[Editor’s Note: The following address, usually delivered during the third and final budget reading and dated June 24, when the FY20 budget was passed, was read to the board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday, July 8, and directed to all citizens of Tullahoma.]
For the 17th time, I present a Budget Message and State of the City to you as Mayor. I appreciate this opportunity to discuss the economic vitality of Tullahoma as well as some of the achievements that have shaped our community this past year. I will also highlight some of the initiatives we have to look forward to in the coming year.
I am pleased to report the City government enjoys a bond rating of Aa2, one of the highest in the state for a community our size. Your city government earned the GFOA Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Management, as well as the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award, one of the few cities in Tennessee to have that distinction. These are independent and objective measures of how your tax monies are managed and measured for transparent financial reporting. This budget represents a fiscally responsible and conservative approach to the use of your tax dollars. I appreciate the leadership of City Administrator Jennifer Moody and Finance Director Sue Wilson for their professional approach in managing the fiscal affairs of city government. I also appreciate all Department Heads for their leadership and management of the day-to-day affairs in their departments.
Now, to the budget before you. This budget represents our best effort at preserving, managing and building the assets of Tullahoma ... whether these are people, buildings or programs. I welcome the Boards’ and citizens’ suggestions and offers of improvements.
The budget as proposed contains no property tax increase for the next fiscal year and is balanced.
As Tullahoma grows it is important for city government to support the services needed. This year’s budget includes a new Public Works Superintendent position, a full-time permit tech in Planning and Codes and an upgrade to a full-time laborer position in Parks & Rec. These positions will upgrade customer service and community attractiveness.
This budget will also fund a regional tourism strategy, enhance downtown marketing programs, increase funding for the Administrative Hearing Officer position, purchase new equipment for the police and fire departments, supports the 2020 Census, AOPA fly-in and provides for a $500,000 THDA HOME grant program to assist Tullahoma homeowners with critical home repairs. Site work continues on the addition to the Tullahoma Business Airpark and sidewalk repairs throughout the community are ongoing.
This budget does not provide a net increase in direct funding to Tullahoma City Schools; however, $300,000 in support was shifted from the school debt sinking fund into their general purpose fund. This action gives the School Board greater flexibility in deciding how those funds may be used. The school system will benefit from additional projected sales tax revenue for their General Fund and Sales Tax Sinking Fund accounts. This fiscal year, city government will continue to provide $600,000 in loan payments for the THS facility improvements and East Lincoln School.
The departments of city government made requests to improve or enhance services that will not be funded. Thanks to excellent financial stewardship, total operating expenditures are up less than 3.0%. I am pleased there is a 2% cost of living raise for all full-time city government employees as well as a step raise. Also included is the city’s share of the Duck River Electric Substation in the Joint Industrial Park.
Ever since I can remember we have appropriated $250,000 annually for permanent street paving. We need to do more to maintain 330 miles of roads in Tullahoma. A drive down many streets will confirm work needs to be done. Paving will be done in all four quadrants of Tullahoma. An additional $50,000 in resurfacing is included in this year’s budget.
Our six new community initiatives are seeing active community engagement. I continue to look for big things from these organizations next year. Get Fit! Tullahoma secured $106,000 in 100% grant funding for the greenway extension ($900,000 over the past six years). Get Fit! Tullahoma also secured $115,000 in 100% grant funding for the new Silver Street Park. Work on the new park should start soon. Get Fit! participants “walked” the Appalachian Trail.
The Tourism Council has been active and distributed goodie bags to employees of five Welcome Centers in an effort to better acquaint them with Tullahoma.
The Downtown Council secured $15,000 in grants and is developing a marketing and branding strategy to better position downtown as an entertainment and dining destination.
The Arts Council has been active making Tullahoma an Arts destination by hosting another successful Arts Alive! Festival, with 40 regional artists and 1,400 attendees.
The Go Green! Tullahoma effort has been active and successful with another Earth Day festival, Rock Creek clean-up, Stormwater community meeting, Compost study, and worked to increase recycling with a door-to-door campaign and direct mail piece.
The Sports Council hosted the first ever Tullahoma Sports Hall of Fame ceremony and inducted the first 10 members.
All of this is designed to enhance the quality of life in Tullahoma. It is also important we design a community to which our young families want to remain, return or relocate. My research tells me these young families want to live in artsy, green, fitness-oriented communities.
I suggest our community initiative next year focus on entrepreneurism. Much of Tullahoma’s success over the years is the result of a successful business community, both large and small businesses. I want us, as a community, to be welcoming and encouraging to entrepreneurs. We need to implement strategies that support entrepreneurs. We need to eliminate barriers. We need to motivate young people to pursue entrepreneurship. We need to embrace entrepreneurship as a core economic development strategy and embrace an entrepreneurial culture. We need to celebrate entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are the makers, doers, hustlers and dreamers. They turn ideas into reality and create jobs. I want Tullahoma to become Tennessee’s rural entrepreneurial capital and the city of opportunity and innovation. Let’s work to create an entrepreneurial eco-system in Tullahoma. More to come!
So what has Tullahoma accomplished over the past year? Thanks to the help of many, nearly 97% of Tullahoma citizens are employed; over 150 companies requested a business license. Retail sales continue to outpace state and national levels. The greenway was extended. Over 6,550 tons of materials were recycled, 5.3 lane miles were paved, and 217 dogs were adopted. Firefighters have installed 4,000 free smoke alarms to-date. We maintained a Class 2 ISO fire protection rating, effectively reducing risk and liability for Tullahoma homeowners and businesses. According to data collected by the TBI for 2018, crime decreased over 3% from the previous year. In the first six months of this year, 745 pounds of prescription and over-the-counter drugs have been safely disposed of through the Drug Take-back program. 71 new single-family homes were constructed. Several high profile retailers were welcomed to Tullahoma. We saw over $24.5 million in new construction over the past year. 399 tax relief applications were approved. Tullahoma City Schools had another excellent year with the hiring of a new director and an emphasis on excellence in education, athletics and the arts. Man’s best friend now has a new home until they find their forever homes. Tullahoma earned the Tree City designation for the 22nd year in a row. The Storybook Trail opened. North Jackson Streetscape plan started. Veterans Memorial at History Park was dedicated.
Over 200 recent THS graduates earned millions of dollars in scholarships to technical schools, community colleges and universities. Over 312 Tullahoma residents walked a total of 56,681 miles together on “the Appalachian Trail” as part of our Get Fit! Tullahoma initiative. TUA replaced over 3,000 street lights with LED lights, which are more aesthetic and save money and power. TUA also completed a 240kW solar farm and increased LightTube subscriber count by 4%, to 3,769 subscribers. Our Tullahoma airport was one of three airports in the U.S. selected by AOPA to host their 80-year anniversary fly-in. And last but not least, Jennifer Moody was selected the new City Administrator.
What do we have to look forward to over the next 12 months? A new park on East Lincoln Street, an extension of the greenway, a cleaner and more attractive community, renovated grounds at South Jackson Performing Arts Center, more sidewalks and street paving, a new police station, downtown improvements, and progressing closer to our goal of having 90% of Tullahoma with ½ mile of a fitness opportunity.
Our chief job as Mayor and Aldermen is to define our vision and inspire the community to help reach the vision. It is critical we keep our eyes on our bold vision for Tullahoma to be considered world class in everything we do. From job creation, to cleanliness, to high school graduation rates and everything in-between, I want Tullahoma to be the best and considered a world-class community.
There appears to be a great deal of confidence in Tullahoma, both from citizens already here and from outsiders looking to invest here. And many more exciting things are on the drawing board. By growing Tullahoma, diverse jobs will be created from entry level to the professional level.
The opportunities are ours but we do not want to wait on opportunities. We want to create them.
Much of the positive actions I have presented are by the city government and affiliated agencies. There are countless acts of good will that quietly happen every day by Tullahoma citizens, businesses, churches and organizations that truly make a positive difference in the lives of all Tullahomans. Thanks everyone for all you do to make Tullahoma a great place to work, live, play and raise our families.
We should all be challenged by three thoughts:
1) “Great cities are intentional, not accidental.” In other words, we must have a plan and take strategic steps to accomplish our plan
2) “Why can’t Tullahoma be the best?” Some city is going to be the best ... why not Tullahoma? We should always strive to be the best in everything we do.
3) “If you really love Tullahoma, you have to help make Tullahoma better.” We all have opportunities to improve Tullahoma, whether through your school, job, civic club, church, neighborhood, or household. Get involved. Make a difference. Leave Tullahoma better than when you found it.
In summary, Tullahoma is truly a blessed community. We have so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to. While it truly is a great day to be in Tullahoma, let’s always remember we can make a great community even greater. Let’s leave Tullahoma better than we found it by the work we do and the decisions we make.
The FY20 city budget, passed June 24, was reported that week in the Tullahoma News. Read the story here.