According to Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson, the county’s population is projected to grow by over 327,000, or by 149%, from 2018 to 2045, and the city of Franklin will be no exception to that change.
“It’s the entire region that we’re seeing this [growth],” Franklin Mayor Ken Moore said. “We’re looking at 14 counties in the entire area, and we see all of them growing significantly, but it looks like we are going to have the largest growth in that area.”
To help address growth in Franklin, the Board of Mayor and Alderman passed a $0.10 property tax increase in 2016 to provide dedicated funding to infrastructure and transportation projects throughout the city. The Invest Franklin initiative takes $0.07 of the increase and provides over $1.5 million a year in recurring revenue for the city.
In the four years since Invest Franklin’s approval, the city has approved hundreds of millions of dollars worth of capital projects, with work to improve the city’s infrastructure happening now to continue over the next decade. The funding provided by Invest Franklin can help those projects get started and leverage other funding sources, such as state and federal government dollars.
“The most common question I got when we were putting this out there wasn’t, ‘Why are you doing this?’ It was, ‘Are you sure it’s enough?’ because people see the need,” City Administrator Eric Stuckey said.
Projects on the horizon
Over $100 million of funding was approved by the BOMA for capital investment projects in 2016 for the city’s 2017-26 planning period, some of which are nearing completion or planned to begin construction later this year, including improvements to the city’s sanitation facility valued at $3.2 million and almost $8.5 million for street resurfacing for high-volume roads, such as Liberty Pike, Mallory Lane and Cool Springs Boulevard.
Other projects approved by the BOMA in 2016 using Invest Franklin funds include over $34 million to widen and improve East McEwen Drive from east of the roundabout at Cool Springs Boulevard to Wilson Pike and $31.2 million to construct a new, 180-acre public park between Carothers Road and I-65. Stuckey said these projects will likely be bid next year.
Looking forward, the BOMA recently approved plans for projects extending over the next eight years to help keep up with expected growth. The priorities for the city’s 2019-28 capital improvements plan were determined by the city’s board in a workshop meeting last summer. Projects include $2.5 million in drainage improvements for Battle Avenue, set to begin work in 2021; $4.18 million for the construction of the new Bicentennial Park, set to start in 2023; $24.1 million for the construction of a new city hall, set to begin in 2024; and $22.3 million for the construction of a connector between Long Lane and Old Peytonsville Road, set to start in 2024.
“This new update is just under $280 million of capital projects,” Stuckey said. “Now [that] we’re bringing more and more [funding] sources in, it’s more comprehensive, and we’ve been able to drive more capacity off of it, and that’s what we believe the community wanted us to do: find ways to get things done.”
Paying for improvements
Stuckey said the city’s ability to plan and fund large projects to address growth before Invest Franklin was in place was somewhat limited, but when properties in Franklin were reappraised in 2016, the city sought to use the increase in property tax revenue to help support the city’s infrastructure rather than to lower the tax rate.
“When we rolled this plan out, we essentially said, ‘We’ll hold your property tax rate, and we’ll dedicate a dime of that—$0.03 to operations and $0.07 to these types of projects—so that we can be in the game and advance projects that are needed in the community,” Stuckey said.
When the plan was introduced, Michael Walters Young, budget and strategic innovation manager for the city of Franklin, said public reaction was surprisingly positive.
“I have over 20 years in local government. Never before have I witnessed people clapping for a tax increase,” Young said.
According to the city’s approved 2020 budget, at the beginning of 2019, the city’s Invest Franklin balance consisted of over $4.5 million dedicated to capital projects, with over $1.5 million projected to be added to the general fund every year.
That amount of funding makes it possible for the city to move projects along for approval quicker and decreases the city’s reliance on debt to engage in large projects, the city administrator said.
Additionally, Stuckey said more sources of revenue will soon be available to allow the city to engage in more projects, including a portion of a $0.05 sales tax increase currently being allocated to public schools becoming available for use by the city in April 2021 and the tax increment financing district in the McEwen area set to be retired by 2024.
By 2028, those factors are projected by staff to add over $30 million to the city’s general fund.
“We assume using half of [those funds] for operations and the other half for projects,” Stuckey said. “Those are sources we didn’t have in 2016 when we were looking at the 2017 budget.”