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Nashville Municipal Consultant on 2021 accomplishments, tourism, innkeepers tax

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Unknown Speaker
hello everybody welcome to ask the mayor on WFIU. I'm Joe Hren from WFIU WTIU news. And this week we're joined by Nashville and municipal consultant Dax Norton. Hello, welcome. Happy New Year.

Unknown Speaker
Happy New Year, Joe.

Unknown Speaker
Let's just start by taking a look back at 2021. We always the holidays always kind of fall on on your week back at the end of the year, and didn't get a chance to kind of talk about some of the progress the town of Nashville was able to make in 2021. I think

Unknown Speaker
good progress, especially in the areas of planning to move forward with projects, we received a substantial grant from, you know, the IFA for some sewer utility work. I think some partnerships were solidified that were necessarily there before you know, we we it was still pandemic. And so it's always a moving target, when it was a very successful year from a tourist perspective, and I think it was a successful year from business perspective. And we had the business grants that we were able to obtain. The last one was obtained and handed out the beginning of 2021. And that was very successful. And then I think just the general organization of moving forward with plans for bicycle pedestrian master plan, we talked about comprehensive planning. We, you know, we've talked about, you know, utility planning and what needs to happen next, to make sure that utility is viable into the future. Talked about workforce talked about, you know, affordability and housing, talked about Ready, ready, Grant, I'm putting some proposals in there for what ri submitted that was a very good process. It was led by Madison Miller and Community Foundation and a great group of leaders that put that together and some brown counties, projects were added in there. So that's a great thing. But really came out of that with a sense of good collaboration, to really start to talk about things and forming partnerships and groups to get things accomplished. The town paid off a building. I mean, it you know, it may sound small, but one of the bathroom buildings was was paid off, the finances were very good at the end of the year. So once again, the council showed no fiscal responsibility. They had a very good discussion this year on the utility and council side on the budget. I think even more so than in times past Utility Service Board came to life this year. And now we now we have a joint effort between the county and the town on bicycle pedestrian master planning, a joint effort between the county and the town it looks like on the formation of Human Relations Commission. A lot of things done seem to be a quiet year, but it wasn't. It was a busy 2021. And I think moving forward, we're in a pretty good position.

Unknown Speaker
I think you cut out there just a little bit during that you said that town paid off the building. What building was that? And what's it for?

Unknown Speaker
So that's one of the bathroom facilities, bathroom facilities, you know, public restrooms in a place like Nashville. Yeah, it's incredibly important. Right. So and that was a great effort by the council to do so. paid off some some debt of the police department as well. And you know, it's a good fiscal responsibility that really comes in play moving forward, but there are things that need to be funded. And we're I think 2022 is the year of strategic planning, professionalism and trying to find ways to put capital improvement plans together that are fundable are that we can at least go out and work with partners in the federal government stick around to fund some of those critical projects so that doesn't have the burden doesn't lie on the taxpayer the rate there

Unknown Speaker
was like to touch upon COVID cases hospitals all time highs last week, Brown County I'm in the entire states at the red advisory level and I I believe I saw were testing and vaccinations are taking place at the Brown County Fairgrounds. Do you have any more details on the COVID situation there in Nashville and response

Unknown Speaker
and then the response naturally has been great by all parties Health Department EMA everybody involved has been great on the response side. Still have that testing going on? Vaccinations as well and and you know, it's your right everybody was in the red it was amazing what happened there with this variant. I don't know the vaccination level status of the county I need to probably look now I don't know where it was. was a couple weeks ago. So I'll get some information on that. But it seems that that, you know, all the precautions are still in place. Masking in shops is still recommended, obviously, if you're inside not not necessarily a requirement from government perspective, but certainly a requirement from business person's perspective. So continue to be cautious. And hopefully this thing ends.

Unknown Speaker
You've heard some Monroe County officials here, advise people, if facilities are too long, I think someone may have wanted to have or had to wait two and a half hours just to get tested to look at neighboring counties, Brown County, Morgan County, own county, is that something too that Brown County can can handle some of the overflow from some of these other counties?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I certainly know the guy that, yeah, I'm invited invites everybody over and floods the market. Yeah, well, it was much easier in Brown County than it was in some of the counties that I visit. So I don't know we don't want to do anything that would cause it to be strained. But certainly, if you need tested, you need tested and if there's a place to go that can get you in sooner than two weeks. And I would recommend finding that place and going there.

Unknown Speaker
Thank you. You mentioned a little bit about the war. You talked a lot about funding in 2021. And can you touch a bit about the American rescue plan Act money? And if any of that has been spent or awarded there in Nashville?

Unknown Speaker
Um, you know, no, to answer your question on ARPA, no. Now it is someone who are projects, especially the sanitary sewer rehabilitation project from the town's perspective, not sure what the county has done with their spending plan, I don't think they have one yet. probably likely that money is going to go predominantly to water and sewer projects on the town side. Because we're looking at anywhere from think I told the utility service board last night 15 to $20 million worth of just really maintenance work to make the utilities whole and working properly. So we'll leverage that money. I think the council wants to disappoint leverage that money for additional dollars. On the construction side for water and wastewater projects. Good. Then you have the new infrastructure bill. You know, Joe, it's a moving target. There's a lot of money coming into the state $750 million in the next five years, for water and sewer projects, it's things change every day, new noted new notices of funding opportunities come out. There are a lot of new programs. A lot of this will be in loan monies, but it's going to be incredibly competitive. So one of the goals this year and I wrote to the council is to have ready projects. So let's we need to really quickly in February, pick our priority projects and make sure that they are readiness to proceed worthy for any of these grant dollars, because competitive is going to be the key word.

Unknown Speaker
And we know from talking in the past about how important sewer water infrastructure there is that kind of the main priority.

Unknown Speaker
Right now our sewer infrastructure and from the town's perspective, would be the main priority. Now on the tax side, your public safety is probably the biggest concern because the biggest spend, there is a fire department as well underfunded. Town Council is going to probably go through studies to find out if the police department is underfunded, over funded, funded just fine. Nobody really knows we need to go through some feasibility studies. likely you're gonna find out that it's underfunded as well even though it seems like there's a lot of money spent on it. So public safety would be second and then you have pedestrian infrastructure I think is is top of mind for the council's well. You know sidewalks connectivity, safety of the pedestrians to not have to walk on or in the street. Those will be pretty interesting topics of how to fund those projects as we move forward. I know that there's a now a joint effort between the county and the town for bicycle pedestrian master plan. We've looked at ways to connect State Route 46 to Old State Road 46 via walking path. That's that's a big project specially for Councilperson Hostetter on the council, but everybody as well. So that's those are some of the main priorities but water and sewer infrastructure certainly because it's the most expensive and the most critical you have water and sewer you probably don't have a duty to go that would be top of mind.

Unknown Speaker
So have any of the numbers receipts coming in on the fall tourism season and how to compare to others or what have you heard?

Unknown Speaker
Haven't heard much on end of year receipts so I have I've heard business owner said some of them said was their best year ever. I can tell you that looks like food and beverage came in. I don't have the final number, but it was coming in just as much as it was in 2020, which we were all surprised which is higher than 2019. So that's a good indicator of visitation. Once we have that final number on probably next time we talk, have that final number and that's uh, we'll be able to have a better understanding of just how that season was when there was little rain. Weather as you know, as trees, leaves around the tree still November then turn green to and in turn colors until late October. So was an extended season and I think everybody had a had a pretty good year.

Unknown Speaker
Now that's interesting. You know, how high the the numbers are in tourism, considering all that. Do you think maybe did that help or what does that say about Nashville and Brown County that those numbers are and there was a Brown County Democrat. The local innkeeper tax reported about more than $1 million this past year and that was without December I think being counted. So they had

Unknown Speaker
an innkeepers tax got a good year which is a good indicator of visitation it's just a great place to go and Indiana right so if people had scaled back their their traveling to just more local or regional travel, it's an excellent location to do that. There's plenty to do you have more recreation in the park now with the the bicycle the mountain bike trails and everything else that goes on Rakhine State Park but you have the town as well. I mean, you have interesting tourist opportunities with with the shops and the shopkeepers and what they had to offer and restaurant offerings now is starting to grow and obviously we have some some beer and spirits being produced in the county by multiple different entities. So just a great place to be so

Unknown Speaker
innkeepers tax is a tax on hotels or lodging correct in Broward County. Right. So where does that money then go?

Unknown Speaker
So innkeepers tax goes to the Convention and Visitors commission I think it's called CVC, which is the county so the county collects that tax. County then gives a portion of that to the CVB and gives a portion to the music center and I think I'm not sure where else it goes. But those are the two major portions where innkeepers tax goes by statute. That's what's what's supposed to be used for CVB to market to get peds and beds. And then a special deal which is the music center, kind of a special deal to to fund the provide that service for music center. But you know, there's a bill in the Senate that would sunset all food and beverage in innkeepers taxes and 20 years, and we don't want that to happen. So but we we understand legislature, as thoughts of leadership to do we'd like to see at least some more discussion on that before it has a final passage but seems to be a interesting topic. Because innkeeper taxes important to a place that is so reliant upon tourism.

Unknown Speaker
That's a great segue to my next question. I was wondering if you had anything that you were keeping an eye on at the General Assembly of course busy at the Statehouse? I know Mayor Bennett and Lynn up on this show say that they're not happy about decreasing the business personal property tax affect their bottom their city but bottom line and I can see how that what what you just mentioned could be really interesting situation for Nashville. Do you know anything more about that bill that would sunset that innkeepers tax and why

Unknown Speaker
passed out of committee eight three yesterday? I'm not sure I can give you an answer as to why.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, and some people just don't like additional tax but will will will continue to watch it. I guess. With respect to the legislative process and what legislators are doing, and hopefully, you know, if it does move on into voting, that it's something that can be amenable to those that collect the tax, the innkeepers tax, and those that use it. So but it's definitely something on our minds. little lesson in national Brown County, then personal property tax, because there's not a lot of personal property tax, necessarily in Nashville and Brown County, because of the lack of major industrial, you know, facilities, which is really where you get into a lot of high taxable personal property tax issues.

Unknown Speaker
We know is that part of the bill that is cutting about $1 billion in a variety of ways? Is that the same bill or is that something different?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I think it is House Bill 1002, I think is Yeah, I think that's the bill. A lot of people looking at that, you know, there's some tiff language changes tiff quite a bit. And there's always a tiff bill that we watch. So watch those closely. Just wanted to add seniors. Go ahead.

Unknown Speaker
Sorry, I just wanted to ask you to just about this, when you hear about the state wanting to cut, you know, a billion dollars out of the budget, a lot of you know, tax cut a lot of tax cuts, income tax, business, personal properties, so forth and so on. And then, you know, I on the show, we talked to mayor's about crumbling infrastructure and outdated, no means of replacing certain things that cities need. Is that frustrating for you?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I think it's frustrating for all municipal executives in the state of Indiana to have levy controls. You know, the inability to raise enough revenue to maintain 2022 infrastructure. We have 1950 infrastructure in 2022. And we don't have 2022 revenues, or methods to pay for that. You can't go into too much debt, because constitutional debt limits, so you're kind of stuck. So when I say a number, like 15 to $20 million needs to be spent at the utility. There's only one way to raise that revenue to pay that debt. And that's raised rates. Nobody wants rates raised. But how else are we going to do this? So streets, the same bridges the same, there will be some money in the infrastructure bill. But Joe is going to go quick. So it's probably not going to take us far to places like Brown County in Nashville. So we still have to be as creative as possible without getting in too much debt. Having taxes be too high well, and rates be too high. So it isn't. It isn't a major issue in the state of Indiana having enough revenue to pay for 2022 operations of our municipalities.

Unknown Speaker
Well, as we wrap up here, obviously January started the new year. You mentioned this a little bit at the top of the show, but as you look forward now to 2022. What's Nashville working on today?

Unknown Speaker
Planning, I'd say definitely the buzzwords are professionalism from town government perspective, efficiency, and then a whole bunch of, of goals to plan right. And understand what the future is from Planning and Zoning perspective, pedestrian and perspective, transportation, you know, strategic planning from how the government should run. Those aren't really in place at this point. Although there are 20 some odd plans, there's really no what I would say actionable or strategic doing a bowl, coined a phrase from Purdue process from Purdue and Morrison plans in place, so it's going to be the year of professionalism and planning.

Unknown Speaker
As always, we appreciate your time. Thanks for getting us caught up in Nashville. And if you're listening, have a question for tax Norton or anyone you can email email us at news at Indiana public media.org. Have a great evening. Thanks again. Hope to see you next month. Thanks Joe. Bye bye
Dax Norton, Nashville Municipal Consultant

Nashville Municipal Consultant Dax Norton on Tuesday's Zoom interview. (Zoom)

Despite the pandemic, the town was able to break the innkeepers tax record, sewer infrastructure and public safety are the town's top funding priorities in 2022, and COVID testing/vaccinations continue.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Nashville Municipal Consultant Dax Norton addresses these issues and more. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: Let's just start by taking a look back at 2021. What was some progress the town of Nashville was able to make in 2021?

Norton: I think we made some good progress, especially in the areas of planning. To move forward with projects, we received a substantial grant from the IFA for some sewer utility work. I think it was a successful year from a business perspective. And we had the business grants that we were able to obtain.

And then I think just the general organization of moving forward with plans for bicycle pedestrian master plan, we talked about comprehensive planning. We've talked about utility planning and what needs to happen next, to make sure that utility is viable into the future.

nashville-town-hall.jpg

Talked about workforce talked about affordability and housing, talked about READI Grant. But really came out of that with a sense of good collaboration, to really start to talk about things and forming partnerships and groups to get things accomplished.

I mean, it may sound small, but one of the bathroom buildings was was paid off, the finances were very good at the end of the year. So once again, the council showed fiscal responsibility.

Also, a joint effort between the county and the town on the formation of Human Relations Commission. It was a busy 2021.

Hren: Could we follow up on extra funding, such as the American Rescue Plan Act money or infrastructure bill?

Norton: No, to answer your question on ARPA. Probably likely that money is going to go predominantly to water and sewer projects on the town side. Because we're looking at anywhere from think I told the utility service board last night $15 to $20 million worth of just really maintenance work to make the utilities whole and working properly.

Then you have the new infrastructure bill. You know, Joe, it's a moving target. There's a lot of money coming into the state $750 million in the next five years, for water and sewer projects. There are a lot of new programs. A lot of this will be in loan monies, but it's going to be incredibly competitive. So one of the goals this year and I wrote to the council is to have ready projects. So we need to really quickly in February, pick our priority projects and make sure that they are 'readiness to proceed' worthy for any of these grant dollars.

Hren: What would be the town's funding priorities in 2022?

Norton: Right now our sewer infrastructure from the town's perspective, would be the main priority. Now on the tax side, your public safety is probably the biggest concern because the biggest spend. The fire department is well underfunded. Town Council is going to probably go through studies to find out if the police department is underfunded, over funded, or funded just fine.

And then you have pedestrian infrastructure I think is top of mind for the council as well. You know sidewalks connectivity, safety of the pedestrians to not have to walk on or in the street. Those will be pretty interesting topics of how to fund those projects as we move forward. I know that there's a now a joint effort between the county and the town for bicycle pedestrian master plan. We've looked at ways to connect State Route 46 to Old State Road 46 via walking path.

Nashville Storefronts

Hren: Do you have any numbers on the fall tourism season and how it compares to other years?

Norton: I've heard business owner said it was their best year ever. I can tell you that looks like food and beverage came in - I don't have the final number - but it was coming in just as much as it was in 2020, which we were all surprised which is higher than 2019. So that's a good indicator of visitation.

Hren: Also I read in the Brown County Democrat the local innkeepers tax reported more than $1 million this past year and that was without December. What does that say about Nashville and Brown County?

Norton: It's just a great place to go and so if people had scaled back their their traveling to just more local or regional travel, it's an excellent location to do that. You have interesting tourist opportunities with the shops and restaurant offerings are starting to grow and obviously we have some some beer and spirits being produced in the county by multiple entities.

Hren: So where does that money from the innkeepers tax go?

Norton: The Convention and Visitors commission, I think it's called CVC, which is the county. County then gives a portion of that to the CVB and gives a portion to the music center and I'm not sure where else it goes. But those are the two major portions where innkeepers tax goes by statute. That's what's supposed to be used for CVB to market to get heads in beds.

And then a special deal which is the music center, to provide that service for the music center. But you know, there's a bill in the Senate that would sunset all food and beverage taxes and innkeepers taxes in 20 years, and we don't want that to happen. But we understand legislature, we'd like to see at least some more discussion on that before it has a final passage because innkeeper taxes are so important to a place that is so reliant upon tourism.

Hren: When you hear about the state wanting to cut a billion dollars out of the budget with a lot of tax cuts, income tax, business personal property and so on, while we talk about crumbling infrastructure and unfunded mandates, is that frustrating for you?

READ MORE: Indiana will get $3.3 billion more in current budget cycle, says new forecast

Norton: Yeah, I think it's frustrating for all municipal executives in the state of Indiana to have levy controls. The inability to raise enough revenue to maintain 2022 infrastructure. We have 1950 infrastructure in 2022 and we don't have 2022 revenues, or methods to pay for that. You can't go into too much debt because of constitutional debt limits, so you're kind of stuck.

So when I say a number like $15 to $20 million needs to be spent at the utility, there's only one way to raise that revenue to pay that debt. And that's raised rates. Nobody wants rates raised. But how else are we going to do this? So streets, the bridges the same... there will be some money in the infrastructure bill. But it's going to go quick.

So it's probably not going to go as far to places like Brown County in Nashville. So we still have to be as creative as possible without getting in too much debt.

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