CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – In a reversal of a previous vote, the City Council voted 8-5 Wednesday to approve Mayor Joe Pitts’ proposed 2022 budget that funds the first phase of a comprehensive long-range 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. In May, Mayor Pitts asked the City Council to take a bold step to increase the property tax rate by 20 cents to implement and fund Tier 1 of the plan.
The Council approved the Mayor’s original proposed budget -- which called for the 20-cent tax increase to fund the Transportation 2020+ plan -- on a 7-3-1 vote on first reading June 17, but then rejected it 6-7 on a second vote June 22.
That prompted Mayor Pitts to submit a new proposed budget that called for the property tax rate to remain at the Fiscal Year 2021 rate of $1.0296 per $100 of assessed value, fully eliminate the Tier 1 capital project funding envisioned in Transportation 2020+, and cut a planned additional Street Department maintenance crew and equipment.
However, on first reading Monday, the City Council amended the proposed budget to fully restore the transportation plan and the 20-cent property tax rate increase to fund it. On Wednesday, the members backed the plan on second and final reading with a 8-5 vote to approve the full 2022 budget. Earlier in June, the Council approved a resolution to formally “accept and endorse” the full transportation strategy document.
“I’m elated that the Council decided to back a reasonable property tax increase and move forward with our transportation plan,” Mayor Pitts said. “We have an urgent need to improve transportation infrastructure to prevent gridlock, ensure mobility options and provide safe roads. This budget provides much-needed increased revenue, and it will be dedicated to these long-planned and necessary road improvements. I’m glad a majority of the Council took action to make a vital investment in our community’s future.”
By approving a new budget before July 1, the City Council avoided moving forward with an inadequate “continuing budget” based on the 2021 spending plan. A continuing budget is prescribed in the City Charter and takes effect when the municipal government fails to approve a budget by the start of its fiscal year.
MORE ON TRANSPORTATION 2020+
The Transportation 2020+ Strategy was prepared to set priorities for streets, sidewalks, greenways and public transportation for the near future and beyond.
The approved property tax rate of $1.23 per $100 of assessed value -- up from $1.0296 for the past two years -- will provide additional revenue of approximately $6.9 million per year to start solving the City’s critical transportation infrastructure needs.
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.
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.
After subtracting expected grants and prior allocations, the plan envisions borrowing some $167 million using General Obligation bond issues in varying amounts 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.
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 in May. They can be reviewed on the Transportation 2020+ page on the city’s website, www.cityofclarksville.com.
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. But I recognize the sacrifice from families who will be asked to pay more in taxes, and I pledge to them that these increased revenues will be used exclusively to improve transportation in our community.”
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.
MORE ON THE OVERALL BUDGET
In the broadest analysis, expenditures projected in the total budget for FY 2022 are $589,494,708. This includes expenditures in the General Fund and all enterprise funds, such as CDE Lightband, Clarksville Gas & Water and Clarksville Transit System, and other special revenue funds.
The approved 2022 General Fund, or operating budget, anticipates total expenditures and financing uses of $123,056,694, and total revenues and financing sources of $121,807,309, with an estimated ending fund balance in June 2022 of $25,585,929.
The preliminary budget limits the number of new positions created, with one new position each for the Police Department and the Legal Department. The budget does call for hiring five additional workers in the Street Department to add another full road maintenance crew to handle the growing inventory of new roads being created by rapid residential and commercial growth.
Similarly, except for the extensive Transportation 2020+ projects, the proposal curtails new capital projects for every department except the Street Department.
Mayor Pitts’ revised proposed budget included a $35,000 increase to a total of $49,000 for the Human Relations Commission, which was the amended amount approved by the Council during deliberation of his original proposal. Similarly, the new budget will include $20,000 for a new sign and decor improvements at the Ajax Turner Senior Center, which also was added earlier by amendment during debate by the Council.
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.
As part of the earlier budget deliberations, Council voted 11-2 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.