By ALEXANDER WILLIS
During a meeting Monday that lasted well into the night, the Spring Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen passed the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which included things like new equipment for the fire department, new police officer positions, and, of course, plenty of road projects.
The culmination of months of work, the new budget will dictate what funds go where from July 1, 2019 until June 30, 2020.
Arguably the most talked about issue for city residents is traffic, and the new budget saw no shortage of funding allocated towards road projects.
Among the road projects that saw funding allocated towards included the Buckner Lane widening project, which saw $937,000 go towards the environmental study and preliminary engineering phase, $350,000 towards engineering for the I-65 interchange project, and $425,000 for the widening of Tom Lunn Road from Port Royal Road to John Lunn Road.
The new budget will also coincide with the rise in property taxes, which will also go into effect on July 1. The property tax increase will see the current tax rate of 60 cents per $100 of assessed property value increase to 96 cents over a two-year period, with July’s increase going up to only 86 cents before the full increase in 2020. The tax increase also has a clause that stipulates the rates will return to 60 cents once the city’s priority list of capital projects are fully funded and completed.
For police, $395,000 was allocated towards the construction of a new police training facility, and $474,000 towards administration and equipment, which provides for nine new police vehicles, five new officer positions, and one new administrative vehicle.
The Fire Department wasn’t left out either, and saw city leaders allocated $1.4 million towards a new fire truck, $39,000 for a fire command replacement vehicle, $300,000 for architectural design work for a new fire station on Duplex Road and Buckner Lane, and one new firefighter position.
A few comparatively minor items certainly made their way into the budget, such as $75,000 towards the creation of a master plan for the Rippavilla Plantation, and $25,000 towards a new ridesharing program to help relieve traffic congestion, but one of the most discussed items was the city’s move to the Northfield Building.
The Northfield Building
Purchased by the city in December of 2017, the Northfield Building is the former headquarters of Saturn, a now defunct arm of General Motors. City leaders had long planned and discussed moving many of the city’s operations – City Hall, the library, Police and Fire Headquarters – to the building, only to have the move called into question in May when one of the city’s newly-elected aldermen, Dan Allen, brought some concerns of his out in the open.
Among some of the concerns expressed by Allen were the move’s financial feasibility, the location being out of the way for most residents, and the building’s current condition.
Another bit of information shared by Allen was City Administrator Victor Lay’s connection to the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance (SCTWA) – the organization that the city had purchased the Northfield building from for $8.18 million in 2017. Lay was alleged to have been serving on the SCTWA’s Board of Directors based on a page from the organization’s website.
Despite the allegation, Lay does not, nor has ever served on the Board of Directors for the SCTWA, and instead had only served on a separate body that acted as an advisory board for the SCTWA, as well as a junior advisory board called the Northfield Oversight Advisory Committee.
Nevertheless, not all Aldermen were content with that explanation, claiming to have not been made aware of Lay’s connection to SCTWA before the purchase of the Northfield Building. Earlier in June, the city decided to postpone a portion of the move to the Northfield Building, specifically the library, until an independent building assessment could be completed.
Northfield Building and the budget
The budget also allocated $1.8 million for furnishings, fixtures and equipment for the Spring Hill Public Library and Police Department headquarters renovations at the Northfield Building, with the actual funding pending the outcome of the independent building assessment of the Northfield Building. What isn’t pending is $318,320 allocated for the Northfield Building’s maintenance and repair, which includes things like air filter replacements, plumbing, and extra funding for unexpected repairs.
Minor budget approvals
With hundreds of items included in the budget, not every one is noteworthy. But there are some exceptions.
The Office of Economic Development for Spring Hill is currently manned by a one-person team, but following a suggestion from newly-elected Alderman John Canipari, $13,435 has been allocated towards the hiring of a new part-time employee in that department.
The Public Works Department saw $40,000 allocated for street lighting, $150,000 for street paving, and $87,218 for two new Street Crew Members.
The Parks and Recreation Department saw $10,000 in funding allocated for funding events and programs, $2,500 for a new utility trailer, and $8,500 for a new parking lot.
Last year vs. this year’s budget
Ultimately, the budget was finally passed and adopted after hours of deliberation between city leaders. The total expenditures for the 2019 – 20 budget amounted to $56,660,663 – a nearly 25 percent increase over the previous year’s budget of $45,475,847.