Knoxville’s upcoming budget appears to hold a primary focus on the expansion of many key social justice initiatives. Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon introduced these focuses in a budget presentation last month.
These types of initiatives within Knoxville’s proposed budget include: alternative forms of policing, permanent housing for the homeless, expanding affordable housing, clean energy implementation (such as electric cars), an African American Equity Restoration Task Force, increased diversity in businesses, and equitable hiring in local government.
The budget summarized initiatives proposed by the Public Safety Innovation Task Force, an internal working task force not listed on the Knoxville government’s website. Chief Policy Officer and Deputy to the Mayor Erin Gill explained that they would look to expand alternative public safety practices such as community-based “violence interrupters,” increasing de-escalation training for officers, and addressing socio-economic challenges that contribute to crime.
“I think what the Mayor has always emphasized is that we want to celebrate what we do well and commend the great leadership we’ve seen in police and fire,” stated Gill. “But we always want to be cognizant and always thinking about the ways that we can do better. That includes how we adopt some of the more forward-looking strategies for how we serve our city better, and these are strategies that we’ve discussed with council as well as we’ve heard community interest in, and we know that’s been successful in other communities as well.”
Council member Seema Singh raised concern about the transparency around the budget concerning these programs, as well as their exact or projected costs. She also asked if there would be specific funds for these initiatives, and whether they would be evidence-based. Kincannon said that she supported transparency around the budget, but she didn’t “a firm proposal for exactly what that looks like yet.”
Gill clarified that these would be civilian-led, community-based initiatives, largely without deriving funds from the law enforcement budget. She said that they would be working “very quickly” over the upcoming months to figure out the exact costs.
Singh called for immediate funds to be put into the budget. She said that police aren’t the ones working on issues that cause the criminals to engage in violence, they’re just there to arrest the criminals.
The mayor was able to give an estimate for homeless housing: a ballpark of $6.8 million. Allocation of those funds would also include rental assistance and rehousing to prevent homelessness.
Equity was a continued focus on nearly every aspect of the budget. Even when discussing the transition to cleaner energy, Gill emphasized that equity was important in focusing on the science of climate. She explained that the community had a large input on planning this aspect of the budget focus. Their top priorities would include expanding electric vehicle usage, which would also expand to bus transit systems.
In the section titled, “Investing in Businesses and Careers,” the proposed budget measures included the African American Equity Restoration Task Force. In a word: reparations. As The Tennessee Star reported previously, the city recommended up to $100 million in grants to fund this task force focused on offsetting past wrongs under segregation.
According to their budget meeting, the city continues to outpace its revenue growth with expenditures.
The total and pending COVID-19 expenditures amounted to $21.05 million. Transit assistance was by and far the greatest expenditure, topping nearly $13.3 million.
After that, in order, the city spent the following: housing assistance, over $1.9 million; COVID pay, over $1.64 million; homeless shelters and services, over $1.25 million; non-profit support, exactly $1.2 million; virus protection, over $586,000; revenue loss, over $520,000; food assistance, over $325,000; education and employment, exactly $200,000; and other expenditures totaling $150,000.
The mayor will host a series of hearings this week on the budget, scheduled to occur from Tuesday to Thursday. More information about the 2021-2022 and upcoming city budgets and bi-annual financial reports can be found here.
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