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The Bonnaroo annexation discussion is one of how it will affect the city’s finances. It’s also a discussion of partnership and of strategic growth.

Key to the discussion is tax revenues that are said to range from $800,000-$1.2 million annually and the potential upgrades to the infrastructure that would serve the festival grounds. Money the city may not see for 15 years.


The $15 million question  

State laws requires local option tax revenue collected in newly annexed areas to continue to go to the county for 15 years except for any increase in revenue, which goes to the annexing city. Those tax revenues are based on the year prior to the annexation.

Bonnaroo 2020 was canceled.

According to a proposal by Bonnaroo submitted to the county during earlier negotiations, “Each year, the Bonnaroo festival brings in roughly $1.2 million in sales taxes to Coffee County which represents about 25% of the county’s sales tax revenue for the entire year.”     

What’s not absolutely clear is if the pandemic and Gov. Bill Lee’s Executive Orders limiting large gathering would change the way the taxes should be distributed for the next 15 years.   

State TACIR annexation resource, Bill Terry, FAICP Planning & Government Relations Consultant, said that the interim report on Public Chapter 441, the Growth Policy Act (Public Chapter 1101, Acts of 1998) says that “for the next 15 years, the county is supposed to receive an annual amount equal to what these taxes produced in the annexed area in the twelve months preceding that July 1.  Increases above this hold harmless amount are distributed to the annexing city.”

While proponents of the annexation say that the state statue offers no exemption for pandemics, it is an issue that would likely need to be resolved in court.  

Vice Mayor Mark Messick cautioned, “You’re asking questions we don’t know the answer to, and we need to find out for sure before we vote.”


Widened access and revenue

The infrastructure upgrades that Bonnaroo organizers feel are essential include the widening of New Bushy Branch Road, which would require the replacement of the Wolf Creek Bridge.

TDOT will no longer allow the opening of the temporary gate from Interstate I-24. And the New Bushy Branch gate will be the primary entrance to the festival.  

A potential TDOT grant would cover half the $6.2 million project. Messick was optimistic about TDOT paying for 80-100% of the bridge.  

Bonnaroo has offered assurances to the city that it would cover any of the outstanding expenses of the road were it to no longer hold a festival here.  

Bonnaroo data indicate that attendance is strong. 2019 was a sellout with 80,000 tickets. Data provided to the Times indicate that 2017 attendance was 65,000, 2016 was 45,537 and steady at around 75,000 for 2014 and 2015. The high mark in sales was 84,708 in 2013.  Local sales tax for tickets ranged from $727,243 in 2014 to $438,293 in 2016.  A commonly mentioned figure of $1.2 million in tax money comes from and estimated sum of 2015’s local ticket sales tax plus the local on-site sales tax.

“Bonnaroo continues to cover all of the costs associated with space/equipment rental, and all costs associated with police, fire, medical, traffic and public safety personnel that the County and City provide,” the proposal said.

Wastewater impact

The city of Manchester’s Wastewater treatment plant cannot handle an extra 80,000 flushing toilets all at once. The sewage might have to be stored and introduced into the system slowly at a rate the plant can handle.  “Until Bonnaroo's develops a master plan for all the areas that would have sanitary sewer, it would be difficult to know a loading rate,” Pennington said.

“Once a loading rate is known, they would have to develop the infrastructure that would allow the sewer to be fed into the municipal sewer main at an acceptable rate and concentration. During the annexation request, no demand numbers were indicated,” he said

Wastewater infrastructure (gravity feed lines) is more expensive than (pressurized) freshwater lines. Routes that are above grade must be pumped to elevation.

These concerns come in the middle of a megasite wastewater study for a potential 2,000 acre industrial location and a large development project at the 105 exit that could be added into the system.

Currently there are unrelated plans discussed to upgrade the Manchester Wastewater plant from the current 74% capacity to the maximum daily average flow of 6.92 MGD.

Economic impact

“The state gets it, TDOT gets it,” said Alderman Ryan French. “There’s a consensus as far as need…among the state and local officials as far as the impact.”

The comparison can be offered that roads are built for retail and for industry. Multimillion dollar investments are made in anticipation of developments.

“We invest millions and millions of dollars in infrastructure in strategic moves,” he said. “This is no different. The only difference is we know what the baseline impact already is.”        

French said that the relationship with Bonnaroo should be one of give and take.

“The mindset has always been Bonnaroo gives and gives and gives. What can we do to partner with them to make sure that we are fully absorbing the impact that they can give?

French said that impact versus investment analysis take the gray area out of the discussion of if the infrastructure improvements are worth it.


To be annexed, Bonnaroo must first go to the planning commission for a recommendation or lack of, then the matter will go before the full board of Mayor and Alderman. A public hearing will then be held before the readings.

“The city is going to be invested in the research on this,” French said. “We’re going to make sure the revenue opportunities are there and that we can make this investment without it being a burden on taxpayers. That is the most clear goal we have that this is not a burden but a positive impact.”


John has been with the Manchester Times since May 2011. He covers Lifestyles in addition to handling education reporting and general news assignments.John has won Tennessee Press Association awards for Best News Photo and placed in numerous other categories. John is a 1994 graduate of Tullahoma High School, a graduate of Motlow State Community College and earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Middle Tennessee State University. He lives in Tullahoma, and enjoys the outdoors with his wife, Mitsy, and his 17-month-old, Sean.

Staff Writer

Download the free Manchester Times mobile app at the app store. John has won Tennessee Press Association awards for Best News Photo and placed in numerous other categories.

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