NASHVILLE — Hamilton County and Chattanooga governments, as well as the county's nine other municipalities, would collectively reap $4.57 million under Gov. Bill Lee's proposed one-time $100 million infrastructure grant program, figures show.
The Republican governor unveiled the proposal last week during his State of the State address to Tennessee legislators, saying he was including it in his $40.82 billion budget recommendation because, while the state is doing well, many local governments are "struggling financially."
Lee is recommending using $100 million out of the $1.1 billion in the one-time surplus to create two $50 million funds: One is designated for Tennessee's 95 county governments. The other is for the state's 346 towns and cities.
Each county would get a minimum of $250,000 along with another distribution based on its population. Towns and cities would get a minimum of $15,000 along with a second distribution based on population.
The money must be spent on one-time expenses in five categories: road projects, capital maintenance, utility system upgrades, internet technology hardware upgrades and public safety.
From the reaction of state lawmakers so far, Lee's proposal appears to be a virtual shoo-in for inclusion when the state's fiscal year 2020-2021 spending plan is approved this spring.
For Hamilton County government, that translates to $1.66 million, according to a Lee administration break down on distributions. It means $2 million for the city of Chattanooga.
A little over $900,000 would be split among Collegedale, East Ridge, Lakesite, Lookout Mountain, Red Bank, Ridgeside, Signal Mountain, Soddy-Daisy and Walden based on their share of population.
Hamilton County impact
Gov. Bill Lee has proposed using $100 million for infrastructure needs in Tennessee’s 95 counties and 346 municipalities. Here’s how that plays out among governments in Hamilton County:
- Hamilton County: $1,662,481
- Chattanooga: $2 million
- Collegedale: $141,805
- East Ridge: $246,984
- Lakesite: $35,313
- Lookout Mountain: $35,590
- Red Bank: $144,818
- Ridgeside: $19,767
- Signal Mountain: $109,530
- Soddy-Daisy: $166,357
- Walden: $38,365
* Source: Lee administration
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said, "we are extremely grateful for Gov. Lee's willingness to use a portion of his budget to support local government needs. As a result of Hamilton County's success, we have a number of pressing demands and we will apply the additional funding toward enhancing our residents' quality of life."
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's spokeswoman, Richel Albright, said, "we are always appreciative to have the state's partnership on capital projects that make our streets safer and our neighborhoods stronger."
One big fan of the proposal is Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson. While Lee has proscribed categories, Watson anticipates lawmakers will be discussing whether they "should be more directive in how we distribute those.
"Are we going to say, 'Hey, it can be used for these three things? Hypothetically, it could be used for roads, bridges and water [infrastructure]" projects.
"This is not targeted at 'Bob's courthouse' in Bob's district," emphasized Watson. "This is on infrastructure projects."
As an example of a specific need, Watson cited Lake Resort Drive in Chattanooga where, he said, "basically half of it fell off into the lake and it's been closed for one lane. And federal funding fell through on that. So this is the kind of supplemental funding that is infrastructure related that would make a significant difference in that one area."
"That's my shot across the bow to the city of Chattanooga," quipped Watson, who represents the area. But he also noted lawmakers will be asking whether the Legislature "should be more directive" in categories.
Lake Resort Drive and three other roads in the city last year suffered extensive damage in heavy rains. Chattanooga is seeking more than $20 million in Federal Highway Administration funding to cover an estimated 70-80% of the repairs. But the city's request has been initially denied by the federal government.
Albright said the city remains hopeful "we will receive federal funding for Lake Resort Drive, but welcome any help from the state and will use any supplemental funds in ways that best serve Chattanooga's taxpayers."
Repairing Lake Shore Drive alone would take about $5 million, Albright said.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, was among lawmakers who had specifically advocated to Lee that some of the surplus be devoted to roads and other infrastructure.
"And it was about $45 million more than I had asked for," Howell said. "I asked for $55 million in my proposal back in the summer. And I heard him say $100 million. I'm thrilled."
Howell's district includes parts of Bradley County. Under the governor's plan, county government there would see $663,823, while the city of Cleveland would see $511,254.
The biggest beneficiary will be the state's most populous county, Shelby, home to Memphis and six other municipalities that collectively would reap about $11.2 million.
Next comes Metro Nashville and Davidson County. Nashville, along with tiny Belle Meade, would collectively see nearly $10.38 million, according to the Lee administration's projections.
Knox County, along with the cities of Knoxville and Farragut, would see a combined $4.4 million.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.