The Hendersonville Board of Mayor and Alderman rejected an ordinance by Mayor Jamie Clary to move $500,000 into the supplemental paving budget recently. Instead, they opted to designate $96,000 to pave the parking lot of the police headquarters.
They also voted to require the Public Works Department to submit a strategic plan for paving so that they could better tell their constituents what to expect on when their roads would be paved.
This strategic plan was proposed by Ward 1 Alderman Peg Petrilli, and Ward 4 Alderman Steve Brown proposed to pave the police parking lot.
The ordinance unanimously passed the second reading at the Feb. 23 meeting.
General fund balance
The aldermen disagreed on whether the $500,000 would be best used for paving or for bolstering the general fund, which acts as the City’s catch-all and emergency fund. The state comptroller has cautioned the City to grow their general fund to 16.7 percent of expenditures, or around $8 million. It’s currently at $4 million.
Ward 3 Alderman Arlene Cunningham, finance committee chairman, said that the City’s goal this year was to get the general fund to $6 million.
“We’re pretty well on our way to do that if we don’t keep raiding that fund. We cannot continually raid our emergency general fund,” she said. “It is just not fiscally conservative or responsible to do that.”
Some aldermen wanted to leave the $500,000 in the general fund to be moved to paving if and when the Public Works Department spent the rest of their paving funds.
“People say our streets are embarrassing; I say our financial state is embarrassing,” said Ward 3 Alderman Russ Edwards.
Cunningham said she thought this was a “political emergency,” and that she would be open to allocating more money to paving if all of it was spent before the end of the year.
“I don’t want to be coined as the bad guy here because people disagree with being fiscally conservative,” said Cunningham.
Robert Manning, finance director, said it would be hard to determine when the City’s general fund was lowest as that fact would be relative depending on the growth of the City. However, he did point out that the City hasn’t had to borrow a short-term Tax Anticipation Note to cover expenditures since around 2017.
Money for paving
There is roughly $1 million left for paving to be used by the end of the fiscal year which ends in June, according to Boyd. The paving season typically starts in April and goes through December, depending on the weather.
There is also unallocated money paid by developments for infrastructure improvements. This money is typically not used for general paving, according to Boyd.
Boyd asks for $2.8 million every year for paving in his budget as that’s the amount the City’s paving study suggests to get roads to acceptable condition. That $2 million was supposed to come from the general fund and $800,000 from state funding. However, before BOMA even saw the budget, it had to be cut down to $1.8 million.
Boyd said that paving is often the spot that money gets taken from to balance the budget.
Boyd has spent around $1 million of this and has $1 million left to spend by the end of the fiscal year. If he got extra money this fiscal year, he said he could get started on the fall paving list.
Several aldermen had concerns about why all the money in the paving budget hadn’t been spent in years past. Last year, expenditures were stopped due to the uncertainty of COVID-19, and the year before that money was needed for a new firehall.
Boyd, who has only been public works director since 2020 and interim public works director since 2019, said that there was nothing holding him back from spending all the paving money in his budget this year.
There were also discussions about cash flow issues with paving in the fall, but Boyd said that those issues have been worked out so there should be no issue with needing to take money from the general fund to pave at the beginning of the fiscal year.
Both Ward 1 Alderman Mark Skidmore and Boyd, public works committee chairman, pointed out that if the paving company knows up front, they have $1.5 million worth of work to do, they can plan more easily than if $500,000 was added a few months in.
Boyd and Skidmore said it was easier for the paving company to mobilize their crews and labor if they knew the money was there.
“We would try to still make it work,” Boyd said. “It would be harder to do.”
To decide what roads should be paved, the roads superintendent makes a list of roads that need work, and the city engineer looks at the pavement study that has scored the roads. Together, they prioritize and develop a list.
This list is presented to the public works committee for their blessing; however, there is typically no legislation on what roads are paved.
Boyd emphasized that the process is data-driven. However, sometimes priorities shift depending on how quickly roads deteriorate and the level of traffic on the roads.
Boyd gives the paving list to the City’s pavers, Rogers Group, that begins to schedule the jobs as Hendersonville is not their only client. They are paid at the end of the job depending on how much asphalt is poured.
Skidmore said that Boyd has such a good relationship with Rogers Group that he can sometimes have them start jobs that the City doesn’t yet have the money for.
“I firmly believe Rogers Group has a strong commitment towards paving in the City of Hendersonville. They have paved our streets for many years and value our relationship,” Boyd said. “I do not necessarily feel like we are at the back of the line. We monitor our finances closely to make sure we can pay the work invoiced.”
Parking lot paving
Brown’s amendment originally included money for paving the parking lot of the tennis courts at Memorial Park. However, this parking lot is already supposed to be paved this year, according to Marshall Boyd, public works director.
The police department parking lot hasn’t been paved since 1999, according to Brown. He’s been asking for it to be paved for the past four years.
“The big thing is we have not taken care of our assets so that just needs to be done,” Brown said.
Brown said that if all the money is spent on paving before the end of the year, he would be the “first to jump on board” to add more money.
Petrelli’s amendment asked for Boyd and Manning to get together to make a strategic plan in 3, 6, 9, 12, 24 and 36-month increments showing what roads should be paved using what has been historically spent.
“I think the taxpayers, they’re entitled to know which streets are on the list and how much it’s going to cost,” Petrelli said.
Petrelli pointed out that many City departments have strategic plans and that the City doesn’t just allocate money for projects without laying out specifics.
Petrelli said she doesn’t want to know a specific day but just a general idea of when certain roads will be paved. She also mentioned that the plan could be adjusted.
Boyd said he had already sent out a paving list for spring to the aldermen and was finalizing the fall list. He expected to have a draft of the whole plan completed by early March.
Boyd said that he already tried to notify aldermen of upcoming paving projects, and he said the lists had not changed. In January, he sent BOMA a prioritized list of roads to be paved this spring along with the cost of each one.
Skidmore said that the cost estimates were usually “dead on.”
Roads to be paved this spring include Lauderdale Court, Grapevine, Laurel Lane, Donna Drive, Rice Road, Spruce Drive and Memorial Park.
Skidmore was adamant that a far-out paving planning list was a bad idea, taking into consideration factors like the economy and budget fluctuations, unexpected road deterioration and the low taxes in Hendersonville.
“Our roads are used more than any other thing that the City has to offer,” Skidmore said.
He said that he didn’t think BOMA was committed to paving and that they were controlling the process. He said he’s trying to get the “politics out of paving.”
The ordinance also allocated $8,000 for a master plan of biking and pedestrian trails in Sumner County. The County was awarded a grant that pays 90 percent of the cost of the planning while local jurisdictions pay the other 10 percent.