The council was split 3-2 in its decision to deny the request for a public referendum with Gernt and Scot Shanks casting the dissenting votes

“I am totally against a referendum,” said Crossville City Councilman Art Gernt against the background of a packed Crossville meeting hall Tuesday evening. “I believe there is a referendum. It’s called elections.”

The Crossville City Council met Tuesday to discuss a memorandum of understanding with the YMCA after the organization agreed to operate the three-story Recreation Center facility and raise $10M within a five-year window to be split 80/20 in the city’s favor. The memo outlines the responsibilities of both the city and the YMCA. The memo is subject to approval by the YMCA board. If approved by the YMCA board, there will be a second reading. 

As discussions began, Councilman Rob Harrison quickly motioned to send the proposed recreation center project to a public referendum. 

“I am personally in favor of the rec center,” said Harrison. “…. But this is one of the biggest projects the city has ever done, and because of that, I would like to see this go to referendum. … I am going to go ahead and make a motion that we have a referendum that can accomplish that quickly, and at a pretty low cost. … This is a pretty big decision for a relatively small group of people to decide like this.”

Councilman Mike Turner agreed that a referendum would be a “good, transparent” way of letting the people speak.

“I’m pro listening to people,” said Turner, “because the people are the ones who elect us. … I’m for it, but I want the people to have a voice at the end of the day. … This is a very outspoken crowd for it here today, but there are a lot of folks that aren’t for it because of the cost or because the city is in debt a lot of money.”

Gernt disagreed.

“… I was voted in, talked about the recreation center when I was running,” said Gernt. “We have had 50 meetings. We have met in detail to find a plan that works for Crossville. … The people in this community have had plenty of opportunities to learn about this recreation center. I ran for reelection. I was elected. I speak for the people that voted for me.”

He says the cost is something the city can handle, and the plan is not going to impact property taxes.

“We are not spending $40M today,” said Gernt. “We are going to finance this over time. It’s going to be dealt with by sales taxes,” he continued. “Sales taxes have grown substantially since I was elected to the council.”

The council was split 3-2 in its decision to deny the request for a public referendum with Gernt and Councilman Scot Shanks casting the dissenting votes. Mayor RJ Crawford broke the stalemate with a no vote of his own.

According to Gernt, the city gets “very favorable financing rates” and that is the fairest way to handle the situation in city government.

“It’s handled a little bit at a time so one generation isn’t paying for everything,” he said.

Shanks Agreed. He says the city is in excellent financial shape.

“Not that we are using any of that for this project,” he said. “… Sales tax, for the most part, is really what’s paying for this. … I’ve been in the city council now for 7 ½ years. … I know when I ran, the one thing I brought up was that I wanted to see a recreation center. I thought we should have had it years ago.”

Shanks said it’s his job to make these types of decisions.

“I feel like I was elected to make this decision,” said Shanks. “… I am just not interested in slowing down the process. We have an incredible place to put this. … It is a game changer for Crossville,” he said.

The planned building site is on Main Street. Following a motion to approve the memo of understanding by Mayor Crawford, the council unanimously voted to approve. 

“It’s time to move forward,” said Mayor E.J. Crawford.

With that, Crawford made four motions:

  • Adopt a resolution to sell N. Main Street and adjacent property purchased for the center to the Crossville Sports Authority.
  • Authorization for the city attorney to work with the sports authority to move the project forward.
  • Authorize issuance of tax-exempt revenue improvement bonds not to exceed $40 million.
  • Approve the design and bidding phase allowing city architect Upland Design Group’s Kevin Chamberlin, who said the estimate for the building’s construction cost has gone down about $1 million, to $38.39 million, to try effectively lowering that price tag. 

All motions were approved unanimously. 

Since the original recreation center proposal and the subsequent bond acquisition proposal (originally noting a $65M price tag for the project, down now to $39M) for funding was announced a year ago, there has been public outcry for a referendum on the project. The construction could double the city’s bond indebtedness from $39M to 79M.

Moving forward with the project, the memo of understanding is an important step. Without all bonds and agreements approved by the city, the YMCA, and the city’s Sports Authority (created for this project specifically) there can be no movement. According to Crossville City Attorney Randall York, the Sports Authority’s involvement ensures property taxes can’t be used for the facility, and a separate “operating agreement” will now be written. It will detail the operations and management of the Rec Center.

Tuesday evening, many citizens made their voices heard. Most supported the recreation center, the YMCA’s involvement, and the opportunities it would bring for young and old alike.

Tony Perry, of Crossville News First, may have spoken for those not in attendance who now may never have a voice. 

“So I had a referendum of my own, so to speak,” said Perry. “I published on Crossville News first a poll asking residents over 18 to vote for or against the recreation center. The results as of today were 49% for and 51% against. With it that close, I would behoove the council to commission a more precise survey to see if voters’ opinions are indeed 50-50 split.”

Perry continued.

“As much as I would enjoy having a recreation center just down the road, I would prefer the city fix that road first,” he said.

The facility will include: 

  • an indoor pool 
  • gymnasium 
  • fitness area 
  • exercise rooms 
  • child care center 
  • spectator seating
  • flat walking track

This is an ongoing story. Check back for details.

UCBJ photo.

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