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No tax hike in Rocky Top budget

Rocky Top plans a balanced city budget with no property-tax rate increase for the new fiscal year 2021-22 beginning July 1, City Manager Michael Foster said.

Foster briefly outlined the budget for the coming year at last Thursday night’s City Council meeting.

The council unanimously passed the 2021-22 budget ordinance on first reading, and set a public hearing on the measure for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 17.

That’s just prior to the 6 p.m. council meeting, during which the council will consider passing the budget ordinance on second and final reading.

“Our revenue has been better than expected,” Foster told the council. “We feel good about this. There is no tax increase and no rate increase.”

The City Council members will hold a budget workshop to finalize details of the new spending and revenue plan at 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 7, in council chambers. As with all council meetings, the budget workshop will be open to the public.

Also last week, the City Council approved renewal of a contract for the annual city financial audit with the outside accounting firm Mitchell Emert & Hill of Knoxville, for a fee of $23,500. That’s up $1,500 from the last audit, Foster said.

The audit will cover the city’s finances for the fiscal year from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. Foster said the firm has been doing the city’s annual audits, which are required by state law, for the past 10 years.

In other business Thursday:

• The City Council held a public hearing – which no one other than city officials attended – and passed on second and final reading an ordinance banning smoking in city park playgrounds and parking lots.

Mayor Timothy Sharp suggested that Foster designate a smoking area just outside the parks, ballfields and other sports venues, but city officials noted that any such area would not be allowed on any park property – including the parking lots – according to the ordinance.

What that leaves as an acceptable smoking-area location was not explained.

Under a state law passed by the Tennessee General Assembly and signed by Gov. Bill Lee in March 2020, local governments now have the authority to ban smoking in public playground areas – but only with at least a two-thirds majority of the local governing board approving the measure.

The Rocky Top council approved the measure unanimously on both readings.

The request for Rocky Top to consider the playground smoking ordinance came from ASAP, the Anderson County group that works to limit drug and alcohol abuse in the area.

Under the Rocky Top ordinance, it would be a violation for “any person to smoke on the grounds of any city-owned playground,” including indoor and outdoor facilities.

The ordinance defines smoking as “the burning of a tobacco product, a hemp product, or any other drug or substance, but does not include the use of a vapor product.”

Further, the ordinance defines the “grounds” as “the entire real property upon which a playground is located, as determined by the property lot lines, including the parking areas and any permanent or temporary restroom facilities.”

The Norris City Council recently considered adopting a similar ordinance, but tabled the proposal after some council members objected, saying they had no knowledge of any problems the city was having with smoking in playground areas.

Clinton and Oak Ridge city councils, however, have passed the ban in their communities, Foster said.

• The council also voted to approve, on final reading, an ordinance to raise the number of members of the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee to seven from the previous five.

Under the new ordinance, the committee must include at least two city residents and one council member, but could have up to four members who are not residents of Rocky Top.

Those non-resident members, however, would have to be people with “a passion and desire to see recreation grow in the city of Rocky Top.”

All members would have to be approved by a majority vote of the City Council, and would serve three-year terms – except for the City Council member, whose term would be two years or less, coordinating with when that member’s council term ends.

The council also voted to add Dustin Leach as the fifth member of the Parks and Recreation Committee, which already had a vacancy.

• The city’s Independence Day fireworks show will return this year after being canceled last year during the coronavirus pandemic, Foster said.

Plans are for the show to be held Friday night, July 2, to kick off the Independence Day weekend.

“We’re excited about having fireworks and other events again,” Foster told the council.

• The city’s Splash Pad will open soon with new benches and picnic tables, as well as improvements to the concrete, thanks in part to a $2,500 anonymous donation, Foster said.