By Jim Young
After some 10 years of talking about it, planning and engineering, the Crossville City Council approved moving forward with plans to improve the downtown portion of Crossville with infrastructure replacements as well as improving the look of the original city business district.
In moving forward the city hopes to take advantage of some $4.2 million of grant funds, some of which will expire if the project does not get under way within some two months. The city has already invested approximately $1 million in engineering studies, design and planning on the project.
Councilman Pete Souza requested the item be placed on the agenda for action and he began the discussion saying, “This is a political nightmare for a politician. No matter how this council votes tonight we're going to make people unhappy. I'm going to make people unhappy and everyone of us will do something that someone will not like.”
Souza stressed, “The project is expensive, but as I look around downtown, I have to say, we can do a hell of a lot better. When we go downtown it should say that Crossville is special. That the people of Crossville care. We should have something that's passed on to our children and we should use this as a seed to correct the deficiencies around downtown.”
Councilman Souza said he felt he could not propose the project leaving another council two years down the road to approve the tax increase that will be needed to pay for it. Souza made a motion to go forward with the project, adding it to the 2013-14 budget. Souza's motion included a 5 cent tax increase for 2014-15 fiscal year.
Mayor J.H. Graham III asked the city attorney if a tax increase in the future could be approved and attorney Ken Chadwell, after a short research advised the council could not.
Graham explained that the project totaled $10.4 million with $1 million already spent. The project runs from Lantana Road to Neecham Street and redoes water lines, storm drains, underground wiring along with aesthetics including new traffic signals and street lights. Graham added that the $4.2 million grant is from 8 different organizations.
To pay for the city's portion of the match, the city would borrow just over $4 million from USDA's Rural Development and the loan would be over 38 years and the payments would total about $172,000 per year. Once those payments start when the project is complete it would require five cents on the tax rate to fund the cost of the annual loan expense.
Councilman Danny Wyatt asked about Downtown Crossville's agreement to fund $500,000 of the project and Mayor Graham said he had a few concerns including that the plan included a fountain in the courthouse lawn but there needed to be an agreement with the county before that part of the project moved forward. Additionally the council discussed that the downtown area would be torn up for about 18 months of construction creating hardships for some businesses. The plan is for the work to be done a block at a time.
DCI's Frances Carson told the council that the group had plans to accomplish the agreement they made to raise the $500,000 in donations. In addition, Carson said DCI had worked to get the necessary easements for the project except one and at no cost to the city. City clerk Sally Oglesby said that they expected all the easements to donated and signed in the near future. She added that one property owner had not yet indicated if they would sign an easement.
Graham said the city would have to pursue that easement one way or the other.
Downtown business and property owner Shirley Hughes told the council she was for the project and that downtown can survive. She added that what downtown needs is local business. According to Hughes, most of her business comes from out of town and Fairfield Glade.
The council briefly discussed delaying a vote because councilman Jesse Kerley was not present but went forward with the vote in his absence. The vote was unanimous from the four council members present and the large audience broke into applause.
Earlier in the meeting, DCI member Tonya Hinch presented the city with a commemorative plaque for the city's support of the annual Taste of Crossville event. Hinch said the program was a big success and was sold out. Mayor Graham challenged DCI to fill downtown completely as the event grows.