City Commission OKs controversial signal by 2-1 vote
By Matthew Stewart| (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rockford City Commission approved Thursday night a proposed traffic light on Old Knoxville Highway at Williams Mill Road.
Rockford brought the intersection to the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s attention, said traffic engineer Nathan Vatter. State officials found the intersection met traffic thresholds and determined the intersection experiences about five times more than the state’s number of average annual accidents.
The proposed light will have loop detectors that trip the light when a vehicle is present, he said. The light will remain green if it’s not tripped.
The light is being funded through a TDOT safety grant, but Rockford will be responsible for upkeep. State officials have estimated the light’s annual cost to be $2,071.
Rockford will also be responsible for its replacement. The light’s estimated lifetime is 15-20 years, and the light’s estimated replacement cost is $111,374.
After hearing public input, Commissioner Roy Lawson voiced his support for the project. “We’ve needed this for many years, and money isn’t an issue.”
Lawson told audience members that he’s optimistic about the city’s future. “We have a multimillion-dollar development about 30 seconds from our border. Whenever Pellissippi takes off in 15-20 years, this area will grow tremendously and this traffic light will be a little cost.”
Mayor Carl Koella III disagreed with Lawson’s assessment of the city’s financial future.
Rockford is operating on a $236,000 budget, he said. In 2007, the city was operating on a $311,000 budget.
“We’re moving in the wrong direction,” Koella said. “We could easily dip to $200,000.”
Rockford is currently losing annual revenues, he said. The city will lose between $25,000 and $35,000, or roughly 15 percent, of its annual revenue when the Hall income tax is eliminated in several years.
Popes Garden Center, which accounted for about 20-25 percent of the city’s sales tax base, has also shut its doors after more than 35 years, Koella said. Officials hope the new Dollar General can help to offset the revenue loss.
Rockford’s dwindling revenues could create future problems, he said. The city allocates its funds for paving, fire protection fees, mowing around intersections and tree and limb removal on quarterly and emergency bases.
Officials have spent $330,000 on paving in the past two years, Koella said.
“My problem isn’t the annual cost,” he said. “We can come up with $2,000. My problem is the $111,000 that some City Commission 15 years down the road will have to come up with in one year.”
Koella argued that Rockford might not be able to maintain the light without a property tax.
Most municipalities fund their lights with property taxes, except Townsend, he said. The mayor noted that Townsend has a bigger sales tax base, which helps the city to offset its expenditures.
Koella argued that he didn’t want the city to get into a situation where the commission needed to impose a property tax to balance its budget.
Lawson dismissed Koella’s concerns, calling upon the elected body to promote business growth within city limits. “We’ve managed Rockford in a prudent way. If we don’t make a reasonable effort to increase our sales tax revenue, I don’t know if we’ll be able to afford much of anything else.”
Birdwell votes yes
Koella argued that Rockford has many farm owners who would be opposed to commercial development. He later offered the floor to Vice Mayor Denice Birdwell.
While Birdwell expressed concerns with future replacement costs, she said that an immediate boost in public safety was more important than mitigating factors, such as replacement costs. “Safety issues trump everything. It’s No. 1 in my mind. People should come first.”
Lawson later made a motion to approve the proposal, and Birdwell seconded it. Lawson and Birdwell voted for the motion. Koella voted against it.
After the meeting, Koella explained his vote. “It was a very difficult vote. People made good points on both sides of the issue. It’s impossible to make everyone happy, because half seemed to be for it and half seemed to be against it. I’m just pleased that so many concerned citizens came out tonight.”