PHOTO: Spring Hill Mayor Rick Graham speaks during the Spring Hill Chamber of Commerce’s State of the City luncheon at the UAW Hall in Spring Hill Thursday / Photo by Alexander Willis
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
During the Spring Hill Chamber of Commerce’s State of the City luncheon on Thursday, Mayor Rick Graham shared news of all the construction projects underway in the city; the widening of Main Street to five lanes, the ongoing widening of Duplex Road, and of course, the new interchange connecting Buckner Lane to I-65, for which the city had received a $25 million federal grant last month.
“Now that we’ve been blessed with this $25 million grant, we have to identify how we’re going to pay for the remainder,” Graham said. “Looking across all the revenue sources, we will have to increase our property taxes to fund the remaining balance. We will determine the amount during the budget discussions in the coming months.”
Graham jokingly winced as he made the announcement, conceding the fact that a property tax increase isn’t on any resident’s wish list, but that in order to meet the criteria required to receive the federal grant money, additional revenue must be made.
“I know that none of us want to pay higher taxes, but we only have so much revenue to try and keep up with these needed infrastructure projects,” Graham continued. “We all have a responsibility to pay our fair share as citizens. What’s about to happen in the next several years is going to be exciting to watch.”
While the $25 million federal grant certainly makes a large dent in the costs, the project in its entirety is projected to cost $48 million.
City Administrator Victor Lay further explained that for the federal grant money to be used for the interchange project, multiple deadlines must be met, otherwise the city would run the risk of losing the grant in its entirety.
“The particular thing with the interchange, is that because of the grant terms, it has some specific deadlines in it that you cannot miss… if you miss, then you lose it, period,” Lay said. “What we’re saying is that when you look at everything together, there’s a likelihood that we’re going to have to raise taxes. The reason why we mentioned it today, is because when we presented the information [to city staff], they were very adamant that they did not want to surprise people on a budget meeting.”
After meeting with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), city officials learned that the extensions of Buckner Lane and Buckner Road, as well as the interchange itself, must be ready for construction by September of 2020. Construction happens to be the last of five separate phases to the projects; environmental clearance, preliminary engineering, right-of-way design, utility coordination, and lastly, construction.
With the first to phases alone typically taking 15 to 24 months, Lay said the only way the city could feasibly have the projects ready by the deadline, is to partner with TDOT on the project.
“All of that’s typically a three year time frame; we don’t have three years,” Lay said. “So the only way for us to be able to get this project moving, is actually to contract with TDOT for design build… that’s why right now we’re trying to look at the whole program and determine what is it going to cost us.”
Lay also said opting to simply not accept the federal grant money would be “devastating,” and would affect the city for years to come.
“The consequences of not taking the money would be devastating,” Lay said. “You would never be considered for another federal grant. So we have to figure it out, we’d have to do whatever it is that we have to do to get there.”
The amount of property tax increases, or whether there even will be any, will be discussed by city leaders in the coming months, with Graham saying some of the first discussions will commence in March.
Mayor Rick Graham talks raising property taxes to help fund new interchange. pic.twitter.com/DLz4nwMR0K
— Alexander Willis (@ReporterWillis) January 25, 2019