This month’s Policy Talks, hosted by Williamson, Inc. on Friday, focused on Spring Hill, where Mayor Rick Graham and City Administrator Victor Lay discussed masks, business during COVID-19 and city projects.
Last weekend, Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson reinstated the countywide mask mandate with the approval of all the municipal mayors besides Graham.
“Mayor Rogers Anderson does a very good job of staying in touch with this mayors and asking our input even though it was his decision for the county,” Graham said. “I couldn’t support this past mandate for Williamson County because of the businesses in Spring Hill. The north side of Spring Hill businesses tell us that they suffer loss of business because … some people will not wear masks, and they would go shop in south Spring Hill.”
Graham said he wishes the mask mandate was a municipality decision, not a county decision, because since Spring Hill is split between Williamson and Maury counties, the mask mandate is split as well, as Maury does not have a mandate in place. Graham said he does not see Maury County ever doing a mandate.
However, Spring Hill residents as a whole have not cut their spending during the pandemic. Graham said during the budgeting process earlier this year, the city accounted for a 20% drop in sales tax revenue, but he said today, the city is 30% up on its budget, meaning that revenues are actually up 10% over last year.
“That’s going to provide us some revenues for some projects probably mid-year, and what we like about that is that there will actually be money in the bank instead of projections,” Graham said.
Lay said June and July of this year actually compared to the Christmas season of 2018 in terms of sales tax revenue. He guessed this was due to curbside service and other adjustments businesses made during the pandemic.
Graham said, looking to future projects, the city is working on land preservation as development continues to increase in the area, and the city is also investing in several road and infrastructure projects.
The Saturn Parkway extension to Beechcroft Road was completed just over a month ago, according to Lay, after having been in the works since 2018.
“The real advantage to that particular project was it gave us an overpass over CSX Railroad, which was always one of our pinch points and safety points,” Lay said. “Whenever the train was across the tracks, then we had diminished emergency services on the southwest side over there. So, all of that has been eliminated by this overpass.”
Additionally, the Tennessee Department of Transportation signed off last year on the environmental study for a widening of U.S. Highway 31. Graham said the city believes the road can be widened to five lanes, but Lay shared there is a concern about not having enough room for sidewalks. However, the preconstruction phases are expected to take five to seven years, according to Lay.
The Interstate 65 interchange at Buckner Lane, however, will come a little sooner. Construction is expected to begin in late 2021 or early 2022 and must finish no later than September of 2025. The interchange will be a diverging diamond interchange, which will allow traffic to enter and exit the interstate without traffic lights.
Even further in the future, Graham said the city hopes to create a walkable town square area downtown, like Nashville’s 12th Avenue South, over the next 10 to 15 years.
“Get used to orange and white barrels,” Graham said. “(They’re) going to be a big part of Spring Hill the next couple of decades.”
Spring Hill will also see a change in leadership next year, as Graham will not seek re-election at the end of his term in April. He has been mayor for the past eight years and served as a city alderman for six years prior to that.
Not only will the mayor’s seat be open in April, but four aldermen’s terms will expire, including Amy Wurth, Jeff Graves, Kevin Gavigan and Vincent Fuqua. While these aldermen may seek re-election, Graham said Spring Hill could see up to half of its Board of Mayor and Alderman change.
He said the city is looking to increase its voter participation in April by increasing voting locations, extending hours and more after the last city election in April of 2019 saw only a 5.6% voter turnout.