City aldermen and county commissioners sat down for the second time on Monday, Feb. 4 to discuss the sewer expansion project out to Exit 105 (around North Coffee Elementary at I-24), but the meeting wasn’t as smooth as the first.
The sewer committee, which consists of three representatives from both the city and county, includes city aldermen Bob Bellamy, Ryan French and Mark Messick, and county commissioners Margaret Cunningham, Jimmy Hollandsworth and Ashley Kraft. Manchester’s Water and Sewer Department Director Bryan Pennington also sits on the committee, but does not have a vote.
Two issues were again brought to the table. Last month, the city offered to pay the county back for the sewer line using commercial sales tax of all of the properties that requested to annexed into the city and tied onto the sewer line. This agreement would have a deadline. In the February meeting, the city dropped the deadline and pledged to pay the county back the $1.3 million price tag no matter how long it took.
Manchester officials requested to require annexation for any property that wants to hook on to the new sewer line. Annexation cannot be forced by the municipality – it has to be requested by the property owner. If the owner does not want to be annexed, they will not be annexed into the city.
The long-term option is for the city to explore the option of expanding their Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) out to the North Coffee area. Doing so would automatically place properties within the city.
“The other element of that, is that we, in good faith, we go ahead and start with the project, but in good faith for the next year or two years, try to open up the Urban Growth Boundary,” French said. “I am keenly aware as we open that boundary, we may ultimately still not get what we want out of that, but even if that is the case, the agreement will still be in place. With the stipulation that if there is not a good faith effort made to open up the UGB, the funding mechanism to pay back the rural infrastructure fund would dissipate.”
The UGB is an area set aside for urban growth. The cities of Manchester and Tullahoma have a small portion of the UGB, but a majority of it is owned by the county. Changing the boundaries is not an easy task – the county has to agree to open it and two of the three involved municipalities have to agree on the new borders, as well as other stipulations and agreements from local public utilities. The county commissioners expressed doubt last month that this would ever happen and city alderman Mark Messick agreed it was a longshot.
With the understanding on the table that opening the UGB would be complicated, French asked the county to forgo blocking requested annexation into the city.
At the end of the meeting, all committee officials agreed to present a written proposal to the county commission and the city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The proposal is as follows:
Build the sewer line with the understanding the city will reimburse the county in full using commercial sales taxes generated from properties that annex and tie onto the sewer line; the cost to hook North Coffee Elementary School onto the line will be included into the total bill; the county will work in good faith to open the UGB; and the county will not stop requests from residents who request to be annexed into the city to tie onto the line.