By Pam Horne, Managing Editor
Could tax increase be on the table for future projects?
Franklin aldermen deliberated this week about a variety of capital project priorities, ranging from roads to design plans for a new city hall, and the lively discussion ultimately led to comments about the city’s reticence to raise property taxes for the past 26 years.
A two-hour work session drew some heated discussion regarding the capital investment program planned collaboratively every year by aldermen and staff.
Road projects from the McEwen extension to the South Carothers extension to Mack Hatcher’s northwest section were considered.
After some discussion of current budget capacity for funding capital projects and the city’s desired debt ratio conversation turned to Mack Hatcher Parkway’s northwest section and how to make it a higher priority.
At-large Alderman Ann Petersen asked how to get Mack Hatcher moved forward.
“What about the idea proposed by the TDOT commissioner, our former mayor, talking about doing Mack Hatcher…doing only two lanes with the city picking up the rest. I know there is some interest in picking up some of the amenities…I think so many people want, and many of us want, to see that part of Mack Hatcher done. It is so needed. I would really be interested if the city would discuss spreading (the cost) over two years…if we just did two lanes.”
City Director of Engineering Paul Holzen noted that a two-lane Mack Hatcher would need a redesign.
“My understanding is that (TDOT is) finalizing that design,” added City Administrator Eric Stuckey, “but the work is still ongoing. We’re hopeful that (a two-lane plan) could be considered when that plan is formalized.”
“If that came available to us then that would be a bigger priority than what we are talking about here,” Petersen said.
The city spent $5 million several years ago on design and right-of-way acquisition.
“We went above and beyond what was our responsibility to see that project move forward,” Stuckey said. “The ball is really in the state’s court to fund their road. You’ve done what you’ve committed to do from a funding standpoint.”
On the issue of pedestrian connectivity, sidewalks were mentioned for Murfreesboro Road near Pinkerton Park and Freedom Middle School to Downs Boulevard, near the neighborhoods of Founders Pointe, Spencer Hall and Clairmonte.
Connectivity between downtown Franklin and the Factory was also discussed.
At-large alderman Brandy Blanton advocated for “weighing the price tag” for all the proposed projects, including sidewalks near Freedom Middle, but pushed for more examination of Franklin Road.
“If you consider Harlinsdale Park and the Factory and its close proximity to commercial...when we consider ourselves a tourism community,” she said regarding where the funding priorities should be.
Petersen has advocated for a sidewalk leading from the east and west sides of Murfreesboro Road to Pinkerton Park, adding that it is a public safety issue. “I have seen more than once a person running with a double-baby buggy (near the park).
Ward 4 Alderman Margaret Martin said “I will support the (sidewalk) extension of Franklin Road with the total plan that you have. We’ve already spent $350,000 on that (plan). It is just sitting in a drawer.”
Director of Engineering Paul Holzen noted that not all residents were in favor of the project at the time it was discussed.
This conversation led to a broader discussion revenue.
“We have a lot of road projects,” At-large Alderman Pearl Bransford said. “Since this conversation came up…it might be time for us to look at some designated funding for roads…I’m going to leave it there. In order for us to meet these needs, it’s going to take more than what we have in the bucket.”
Later when discussion of the South Carothers Road extension and Long Lane gap came up Clyde Barnhill said “I think the area that we project to be growing is the area around Carothers, north of the hospital. I think that South Carothers—Mack Hatcher and South Carothers—are the two most important road projects we’ve got going.”
Responding to Bransford’s suggestion that funds are insufficient, Barnhill said “I’m not saying that in my governmental experience that any government would have enough money. Everyone of them are needed and can be justified,” he said, adding that it “might be necessary to have something in the kitty.”
Beverly Burger interjected that developments dating back to the late 1990s are still without road improvements she believes are necessary to mitigate traffic in the northeast side of the city, especially the McEwen Drive extension project.
“We’ve got to pay attention to getting that (road) design all the way to Wilson Pike,” Burger said.
As the discussion blossomed, Martin offered her ultimate prediction.
“The time’s going to come that we’re going to have to raise taxes,” she said. “It is a very stupid move to be proud that we have not had to raise taxes…I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but don’t be surprised when it does come.”
“We have increased our water rates,” Petersen said before Stuckey interjected that separate funds exist for each area of service.
At Ward 2 Alderman Dana McClendon’s request, Stuckey estimated that there are currently $60-$70 million in outstanding projects that BOMA has named as the top five capital priorities.
With current revenues and spending capacity, Stuckey confirmed after conferring with Asst. Administrator Russ Truell that the current property tax rate would need to be doubled to absorb the associated costs.
“If we had raised taxes a little all along,” Martin said, the city would not be facing such difficult funding decisions.
“I’m not afraid of this conversation. If you want to fund our top five (projects) and get them paid for in a timely fashion…you’re talking about doubling the tax rate.”
Mayor Ken Moore interjected that the agenda item being discussed needed closure, and direction provided by aldermen to city staff.
Bransford then added “maybe we need to have some public meetings.”
“You’re right Pearl,” Blanton said. “We need to hear from the public.”
“I think you will,” added Barnhill.
No vote was taken on the matter.
Posted on: 1/16/2014