Despite a "change in priorities" by Crossville Mayor J.H. Graham III, who had previously supported the downtown revitalization project, a move to recall bids in the $11 million-project failed to pass the Crossville City Council March 11, allowing the council to discuss the project again after bids are received April 1.
"I personally feel that we owe it to the citizens of Crossville to let the bids come in for this project and make a decision at that time. We've got six years in it and we're talking about another 30 days. I would like to ask this council to give this project another 30 days," said Councilman George Marlow.
Graham told the council he had reviewed an analysis of a ten-year master plan of capital projects needed to upgrade city infrastructure to sustain continued growth, and the revenue needed to support those projects.
"I feel that I must change my priorities. It's about the highest and best use of our resources." Graham said.
He moved to recall bids currently out for the project, and to pare the project down to replacing waterlines along Main St. to improve fire protection to Main St. buildings and the hospital. He also wants to see a plan developed to bring sidewalks up to Americans with Disabilities Act compliance over a period of time. Councilman Danny Wyatt supported the motion.
"Growth is the way that we've paid our bills here in the city of Crossville...Growth partially is because of low property taxes and great infrastructure, so you're going to keep hearing me talk about roads, water and sewer."
Wyatt said the council would have many hard decisions to make as it moved forward with developing its operating budget and its capital project plan.
"I'm going to tell you right now, if we do it all, some of you are going to move out of Crossville because your taxes are going to go up over the next three years, substantially. You're going to get charged for your garbage pickup, substantially, and your water and sewer rates are going to increase substantially," Wyatt said.
Graham said that, should the council do all of the projects in the plan, the impact on local finances included borrowing $600,000 a year for three years for paving; charging residents $15 a month for garbage collection, phased in over three years; and a 10-cent property tax increase, phased in over three years.
The downtown revitalization project is an $11 million project, with $1 million in city funds already spent on planning and engineering. Grant funding has been secured for about $4.2 million of the project, including a commitment from Downtown Crossville, Inc. to raise $500,000 for the project. But, Graham noted the city would have to finance a great deal of the project over 30 years, at an annual cost of $215,000.
"We've got to make hard choices. I feel just like the mayor does. Northwest Connector is ten to one over the downtown project when you're talking about your future," Wyatt said.
Councilman Jesse Kerley questioned the change in priorities.
"It concerns me why it's getting bailed on all of the sudden. I think there's more behind the scenes on this then what's being discussed tonight. I just don't know how I stand," Kerley said. "If we're bailing on the downtown project to do the Northwest Connector, after a million has been spent, I think we need to talk about this some more."
Kerley said the only way he could support the mayor's motion to recall bids was if an amendment was made to require any action on the Northwest Connector to pass the council with a two-thirds majority.
Councilman Pete Souza also accused Graham of attempting to trade the downtown project for the Northwest Connector road project.
"This is a trade-off, ladies and gentleman, for the Northwest Connector. My idea is that the Northwest Connector is a separate issue to itself that I'm not opposed to, in general. I just want some concessions," Souza said. "What I see, I see this as sold out so the Northwest Connector can go through for the mayor's friends and relatives. I'm going to call it just the way it is."
Souza also noted Graham's plan to redo just the waterlines would not address issues of stormwater infiltrating the city's sewer system or flooding a number of buildings in the downtown area. The project plan calls for construction of 40 catch basins and underdrains to intercept underground water. Downspouts will be connected so that water does not overflow onto sidewalks.
"We're not addressing stormwater issues, which is a basic issue that we need to address. What are we going to do, replace these lines and then rip up the street later to do stormwater? This doesn't make any sense to me at all, none whatsoever," Souza said.
The downtown project also includes new street lights, which the city will own, with energy-efficient LED lighting, reducing operating costs for street lights in the area and paying for itself in about nine years. New traffic signals and illuminated street name signs are also part of the plan, as well as bringing sidewalks up to ADA compliance.
Medians once included in the project have been removed, as well as fountains planned at the Cumberland County Courthouse. Downtown Crossville, Inc. will directly purchase items to enhance the aesthetics of the area, such as benches and trash receptacles.
Graham said he wanted to see if the current engineering plans could be used for the waterlines, and that he was not proposing redoing that work. He added the lines could be placed at the required depth to allow the city to come back in ten or 12 years and construct the storm sewers to address stormwater in the area.
"In my opinion, sometimes it costs more in the long run to half-do a project than to do it right the first time. I just think we need to look at it and see what our cost is going to be before we make this decision. I don't want to kill this project tonight," Marlow said.
Marlow asked City Manager David Rutherford if the city could afford the downtown project.
"It's how much pain you want," Rutherford said.
He said his recommendation on the project in December was to wait for bids to come in and see what the costs would be. He did say one concern was that the city staff had not been directed by the council to work with the architect and engineer to pare the project down to reduce the costs.
The motion to recall the bids and pare the project down to a waterline project failed with Wyatt and Graham voting in favor. Souza and Marlow voted against, while Kerley abstained, stating he could not vote for the motion without an amendment on the Northwest Connector.