Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

February 18, 2014

NW road project remains in limbo

CROSSVILLE — The Crossville City Council took no action on a request from the Crossville Regional Planning Commission to reconsider its recent actions that left the fate of the Northwest Connector in question.

Dave Burgess, chairman and long-time member of the Crossville Planning Commission, asked the council to reconsider its action last month where the legislative body failed to approve the third and final reading of a budget amendment to fund engineering work for sections II and III of the road project, between Hwy. 70N and Genesis Rd. The city had previously agreed to do the engineering work as part of an agreement with the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Burgess said that the county's population in 1970 was 27,733 and was estimated to be 57,029 as of January 2013. According to Burgess, a big part of the growth is in-migration of residents 65 and over and, compared to counties with similar attributes, not only is the older population growing, but a similar increase in residents age 55 and under was also seen in Cumberland County.

“Gentlemen, we have the greatest potential for growth of any city our size in the state of Tennessee,” said Burgess. He added that a recent article he read stated that the foundations of rural America's economy have changed. “Not that it's going to change,” stressed Burgess, “but already has changed. And each region is in a race, not with other regions, but with the evolving frontier of the global markets itself.”

Burgess continued, “We are actively engaged in the task of determining our future one way or another. As our community's available leadership you have a significant opportunity to have a positive impact on yours and our future generations with economic development opportunities and improve quality of life by the cast of a single vote. Many opportunities abound for growth in this county and innovation in our thinking occurs as a result of it. Our county is blessed with an abundance of attributes and growth is happening and will continue to happen regardless of whether we're prepared to meet that challenge or not.”

Burgess told the council that Putnam County currently has more senior in-migration than Cumberland County and that he said was because of their strategic planning, not because of golf courses. Burgess compared the Northwest Connector to the long time it took to get the Lantana Road improvements built that started back in the 1960s and the loss of life that occurred before the improvements were made.

“Some of you are aware of the process to get the Northwest Connector to where we were at the time of your meeting last month has taken us more than three decades, from concept to engineering. It began with people much smarter than me and was visualized in the 1970s by the forward thinkers of that day. The Northwest Connector is the opportunity to provide for an infrastructure that can enhance this community's safety, general economic development and regional competitiveness,” added Burgess.

Burgess concluded by asking the council to “reconsider and rescind your action of the last meeting” on the third and most important reading of the matter.

Mayor J.H. Graham III thanked Burgess for representing the planning commission.

Councilman Danny Wyatt, who voted against the budget amendment at the last meeting, said, “I think it is a good project, probably the best project we've had in a long time.”

Wyatt discussed the recent city capital improvement plan with needs for the operation of the city and additional wants that Wyatt said included the road project, the downtown project, a new fire station and a spec building.

Wyatt said to pay for those things, the city is looking at a possible 10-cent property tax increase next year. Wyatt said he felt that if all the things got voted in, the council should vote in the tax increase starting this year. In addition, Wyatt said the work needed in the water and sewer fund would likely require a 4-cent rate increase each of the next five years.

According to Wyatt, one of the reasons for the influx of retirees is the low tax rate, but a 25 percent tax and water/sewer rate increase could affect that. Wyatt said that until the council sorts out which projects they want to support, and how to pay for them, he plans to hold off on moving forward.

Councilman George Marlow said he felt the city should move forward as there would never again be the type of funding from TDOT that the city has now for this project.

Councilman Pete Souza said his concern was the impact the project would have on the current commercial district. Without zoning, Souza said, if the new road becomes a string of strip malls, that is where the businesses will locate.

Burgess said that a land use plan is one way to control what would be built along the new road. “We've had three referendums on zoning and it was defeated all three times,” reminded Burgess.

Graham said that, since 1988, the assessed value of property in the city has increased from $177 million to $377 million and the tax rate has dropped from $1.50 to 53 cents because of the tremendous growth, along with the collection of sales taxes. Graham said his priority has long been roads, water, sewer, fire and police protection.

Souza said he would support the program if he had assurances that the sections of the connector from Hwy. 127 N and Sparta Highway would be residential only.

According to City Manager David Rutherford, the engineering work that the council previously approved the contract for has been put on hold and the engineers notified to cease any work on the project until the funding issue is straightened out.

After the lengthy discussion, no action was taken and the road project remains in limbo.

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