is just one option the City Commission can consider as the budget process moves forward. "We begin at a deficit and we always work our way back to agreement. I don't see any reason why this year can't be the same. Much of that's going to come with some hard decisions," said Tomita.