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Nashville's Municipal Consultant On Reopening Brown Co., TIF District Expansion

Dax Norton on Zoom call

Dax Norton, Nashville Municipal Consultant (Zoom)

Nashville Municipal Consultant Dax Norton joins us through Zoom conferencing to talk about loosening restrictions, the town's budget facing a drop in revenue, and an expansion of a tax district.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Nashville's 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: Memorial Day would be a big tourist day for the area, even though restrictions were loosened Friday, any indication of how the reopening process went this weekend?

Norton: Things are coming back to life. I think people for the most part are following, to the best of their ability, the guidelines. I know that our Chamber of Commerce has done such a great job and CVB, the town, Community Foundation partnership has done so well especially Chamber of Commerce of helping the businesses reopen with lists and guidelines and signs they can print, websites. I think it's been very, pretty good reopening.

Hren: How did you feel about the governor loosening restrictions Friday? Is Nashville ready to reopen?

Norton: I think business owners obviously are ready to get back going, but very cautious. Some are hesitant to have it go so rapidly. Some people think it's probably too quick. There has to be a balance there. And I think that Brown County has done a great job of following those guidelines and making certain that people are comfortable, although not everybody is going to be.

READ MORE: Local Officials Want Governor To Close Brown Co. State Parks

And there are still a tremendous amount of concern for an uptick in cases. And so we've got to be diligent. I think the diligence is, you know, due diligence is there and things are going the right direction.

Hren: Last time you gave us some updates from the Brown County COAD help group, how are they assisting during the pandemic now?

Norton: The COAD is kind of starting to wane, kind of shutting things down a little bit as we go into a different phase. And so this next group is kind of coming about and helping each other. The Community Foundation brought in some hand sanitizing stations. They've been great. Their rapid response fund, I think they needed $20,000. Last I checked, they were at $17,000 or $18,000. That's to help with some essential items residents.

The county received $250,000 in funding from OCRA, the Office of Community and Rural Affairs to start a business grant program. And obviously businesses are struggling and this is very important. Grants up to $10,000, it's based on employee. The Community Foundation in partnership with the county will kick that off soon in taking applications moving forward with that. If you go to the Community Foundation website or the Community Foundation Facebook page, you'll see information both on the Rapid Response Fund and this business grant program to assist businesses in Brown County, Nashville.

Hren: With revenues decreasing, is the town starting to look at way to keep budget shortfalls?

Norton: Yeah, we've talked briefly about the impact. Everybody says that 15% reduction across the board. In fact, the town does have pretty good cash reserve and is sitting fairly decently well to absorb that. We'll pay attention to it as we go into budget, which is coming up right now. It doesn't look like you'll have a heavy negative impact on providing services.

It's been surprising that people have paid their utility bill. That was probably the bigger short term concern. There are a couple big users that are still out there, but it doesn't seem to be as big of a turn now. As we expect, and obviously I say now because everything is fluid. It's moving. A lot of uncertainty. So it's just a matter of being having good leadership, paying attention, and making sure that we're changing as the conditions change.

The money that the state distributes for roadways, that'll be impacted this year. And then the bigger impacts next year could be property taxes. Now this year, property taxes will be delayed. If businesses were to go out of business and not be able to pay their mortgages and you start to have foreclosures, then that starts to have a negative impact on property values and the values go down. And obviously, the taxes, tax revenue goes down. But those are all things that are probably worst case scenarios

Hren: I see the Democrat reported on a possible expansion of a TIF district that could include Hard Truth Hills area. Have you been in those discussions and what would that mean for Hard Truth?

Norton: I've talked to some of the council members and have been involved in discussing that as part of our strategic directions, initiative, special council meetings. Very good redevelopment commission consultant in Nashville. I think what's going to happen next is we're going to kind of look at a bunch of different maps. So how could it expand? Where could it expand? What's the best? What's the best area to include in any expansion?

Could we look at a housing TIF? Because you can do residential TIFs now in Indiana. Now the thing with the housing TIF is you got to be prepared to build quite a few houses for it to be impactful. So the community would have to be okay with housing division, if you will, coming in but that's something that lacks in Brown County, Nashville. The creek side area, the creek side resorts was flooded in March. It's now closed. It's something that everybody is concerned about, needs to be redeveloped and reopened. And so that could be a part of this TIF expansion as well.

Hren: And that would capture taxes in that area for new businesses, right?

Norton: So it wouldn't capture the base - the taxes of what's built at Hard Truth Hills now, or what's at the creek side, or anything that's currently built and being assessed prior to the area being expanded and created would not capture those taxes. Now any new improvements would be captured in that's where you get the increment and then you redevelop from that money. And that's infrastructure first, in my opinion, and then economic development incentive second.

Hren: The town has two vacant water utility positions to fill, how do you fill such an important position in a town growing and needing more infrastructure especially during unfunded mandates?

Norton: You had one one position resign. And then, it's just a turnover in positions, these people move on. And it's time to fill those positions. It's a tough one. I'm not gonna lie, it's cart before the horse. And so good municipal planning and good municipal government will have infrastructure be ahead of growth. But if you stop growing or if your footprint is just in maintenance mode, that's where it's hard to continually update this very expensive infrastructure.

So those are some of the things we're working on now with the wastewater master plan, the sanitary sewer rehabilitation project. The SRF, the State Revolving Fund is very good partner. But the good thing about Nashville and Brown County is there's a lot of state infrastructure. Our major arterials in and out of the county, the state takes care of those. You definitely have to look 5, 10, 15 years ahead of in your capital improvement plan. And that's something that this town probably needs to start to tackle again.

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