With my third annual interview with McMinnville Mayor Jimmy Haley to assess progress, challenges, and disappointments, it is clear our city is well ahead of expectations and motoring forward. This truly is an exciting story and outlook.
First, there has been $7 million invested in 100 capital projects in the city over the past year – Hardees, Captain D’s, Zaxby’s – to name a few. The city has been able to maintain a $5 million fund balance which is the stated objective of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
State tax revenues for the city were up $80,000 the last fiscal year over the prior year, and revenues are up $20,000 year-to-date as well. That has allowed the city cash balance to be over $450,000. This all means there is no property tax increase expected looking forward.
A major achievement during 2016 was the state grant award of $5.5 million to build and equip a new advanced robotics training center at Motlow-McMinnville. Construction will begin this spring with a completion date slated at year end.
Once complete, local students can study robotics for high-paying jobs in Middle Tennessee. The center will also be positioned to train industry employees on being operators and/or maintenance staff. To parallel the robotics center, local fundraising has supported the placement of a robotics lab at WCHS. That lab will begin instruction in August 2017.
The mayor is excited the state Driver’s License Center was retained and re-opened after considerable effort. New city employees Anthony Pelham (water department), Nolan Ming (planning and codes), and Kevin Roberts (Park Theater) have made solid contributions over the past year.
Nolan has overseen the purchase and implementation of a GIS (geographical information system) that allows for overlaying water/sewer/electricity/gas on any city plot/drawing. This is of great aid to all city departments. The Chamber of Commerce is working on a new app from this system to aid in tourism for county visitors.
Through McMinnville Parks and Recreation director Scott McCord, programs have been expanded at the Civic Center and lighting has been upgraded at ballparks around the Civic Center. Lighting has also been upgraded at Pistole Park for soccer.
Monies received from a grant from the local Smith Foundation will fund a new skate park as part of Friends of the Greenway project. This is a big boost for kids.
A new $811,048 (paid in cash – no debt) firetruck was received during the year that allowed two old trucks to be retired. The new truck also directly aids in maintaining the upscale fire rating earned by the fire department.
The mayor also noted the upswing in publicity benefiting the city via Bluegrass Underground, the Park Theater, Isha, and the new musky fishing tournament called Hardly Strictly Musky. Tourism is definitely up.
The one disappointment is that an awarded $1 million state grant for sidewalk placement from Sparta Street out to Motlow-McMinnville has been held up in “red tape.” This is within TDOT and is currently focused on environmental issues.
Looking to 2017, there are 192 permanent seats on order for the lower tier of the Park Theater balcony. These seats are expected to be installed by the end of March and thus will increase seating capacity for all events. The Park Theater project continues to grow in importance and value to the community.
The big project for 2017 is a complete renovation of the Civic Center – a $5 million (final costs not in yet) project. Part of the expense will bring the renovated facility in compliance with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) in terms of restrooms, automatic doors, signage, etc.
It is expected the decision making and bidding will be done during 2017 with actual construction starting year-end to early 2018. This is the first renovation at the Civic Center in over 40 years.
The mayor and Board of Aldermen support the development of a Tourism Development Board that will function much like IDB, including owning and leasing/selling land. The board recently passed a new 3 percent motel tax in McMinnville to help fund the TDB. A related project is the recruitment of a new hotel, ideally located downtown, to support increased visitors for the new robotics center, tourists for Cumberland Caverns and Isha, and tourists for Bonnaroo, etc. A committee is in place to help assure success with a hotel.
The city expects to upgrade the local recycling program during 2017. Working with a private contractor, the city-owned Sunset Point recycling center will be leased to the contractor who will greatly expand recyclables to include glass, electronics, plastics, and cardboard. The city will consider the hiring of a grant writer during 2017 to pursue the many grants that are available on a state and federal basis.
The mayor and I discussed the impact of having liquor stores in the city, plus selling wine in grocery stores. The liquor store option is probably six months away from happening, while wine in grocery stores should be available in the next two months.
Most exciting is tax revenue to be generated for the city from both wine and liquor will be substantial – all of this “new” money. This monetary gain will elevate projects the city could undertake in the future.
The Mayor noted Aldermen Ryle Chastain, Steve Harvey, and Everett Brock will be up for re-election in 2018. The current board is viewed as being engaged and passionate about the projects being accomplished.
BRAC congratulates the success of McMinnville over the past few years and the very bright outlook going forward. The complete upgrading of the Park Theater and the Civic Center, plus the new robotics center, are major milestones of progress.