Page 79 - Cityview Magazine - July/August 2017
P. 79

actions as city government. We try to get people more involved. The best thing we can do as candidates and
as elected officials is to encourage
the people to understand when the elections are held, and to help make sure people understand what it is we’re working on. We do that through social media, through public meetings, and through interviews like this.
K: What’s the cost right now and the prognosis going forward of the city pension?
R: We still have an unfunded pension liability as most cities do; ours is
very manageable. We fully fund not only our current year obligation but the actuary or proposed suggested payments for the liability. Of course, one of the first things I did as mayor was to embark on a process to reform our pension plan.
K: Between debt and the pension plan, how does this affect your ability to make big budget decisions?
R: We have the highest bond
rating that the city has ever had— we’ve maintained that during my administration. We have a substantial fund balance, we are very well managed, and we are in a good financial position right now. We are about one hundred and sixty million dollars in debt, of which one hundred and five is the convention center. I’m sure you know that the convention center debt is paid through the special sales tax and the hotel motel taxes. There's enough other revenue for certain targeted funds to pay for that debt. The next big decision to make
is how to fund about a one-hundred and sixteen-million-dollar new arena. We are working right now with some consultants to determine how in fact we can do that through some bond issuance, some capital fund balance, and projected new revenues coming
in from development around the colosseum.
K: If that happens, is that the Rogero legacy project?
R: Well that would be one, I guess.
K: After mayor, what do you see as your political future?
R: I don’t know that I have a political future or that I want a political future after mayor. I am a city planner; I love what I do. I don’t have plans to run for another office. Whenever you’re in office, people assume that you’re always looking for that next position. I’m not looking for that.
K: Have you thought about or has anyone approached you about running for County Mayor?
R: I have been approached by people for several different positions, but like I said, I want to finish the job that I’m in now. I will probably take a nice long vacation and then decide what I want to do next.
K: Tax increment financing was once a tool seldom used for major projects, and now it seems like it’s used on a great many of them, for almost every project of substance that comes along downtown. What’s been the transition to tax increment financing, and how does it help the city?
R: Tax increment financing is one
tool in our redevelopment tool box. When you look at the redevelopment of downtown, it closely tracks those tools that have been utilized both by previous administrations and by mine, so really what tax increment financing does is work as a gap filler when private equity and bank loans don’t reach the cost in terms of either an extensive renovation of an old building that is very difficult to bring up to today’s standards, or of a surface lot downtown where we require structure parking. We actually turn down projects that we don’t think warrant the numbers or are not of value to our downtown.
K: If you could remove any single thing that would help a mayor today do things for downtown in the city, would you take away the convention center, or would you leave it in place? R: Today, I’d leave it in place. It’s actually doing pretty well these days, and we have great contractors. Hotels
downtown are coming back, which is helping the convention center. As the economy is coming back, with good management of the facilities, and
with all of the other amenities that Knoxville has to offer, we’re becoming a more attractive place for conventions, for tourism. In fact, Knox County has reached the one-billion-dollar mark in conventions and tourism for the first time. I think that the convention center is an asset at this time.
K: What do you think has been your most controversial decision as mayor?
R: I don’t know; you tell me.
K: Based on what I heard in the aftermath, it was the decision to extend same-sex benefits to city employees without a council vote.
R: I think they are domestic partner benefits, so that impacts both same- sex and opposite-sex couples that
have long term financial relationships. Interestingly, that has had very little push back from anyone, truly. No one ever mentions that. I think if we had taken it to council, they would’ve supported it, but I didn’t have to. It was legally an administrative decision. I made it, and there has been very little push back from that.
K: That’s the one that I hear about the most. What do you think is the most controversial decision?
R: As you know, having been in the
city government, there are some
things that people support and some things that they don’t. I guess that’s
the challenge in being in this position. Different decisions we’ve made, like pension reform, are controversial at the time. Some people thought we should do away with it; others thought it shouldn’t be changed at all.
K: This is a two-part question: On what areas do you work best with County Government, and where do you have a difference of opinion?
R: We work very well on most issues, actually. Obviously, we have different responsibilities, but Mayor Burchett

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