CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Mayor Joe Pitts presented Monday a preliminary 2022 budget that asks the City Council to support and fund the first phase of a comprehensive transportation and road improvement strategy.
“Transportation 2020+ -- Priority Decisions for Today, Tomorrow and Beyond” was presented to the City Council in February after 18 months of analysis and planning by an internal study team.
“The Transportation 2020+ Strategy was prepared to set our priorities for streets, sidewalks, greenways and public transportation for the near future and beyond,” Mayor Pitts said. “We need a roadmap that we commit to follow, even as we move through elections and personnel changes. Otherwise, we’ll never get where we need to go.”
Now, in his preliminary proposed 2022 budget, he is asking the City Council to take a bold step to implement and fund Tier 1 of the plan.
Mayor Pitts is proposing a property tax increase of 20 cents to fund the Transportation 2020+ strategy. This amount will provide additional revenue of approximately $6.9 million per year to address the City’s critical transportation infrastructure needs. Today, Clarksville has a relatively low property tax rate of $1.0296, which is a point of pride but also a constraining factor as the City deals with rapid growth and dire traffic and mobility needs.
The proposed property tax rate of $1.23 per $100 of assessed value will provide critically needed resources to start solving the City’s most pressing transportation problems.
The average home in Clarksville is valued at $166,998. At the proposed rate of $1.23, that homeowner would pay an additional $83.67 per year, or $6.97 a month.
Details about the tax impact, total Tier 1 costs, a debt outlook and borrowing schedule, and project timelines were presented to the City Council at a special meeting Monday.
Since February, the plan has been the subject of intense review by the Council and the community. Dozens of citizens completed an online survey about the plan, and results indicate some 64 percent of citizens say they support or might support it, while 36 percent said they definitely do not support it.
The plan’s Tier 1 project list has been revised to reflect input from the City Council, and cost estimates associated with priority improvements have been refined.
Mayor Pitts and the Transportation Team have added these three major projects to Tier 1:
- Needmore Road/Boy Scout Road to Tiny Town Road/Phase 1.
- Memorial Extension/Old Farmers Road/Trough Springs Road.
- Highway 48/13 Sidewalk/Crosswalks.
One project, improvement of the Cunningham Bridge over the Cumberland River, that had been in Tier 1, was moved to Tier 2.
In all, the revised Tier 1 calls for spending a total of $202.19 million on 13 priority roadway, sidewalk and transit improvements. One project, a relocated $10 million Transit Center for the City’s bus system, would be funded with federal dollars and therefore is not included in the borrowing schedule, and some $41.3 million already has been authorized but not yet borrowed for several Tier 1 projects already underway.
In all, after subtracting expected grants and prior allocations, the plan envisions borrowing some $167 million using General Obligation bond issues in varying amounts from 2022 through 2026 to fund completion of Tier 1 projects.
Twelve of the Tier 1 projects are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2026, and one -- the new Transit Center -- is expected to be completed in 2028.
MORE ON THE TAX RATE
The proposed 2022 property tax rate of $1.23 per $100 of assessed value still would be lower than current rates in several comparable cities, such as Chattanooga at $2.277, Knoxville at $2.4638 and Murfreesboro at $1.2894.
Clarksville's tax rate has not been higher than $1.24 since 2011. “Our tax rate has been stable,” Mayor Pitts said. “Ours certainly is not a record of out-of-control taxation.”
Mayor Pitts also pointed out that tax relief and tax freeze programs limit the tax impact on many low income residents. For tax year 2020, some 3,244 City residents qualified and another 656 disabled veterans applied for tax relief. Another 690 qualified for tax freeze in 2020. These numbers should be similar in 2021.
“No one likes higher taxes, but we face a tough situation. We have an urgent need to improve transportation infrastructure to prevent gridlock, ensure mobility options and provide safe roads,” Mayor Pitts told the Council. “We need increased revenue, and it must be dedicated to these long-planned and necessary road improvements. We need to see this new revenue for what it is -- a vital investment in our community’s future.”
MORE ON THE OVERALL BUDGET
Mayor Pitts and Chief Financial Officer Laurie Matta also outlined aspects of the overall draft 2022 City General Fund budget to the Council on Monday. The plan will be reviewed by City Department leaders at a series of City Council standing committee meetings and formally presented to the Council for a work session on Tuesday, June 15. A formal public hearing and first reading is scheduled for a Special Session at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, June 17, and a second reading and final vote is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 22.
The preliminary budget released to the Council on Friday calls for General Fund expenditures of $122,414,689 and revenues of $121,172,188, with an ending fund balance in June 2022 of $24,850,000. It proposes a 2.5 percent general wage increase for all employees effective October 2021 to keep pace with the current labor market trends.
The preliminary budget severely limits the number of new positions created, with one new position each for the Police Department and the Legal Department.
Similarly, except for the extensive Transportation 2020 + projects, the proposal severely curtails new capital projects for every department except the Street Department.
State and Federal COVID pandemic relief monies are strategically integrated in the budget proposal. While state funding of $1.7 million has been allocated, most of the expected federal appropriation of $25.46 million remains unallocated as the City awaits formal guidance on the eligible uses of these funds.
Mayor Pitts also is proposing to spend $20,000 to create a stand-alone Buildings & Facilities Maintenance Department. This department would result from a reorganization of current employees from the Building Maintenance division of Parks & Recreation and other positions that are City maintenance focused.