City Struggles to Keep Pace

For The Tennessean

With the lowest property taxes of any city in Rutherford County and a location closest to Nashville, the city of La Vergne is growing–but somewhat like kudzu.

However, the city is struggling to keep pace and officials say the low property tax rate — 50 cents per $100 of assessed value — isn’t raising enough money to pay for everything needed to keep up with the growth.

“I know if we had more revenue we would be able to do better,” said La Vergne Mayor Sherry Green.

“It’s very hard to operate a city with a property tax that low, but I think that is one of the reasons we are growing. Davidson County property tax is very high, plus we are in a very good location.”

Green said in the thirty-five years she has lived in La Vergne, growth has skyrocketed, particularly recently.

“I moved here in 1970,” she said. “We had not quite 4,000 people.

“Now we have a good 25,000-26,000, I’m sure. It’s not easy, but we manage to do the best that we can with our budget. I know we can always do better.

“We are trying to put a little more of the burden on the developers and the builders.”

Green said she has no immediate plans to ask for an increase in property taxes.

“But it will eventually have to happen,” Green said. “If it comes to a “have to” case, then we will do what we have to, but we are doing everything we can to keep from doing that. We do have to run the city.”

The impact fees a developer must pay per lot total $1,307 for roads, parks and police.

Because the city is locked in by Percy Priest Lake, the city limits of Smyrna and the Davidson County line, growth will be naturally limited, said La Vergne Financial Director Ralph Mullins.

Some funds to pay for problems associated with growth have to come from other sources. To fund the city’s storm-water management program, the city last month began assessing a monthly $3.50 fee on household water bills.

“Individual residents pay a fee, and businesses pay a fee based on what we refer to as impervious area,” Mullins said, referring to areas that don’t absorb rainfall, such as parking lots and roofs.

“At this point,” tax revenue is sufficient to run the city, Mullins says, but he has received a few complaints about the water fee.

La Vergne competes directly with Davidson County and, in particular Hickory Hollow mall, for retail sales tax, but Green said upcoming road improvements might change that.

“We do not have that much retail, but we are working towards that because we are widening Waldron Road and hoping that will bring some retail in,” Green said.

“We do not have your sit-down restaurants. We want just about anything that will bring in revenue from sales.”

To help manage growth, the city brought in a planner, Tracy Tolley, four months ago. Unlike Murfreesboro’s Planning Department, Tolley has no say in the design of developments.

Murfreesboro requires each housing or commercial developer to present a Planned Residential Development or a Planned Commercial Development. Both must meet the planning commission’s design guidelines.

The Planned Residential Developments may have a commercial component to meet some of the immediate needs of the community and help stem traffic going out of the community.

La Vergne has no such requirement. The outcome has been what some consider a “cookie cutter” look. La Vergne is home to the state’s largest housing development, Lake Forest Estates, with about 3,000 homes — so far.

Tolley said she is not in a position to legislate new planning policy but can implement what is in place. She said the planning department does not require design guidelines.

“We are not requiring PRDs. Nobody has mentioned it to me,” Tolley said.

“From a planning standpoint, the only thing that I can do is make sure that whatever subdivision plat or site plan comes through my office meets our sub-regs and our zoning ordinance.

“Design is not something that I really have anything to do with.”

Another large subdivision in La Vergne, McFarlin Pointe, is requesting approval for sections 10, 11 and 12 from the Planning Commission for an additional 163 lots. The request is expected to be approved.

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