During last Thursday’s East Ridge City Council meeting, the council voted 3-1 for a resolution that would earmark all city and Hamilton County property tax money at the Jordan Crossing development to pay for improvements inside Camp Jordan Park.
It was explained by the mayor and city manager that the resolution was merely to endorse a “concept” to indicate to county officials that East Ridge was serious about this plan. The resolution was contingent upon Hamilton County getting on board. No money was allocated. No figures were included in the resolution. During discussion, Councilman Larry Sewell dutifully informed Councilman Jacky Cagle – the only councilman who voted against it – that this resolution was no big deal … simply a “concept.”
Laura Mathis, who had questions about the resolution during the “Communication from Citizens” portion of the meeting had it right. She said that concepts turn into projects.
Here’s the real concept that City Fathers seem to be pursuing: Let’s take all the property tax money generated by the new development – last year according to city officials it was a little more than $100,000 from Bass Pro Shops property and sales taxes – and leverage that to borrow money and make a super-duper regional sports complex at Camp Jordan. It’s a property tax abatement for the developers dressed up in a youth soccer uniform.
Hey, I don’t think there’s any argument that Camp Jordan Park needs some improvements. No question that the restroom facilities down there need to be completely replaced. We need some concession stands and I’m sure some fencing. I’m told that could cost a couple, three million bucks. That’s a chunk of change, for sure. But it’s doable.
What I’m hearing from this “conceptual resolution” is that it’s a financing mechanism that does nothing less than re-invent Camp Jordan as a regional sports complex. That would include more fields, more stands, more parking … and you know what … more potential customers driving right through the Jordan Crossing development on their way to drop off their kids from the mountain or some gated East Brainerd community to play their travel soccer tournament.
Price tag for this “concept?” I’m hearing $15 to $20 million, maybe more. Of course, it would be built in stages, city officials said. Little bite-sized bonds of three or four million could be used to pay for it. Hey, it all adds up. The city manager said so.
Last year the state of Tennessee reimbursed East Ridge $1.2 million under the Border Region Act. Of that, $412,000 came off the top to go to Jordan Crossing Developers. That left East Ridge with $750K. According to the city manager, the city is obligated to pay $315,000 a year on a note to build Exit 1 ($7 million). It’s on the hook for $72,000 to pay off the Camp Jordan Parkway improvements.
Mayor Brent Lambert is certain that amount will continue to grow in coming years. It very well could. But what would happen to East Ridge’s retail district if there was some catastrophic flood? Even more likely is a downturn in the economy. Remember 2008 when the bubble burst in the housing market? And here’s one … the trend of consumers opting to buy online and not at brick and mortar stores doesn’t seem to be losing any traction.
The picture I”m trying to paint here is that the our elected officials need to wake up and understand that this Border Region money only stretches so far. And the money they are spending needs to be spent for the benefit of all the residents of East Ridge.
Councilman Cagle balked at the idea of diverting all the development’s property taxes to build out the park. He said the state reimbursements need to be used to build up vital city services like police, fire and sanitation. The city is going to purchase a ladder truck for the fire department that’s going to cost more than a million dollars. The city just allocated more than $400,000 to buy new police cars and a street sweeper. And, there’s got to be six figures set aside for new garbage trucks.
The city manager and staff are working now to get grants to help offset a multi-million dollar drainage and streetscaping project that runs from McBrien Road to Kingwood Drive.
This is the real nuts and bolts of running a city. Taking the state reimbursements and paying for these essentials that will benefit the 21,000 residents of this city seems to me to be the conservative and cautious way forward.
Our elected officials seem to be under the impression that what is good for Camp Jordan and the Jordan Crossing development is good for the City. I think they’ve got that backwards.