Robertson County Mayor Billy Vogle said Thursday, July 11 at the annual State of the County address that times are good right now in Robertson County.
The Lunch & Learn is an annual Robertson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon, with the newly elected Mayor Vogle presenting for the first time. The luncheon was held at the Stokes Brown Public Library in the historic district of Springfield with 120 guests present.
“It’s been 11 months,” Vogle said. “You just can’t believe the ride.”
Vogle said he has been impressed with the many events and people he’s met in his tenure so far as mayor.
“We are so blessed to live in Robertson County,” Vogle said. “We don’t have to drive far to see counties that are really struggling.”
With budget season in full swing, Vogle said it’s a difficult time for department heads that approach the budget committee making financial requests.
“We’re close, but we’re waiting on fund balances to come in and hoping there won’t be any surprises,” Vogle said.
Vogle does not vote on the budget as the sitting mayor, but he has voted on 20 previous budgets when he served as a commissioner.
Robertson County’s budget for Fiscal Year 2019-2020 totals $19,355,807 for a 2.7 percent increase in the General Fund. One cent of the budget generates $172,000.
“Times are good right now - real good,” Vogle said. “Half of our budget is our employees. There’s a pay raise in this budget for county employees, which will help with health insurance that has increased by 17-percent this year.”
The county is partnering with the school district in the hiring of an engineer for planning repairs for the county’s buildings.
The county is planning on purchasing a new ambulance for $175,000 to $180,000, according to Vogle.
“The big elephant in the room is always education,” Vogle said. “The final education budget last year was $105,286,309. This year, the budget for the 2019-2020 school year is $108,614,269. That’s a 3.2 percent increase.”
The Robertson County Commission is planning to issue a $15 million bond for education to reconstruct and add classrooms to Coopertown Elementary School.
“We’ve got to keep up our buildings and I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Vogle said.
The Robertson County Sheriff’s Department, with 182 employees, holds a $13 million budget. More than half of the total is the operation of the detention center, according to Vogle.
“Every county is having a problem with bed space in their jails,” Vogle said. “In this budget, there’s $25,000 in a program with the state with prisoners using ankle bracelets to save bed space in our jail.”
Jessica Drake, the executive assistant and public information officer for the sheriff’s department, said the ankle bracelets address three areas of offenders.
“We are looking at a partnership for matching funds with the State of Tennessee that will provide funding for GPS monitoring of pre-trial, non-violent offenders as part of their bond conditions,” Drake said.”
Vogle said the county spends $740,000 a year in fire protection, which benefits from a partnership with cities.
“We pay these fire departments to help work our areas outside the cities,” Vogle said. “The days of one fire department inside one city…are gone. This is working out well.”
A bridge repair on Highland Road is about to begin in Orlinda after collapsing one March morning, causing area residents and emergency services to take much longer routes around the bridge.
The Highway Department is the only department that will be in the red this year, according to Vogle, simply because bridges are not insured.
“In 1976, that bridge cost about $50,000,” Vogle said. “Today that bridge is $1 million, which will come out of (the department’s) fund balance.”
Vogle said work on the bridge should get underway later this month.
The mayor said he’s putting together a plan for improving the animal control facility in Robertson County. He said the animal control center, located on West County Farm Road, is in dire need of improvement.
The county is made up of 10 department heads and 10 mayors in addition to Vogle.
“I’m proud and humbled to be your mayor,” Vogle said. “My door is always open. God Bless Robertson County.”
After the mayor spoke, Margot Fosnes, with the Robertson County Economic Development Board presented an update on industry and growth in the area.
With a population of 71,012, the county has seen a 7.1 percent growth since 2010, she said.
The median household income is $60,474, the fifth highest in the state, behind Williamson, Rutherford, Wilson and Sumner counties, according to Fosnes.
The employment rate is at 2.7 percent.
In the business community, Fosnes reported 5,533 companies in areas of manufacturing, retail, health care, lodging/food, logistics/warehousing, construction and wholesale trade.
Some of the larger industries include Electrolux, Macy’s Airtech and Dorman. The Lowe’s Fulfillment Center is one of the most recent additions, which began operations in the fall of 2018.
Some of the challenges facing the county include the lack of available buildings and development sites, water and sewer availability, broadband access and the high rate of out-of-county commuters.
“Nearly 23,000 people who live in Robertson County, leave every day,” Fosnes said. “That affects us in many ways. They’re not spending their money here. They’re stopping at the grocery store on their way home. Or, they’re shopping in Nashville.”
Fosnes said she’s concerned they’re not participating in community events when they spend their days outside of Robertson County.
The commuters are heading mostly to three counties – Davidson, Williamson and Sumner counties, according to Fosnes and mostly to higher paying jobs.
“We really need to concentrate on how we can bring those folks back home,” Fosnes said.
Attracting white collar jobs
The Economic Development Board has engaged a firm to survey Robertson County citizens who leave the county to go to work, according to Fosnes. The questions will be geared around areas concerning their education and skill levels, the types of jobs where they are working and the salaries they are receiving.
“That data is important because we need to use it to attract those kinds of industries,” Fosnes said. “While land prices in Davidson and Williamson counties skyrocketing, we have a real advantage. We can convince some of these site selectors that Robertson County is a place they need to look for their projects.”
Fosnes said she has been researching how to market Robertson County for these types of projects.
“They tell me we have to prove to them that we have the kind of people they need to hire,” Fosnes said.
Once the data from the survey is complete, Fosnes said Robertson County will be the first county in middle Tennessee to be able to offer the data to the site selectors.
“We have a good story to tell,” Fosnes said. “The land is going to be cheaper here. The people they want to hire already live here and they’re driving out (highways) 431 and down 41 every day to go work somewhere else.”
Fosnes touched on areas of development in areas of retail, entrepreneurs and small business, workforce and tourism.
Retirees are moving to Tennessee in high numbers as they leave higher taxes in higher property value states, according to Fosnes.
“Relocating retirees bring wealth, a desire to get involved and disposable income,” she said.
Fosnes said it’s interesting now to see people outside of Robertson County who are seeing the value of the historic downtown district and investing in it.
“Main Street is happening in Springfield,” Fosnes said.