By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
COOKEVILLE – Many in our community have compared how Putnam County has handled the COVID-19 pandemic versus others, with the most notable point of comparison being Davidson County. Mask or no mask? To shut down or not to shut down? Open bars and restaurants or close them? Would it make a difference? The UCBJ delved a little into the data for some answers.
The biggest difference between the two counties was the economic devastation that metro Nashville has seen as a result of COVID-19. Davidson County was one of only two counties in the state to experience a sales tax decrease for the first two quarters of this fiscal year.
Davidson County’s sales tax revenue for that time (July-Dec.) was 6.1% lower than for the first two quarters of FY20, according to data compiled by the University of Tennessee Boyd Center for Business & Economic Research. In comparison, Putnam County’s tax revenues were 10% higher than the previous year. The 16.1 percentage point difference is astounding.
Life in Nashville during the pandemic has been drastically different than life in Cookeville. Although both at least partially shut down for several weeks early in the pandemic, Cookeville began to reopen its businesses in early May after Gov. Bill Lee rolled out guidance for restaurants and retail to reopen. In contrast, Davidson County was one of the six counties in the state with a Health Department independent of the statewide Department of Health, and they kept many businesses, including the bars and restaurants in the downtown tourist areas, closed for months and still haven’t opened them back up to full capacity.
Although both Putnam and Davidson counties were struggling through the recovery from the March 3 tornado, the early pandemic drop in revenue from Nashville’s closure prompted the Nashville City Council in June to raise property taxes by 34%, while Putnam County refrained from increasing property taxes on its citizens.
The property tax increase was even harder on Nashville’s displaced workers. The closure of Nashville has raised the average unemployment from 2.5% to 9.1% over the first 10 months of the pandemic. Putnam County’s unemployment rate increased from 3.4% to 7.2% over that same period.
The Upper Cumberland region throughout the pandemic has maintained a lower unemployment rate than both the state and nation. The region also exceeded the state and nation in sales tax revenues with an increase during the past 12 months compared to the prior year of 16.5% compared to a statewide increase of 7.2%.
COVID-19 infection numbers were slightly higher in Putnam County as a percentage of population. As of March 16, Putnam had 10,786 positive cases (13.9%), while Davidson had 83,462 (12.1%). Officials suggest that the higher percentage of positive cases may be due to Putnam’s aggressive testing during the height of the pandemic.
Putnam residents have come out in higher numbers to get the COVID-19 vaccine. As of March 17, Putnam has 12.52% of its residents fully vaccinated while Davidson only reports 10.25% That trend is likely to continue as Putnam has over 2% more that have started a vaccination series with 21.92% partially vaccinated compared to Davidson’s 19.61%.
Putnam County experienced lower unemployment rates, higher sales tax revenues, a higher percentage of citizens vaccinated against the virus and flat property tax rates. Davidson County had 1.8% fewer people contract the virus. Was it worth it? You decide.