Tennesee resident organizes for green space bond

Staff Writer, The Tennessean


BRENTWOOD, TNó Area businessman and Brentwood resident Stephen Prince thinks that his friends and neighbors would support the first tax increase in Brentwood in 13 years if the money would be used to buy and forever preserve local green space.

Prince said his desire to have the city buy and preserve Cal Turner's highly visible pastures earlier this year was just the beginning of his preservation vision. Prince raised the issue of the city buying a portion of Turner's land when it became clear Turner's vision of a master plan for his land wasn't going to be approved.

''All Cal Turner's land did was kick it off for me,'' Prince said. ''When the Turner thing kicked in, I started trying to find out if we could do something with that property. I met with city commissioners to see if there was interest. But I think the mission should go far beyond the Turner property. I definitely think the Cal Turner property is the centerpiece, but there are other properties that deserve attention as well.''

Prince's goal is to get a referendum on the presidential election ballot in February to allow Brentwood residents to vote on the tax increase to fund a $50 million bond. He estimates that in order to repay a $50 million bond, there would need to be about a 30-cent tax increase per $100 of assessed property value, which could average out to about $230 a year per household.

Brentwood City Manager Mike Walker said the only party that can call a referendum under state law is the City Commission, and guessed that commissioners would need to see major support from the community before allowing the referendum to appear on a ballot.

''There's no way to fund that kind of debt in the current revenue,'' Walker said. ''So it's inevitable that you'd have a property tax increase. The debt on $50 million would be about $3.7 million for 20 years. That's about 27 cents on the tax rate. And that's just the purchase of the land. You'd have the expense of operating or maintaining it on top of that.''

Walker also added that's figured with today's interest rates, which could go up.

That said, this referendum would be a big decision for the city that would have real financial implications to the city and to the taxpayers.

''It's going to be incumbent on (Prince) and those residents who are interested in this to convince the City Commission there is real genuine interest in doing this and paying the bill,'' Walker said.

That's precisely what Prince is working on now. To help generate support for this possible preservation bond, Prince is organizing a meeting for anyone interested at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28, at the Brentwood Library.

''My goal is to formulate a group of people representing all the major subdivisions to build support for this concept,'' he said. ''If we show we are behind this conceptually, I think the city will get behind it.''

City Commissioner Regina Smithson said it's hard to comment this early in the process about support of an issue like this one.

''I've been on the commission 14 years and it's like, as a situation comes up and develops and unfolds, as people get more information about that item, we, along with the people, can talk more intelligently about which way we'd go. There is money involved in this issue and we are talking about future generations being affected by these types of decisions.

''Since I don't have any specific numbers, it's hard to speak about whether I could support the issue,'' she said. ''I am open- minded about seeing what is put together and what the residents would want.''

Prince said green space preservation bonds are not a new concept. Charleston, S.C. and Dade County in Florida have both done similar bond purchases for preservation. He said Dade County called a $1 billion bond to preserve waterways.

''Lands such as the Turner property, Bill Primm and Charlie Primm's property, those are properties that are key components to the bucolic flavor that is Brentwood,'' Prince said. ''Bond issues for the preservation of green space are being supported 76% of the time in referendums nationwide. It's the most approved tax increase in the country.''

If a referendum were called by the City Commission and placed on a ballot, it would only take a majority of the voters to pass the tax increase.

Prince is in the process of establishing an e-mail address for correspondence regarding this issue; stephenp@brentwoodgreenspace.com should be functioning in about a week.

''I am interested in all parties attending this meeting, whether they are for or against this concept,'' he said. ''If there isn't support for this project, I'll go back to selling printing.''


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