By Heather Mullinix
The Crossville City Council is moving forward with the downtown improvement project, approving the sole bid for the work on a 3-2 vote.
"We need to quit dallying around about this," Councilman Pete Souza said. "Either we kill this today or we put it to work."
Mayor J.H. Graham III moved to approve the bid from Highways, Inc., at $7.6 million, subject to final approval by the funding agencies, supported by Councilman George Marlow.
Highways, Inc. is the only bidder on the project, which was advertised in various venues across the state.
Councilman Danny Wyatt was concerned with the cost of the project, which totals $10.5 million, including engineering costs that have already been paid and other costs. Wyatt recalled the cost when he first joined the city council three years ago was $8 to $8.5 million, with a goal of about 50 percent in grant funding hoped for. Instead, the grant funds will cover about 35 percent of the total cost.
"That's probably the best number we'll see today. It will do nothing but go up," Wyatt said.
But Wyatt said he could not support the project as it currently stands due to the necessary tax increase and the maintenance issues involved with many of the decorative details, including stamped concrete crosswalks and Crab Orchard stone on sidewalks.
"I've got to run again in November, if I'm up to it and courageous and adventurous enough," Wyatt said. "If I get beat, I'll leave office knowing that I done it out of the goodness of my heart for the taxpayers."
He also noted large trucks would not be able to make right turns on to side streets from Main St. due to the design, and he didn't believe the city could enforce a truck route.
Graham said the city can establish a truck route inside its boundary with the hope of trucks using that route and using Main St. only for local deliveries.
Wyatt continued that the project would require updating sidewalks to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He noted the city had been working to fix sidewalks as it was able, but a replacement project would require all sidewalks be up to those standards. Water pressure to the service meter of water customers in the area offered sufficient water pressure.
"I would definitely support a referendum," Wyatt said. "I know it would probably cost us some money, but I think that the voters should decide this thing."
Crossville City Manager David Rutherford explained there were several areas that would be addressed by the project, including adding storm water drainage. That will help the city reduce infiltration and inflow to its wastewater collection system and reduce the cost of sewer treatment and ease demands on the capacity limits.
New water lines will provide a redundant water supply system to ensure adequate water service to Cumberland Medical Center.
There is also a question of adequate fire protection at the fire hydrants, with the Insurance Service Organization finding inadequate water flow to protect several buildings downtown.
The project will also upgrade lighting to more energy efficient lights and improve traffic signalization.
Souza noted Crossville Fire Chief Mike Turner had previously told the council that, in the event of a fire downtown, the department could fight the fire effectively.
Souza questioned some of the costs, such as inspection fees of $600,000 which are not capped in the bid documents. Downtown Crossville, Inc. has pledged to raise $500,000 for the project, but Souza said that was a promise and not something that could be added to a financial ledger.
Councilman George Marlow recalled a meeting three years ago, as the city began studying and planning for the project, former Crossville City Councilman Boyd Wyatt had cautioned the council it needed to decide if the project would be done or not at that time.
"I feel like that if we were not going to do this project, we should have decided three years ago, $1 million less than what the city has spent on it," Marlow said. "I feel like I have made a commitment and I'm going to stick with the commitment."
Wyatt noted the city council had never taken an up or down vote on Downtown Crossville.
"It's all been baby stepped or tentative approvals," Wyatt said. "We need to decide. We're creating a maintenance nightmare. I've asked how we're going to pay for it and we still don't know how we'll pay for it. If it's through an increase in sales tax revenue, that's playing the lottery. I can't do it."
Souza said, "There is nothing easy about this decision. Nothing at all...I don't look at this the way the other people look at this. I agree the storm water has to be taken care of. At some point, downtown, all those utilities are going to have to be replaced. Do we do it now or do we do it later?
"I look at this as a seed for a flower for the city of Crossville. I agree with Councilman Wyatt. There's no way of getting around the point that taxes are going to have to go up. We have to have the moral courage to face that."
Councilman Jesse Kerley noted he had never been convinced the proposed project was the best way to handle the sewer and water issues of downtown merchants.
"If this doesn't pass, we need to get together a plan to fix those problems," he said.
Graham noted the project was 80 percent infrastructure and 20 percent aesthetic improvements. Financially, he believed the city to be in very good shape, with a good bond rating and more than 200 days operating cash on hand.
Graham said, "It is, without a doubt, the most expensive project that the city of Crossville has ever undertaken. It's expensive. It's going to be awful and it's going to cost the citizens a lot of inconvenience. We're going to be down from 18 to 24 months. It's going to be a nightmare. The phones are going to ring off the hook for all of our councilmen. But, in my opinion, now's the time to do it because we have got $3.5 million worth of grants. And I promise you...it's going to be expensive, but we'll never do it less expensively."
Voting in favor were Marlow, Graham and Souza, while Wyatt and Kerley voted no. Both Souza and Graham passed on the vote on first round, with Souza passing again and Graham voting in favor. Souza then voted in favor for a final vote of 3-2 in favor of approving the project, subject to final approval of the funding agencies.
The council will have contracts and other business to approve as part of the project, but the vote serves as a commitment to move forward and complete the project. Work could begin in March on construction.