A poll on East Ridge News Online about how our elected officials spend taxpayer money drew the attention of Mayor Brian Williams.
The poll question asks: Would you prefer $1 million of your tax dollars spent on improvements to Camp Jordan Park or be spent on a new ladder truck for the fire department?
Readers who participated in the poll revealed that 62 percent favored spending on a fire truck, while 38 percent were in favor of improvements in the park.
Mayor Williams took to social media to give East Ridge residents a primmer on government finances. He explained that the money being spent on the improvements to the park comes from hotel/motel taxes, not the general fund. Hotel/motel taxes come from people who visit the city, not taxpayers, he said.
Furthermore, the city will be reimbursed for the spending by the state of Tennessee through Border Region tax money.
The mayor said if the city were to buy a fire truck that it would have to assume a $700,000 debt with no revenue stream in the General Fund to pay for it. He suggested that the purchase would require a property tax increase.
The mayor cited studies showing a $10 million economic impact that Camp Jordan Park has on our city.
These statements prompted comments from his constituents on social media thanking the mayor for the thorough explanation, his leadership, and transparency.
Let’s take a closer look.
Funding for parks and recreation in East Ridge amounted to $1.5 million in the 2020-21 budget. That’s 10 percent of the city’s spending. The fire department accounts for 14.5 percent of spending.
Four additional soccer fields in the park will cost an additional $733,000. We intend to spend about $750,000 on a paved parking lot. That essentially doubles city spending in the park. Now city spending on parks and recreation represents about 20 percent of the budget.
Paying for the soccer fields with the hotel/motel tax is fine. But in the 2020-21 budget, the revenue from the hotel/motel tax is $400,000 total. The hotel/motel tax is used to service existing debt. Now there is more debt to service.
In the Sept. 10 City Council meeting, City Manager Chris Dorsey explained to Councilman Jacky Cagle that the city will have to borrow money – presumably $733,000 – to pay for the fields. It will make the payment with the hotel/motel tax money.
Question; what’s the difference in borrowing $700K for a fire truck and $700K for a soccer field?
The difference is priorities, Dear Reader. The city places too much emphasis on parks and recreation at the expense of the East Ridge Fire Department.
Bottom line; if the council wanted a fire truck they could find a way to pay for it.
The council approved taking $646,000 from its “fund balance” and earmarked it for Pioneer Frontier/splashpad ($500,000) and the Multi-Model project ($146,000). These projects have been on the drawing board for more than two years. In fact, the same $646,000 item which draws from the city’s savings account was in last year’s budget as well.
Last time I checked, the playground and splashpad improvements with a total budget of $1 million falls under parks and recreation. It appears the council has no problem standing fast and committing to funding parks and recreation.
The same can’t be said for the East Ridge Fire Department.