Franklin assesses its capital needs and capacity for next 10 years

The city of Franklin collects funding for capital projects from various development, use and other fees. (City of Franklin/Community Impact Newspaper)
The city of Franklin collects funding for capital projects from various development, use and other fees. (City of Franklin/Community Impact Newspaper)

The city of Franklin collects funding for capital projects from various development, use and other fees. (City of Franklin/Community Impact Newspaper)

Image description
When reassessing the city's capital needs every two years, the city's Board of Mayor and Aldermen rank the ten top priority projects. During this year's process, officials said most of the as yet unfinished projects on their 2019 list would remain near the top of the city's capital project priority list. (City of Franklin/Community Impact Newspaper)
Already authorized in the city of Franklin’s 2022-31 capital plans are an ambitious roster of work in the next few years, including a new $74.5 million City Hall, nearly half a dozen major transportation projects and about $10 million in storm water improvements.

In January, the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen began checking over a prospective revamp of the 10-year Capital Investment Plan running from 2022 to 2031 and costing roughly $377 million. The body is expected to work with city departments from February onward to reassess whether any projects should move up or down on the list.

Projects such as the much-anticipated widening of East McEwen Drive to Wilson Pike and then to Brentwood’s city limits could take five years once construction begins in 2023, Director of Engineering Paul Holzen said at a Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen mobile work session on capital projects in late January.

With a cost exceeding $53 million, the work is expected to last through 2028 and will expand the road from two to four lanes to help absorb traffic as the once sleepy road’s traffic has grown from 2,000 vehicles a day in 2005 to 16,000 today, Holzen told the board.

“It is probably going to be the most complicated project we are ever going to do,” Holzen said. “I try to be ultra-aggressive with the construction schedule, but the contractors always ask for more time.”

Holzen’s comments were offered as the full BOMA checked out a list of more than 30 points of interest focusing on planned capital projects during a Jan. 29 trolley bus ride—a trip to refresh their memory on the city’s infrastructure plans. The leaders also took in a cross-section of real estate developments driving the city’s growth.

“I think the ride gave us a chance to see some of the areas we don’t often see,” At Large Alderperson Clyde Barnhill said. “But when we meet in February and we hear all the opinions, that will be important.”

Project planning

City budget and finance staff forecast that a boost to the local share of sales tax—combined with other steady taxes and fees—should cover the cost of a new City Hall and other transportation, public safety and sewer network upgrades deemed necessary, while also providing an opportunity to save money by eliminating more borrowing.

Despite their confidence, city officials said a prolonged period of higher inflation and supply chain issues could affect construction costs and the timeline for some of the plans.

“We’ve seen this surge of inflationary pressure we’ve not seen before and some challenges with our contractors with supply change or workforce shortages,”

City Administrator Eric Stuckey said. “In this case, we’re checking in with the board to make sure they are comfortable with where we are with projects. It comes back to funding a growing community with conservative principles in terms of revenue projections and project delivery.”

Regardless of what happens, Franklin’s financial staff provide town leaders conservative revenue case scenarios to help guide their long-range budgeting, according to Mayor Ken Moore.

“We are always very conservative in terms of projecting what our funding sources are to avoid problems,” Moore said.

Since the last update to the plan two years ago, the total cost estimate across a planned decade of projects increased from $281.5 million in 2019 to $376.8 million today, according to the city’s budget office.

The price tag of one investment, a new Franklin City Hall combined with a 200-plus-space parking garage, could cost $74.5 million compared to the $32.1 million originally allotted for the work, according to the city.

Other projects such as the Southeast Municipal Complex—a new park—increased from $31 million to $39 million, and $11.2 million for Church Street work is now $12.9 million, the plan shows.

Michael Walters Young, city budget and analytics manager, said an 18.5% increase in local sales tax collections to $41.9 million year over year contradicted initial projections that predicted those funds would remain stagnant.

High inflation and pent-up spending demand by consumers were among factors driving the jump, he said.

The positive effect of federal fiscal stimulus of $7 trillion dollars through the American Rescue Plan Act, infrastructure and jobs legislation, and low unemployment rates are offset by the negatives of labor shortages, and supply chain and transportation problems, making economic forecasts a challenge, Young said.

The Consumer Price Index, which measures the average monthly change in the cost of goods and services and is produced by the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, showed a year-over-year increase for the Southern region of the United States for the six months ending in December is 6.6% after being 1.4% for 10 years.

“Inflation is not going to go away. It will take time to tamp back down,” Young said. “But even with a maelstrom outside, our revenue picture is stable, healthy and growing.”

Looking ahead

With more infrastructure needs put forward than available cash to deal with them, the BOMA will review their top 10 list of capital projects, Barnhill and Ward 1 Alderperson Beverly Burger said.

Transportation upgrades such as the McEwen extension, a $36.1 million connector for Long Lane at Peytonsville Road on the southern end of the city and new sewage capacity for the southern end of the city are important to address population growth, according to Burger, who has been on the board since 2005.

Envision Franklin, the city’s land use master plan, projects that by 2040, 133,640 people could live within the city’s Urban Growth Boundary, an increase compared to the city’s latest U.S. Census population estimate of 83,454 people.

“Our No. 1 responsibility is the safety, health and welfare of our citizens, and sewer, police and fire [department staffing], water, and trash are very high on the list of needs,” Burger said. “I don’t see development going back or traffic getting any less, so projects like McEwen we have to do.”

Barnhill and Moore both said they believe the ranking of top projects will not shift much, though Barnhill said there is more flexibility lower on the list, especially when private developers or companies take on a significant share of costs.

“I am very inclined to be able to leverage taxpayer money,” Barnhill said. “Something that is 20th on the list could move up if a developer offers to pay half the cost.”

The list of projects, particularly transportation-related ones, are a foundation to supporting the city’s recent economic success in corporate expansions and retail growth, Williamson Inc. CEO Matt Largen said.

“Any transportation project that alleviates traffic in the community will also be a benefit for the business community,” Largen said.

Allen Arender, partner and senior vice president of development of Halladay Properties, which owns The Factory at Franklin, said a nearly-completed $16.9 million project upgrading Franklin Road’s streetscape and roadway will benefit the mall and the area.

“The improvements will create connection and activation between Downtown, Harlinsdale Farm and The Factory—key components of Franklin’s core,” Arender said. “The city has done a great job paying attention to the aesthetics of these improvements by burying utilities and focusing on enhanced landscaping and streetscapes.”

Even as city leaders feel they are on stable ground to fund projects, Burger said there is a challenge to ensure the city saves resources to brace for negative economic changes.

“I am sure there will be a recession at some point,” Burger said. “Our system just ebbs and flows like that. When a downturn comes, we have to be able to pull back and sustain ourselves.”