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Kingston may extend new greenways

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By Mike Gibson

Kingston City Council learned that the State of Tennessee doesn’t give refunds; but that the city can make up for any lost revenue with $280,000 in spare pocket change.

At the Jan. 8 session, council voted on the long-delayed fate of Greenway D, the unfunded portion of the Ladd Landing Greenway, even as the rest of the project nears completion.

The last of the project’s four greenways, D was cut out of the construction when the initial funding proved to be too little to cover the entire project cost.

How the city ended up in the place it is now involves lots of goofy math. The greenway project was originally supposed to be paid for by a state grant of 80 percent, with 20 percent local matching funds.

Developer Matt Caldwell agreed to handle the upfront costs and accept repayment through tax increment financing — tax breaks over a period of several years.

Then the city ended up ponying up an additional $218,000 for engineering. And then officials learned that the terms of the grant allow for a so-called soft match; in other words, Kingston’s portion of the 20 percent match didn’t have to come in the form of cash.

And since Caldwell had already donated parcels of land to the city for the project, the value of that land, plus the engineering costs more than accounted for the matching funds.
Still, the city had to reapply for a grant for Greenway D last year. After months of waiting, the city did not receive the grant.

But in November, realizing they had effectively “overpaid” on the original grant due to the total spent on engineering plus the value of the donated land, officials wrote a letter to the state requesting a refund.

It was a longshot. And perhaps unprecedented.

And it didn’t work.

“They just said that the rules have changed, and there’s nothing they can do about that,” said City Manager Jim Pinkerton, who was at a state meeting with other Kingston officials recently.

“They call these grants Transportation Enhancement Programs,” he said. “And though they’re administered by the state, they adhere to federal rules.”

Despite all that, Kingston can still fall back on the original TIF agreement. That called for the developer to put up $508,000 in matching funds. It was only later that officials discovered that the value of the donated land could also be counted on the match.

Kingston spent $218,000 of the $508,000 on engineering for the 4,800-foot-long  stretches of Greenways A, B, and C. That still leaves $280,000 to apply toward a match for the proposed 2,800-stretch of Greenway D, the estimate for which is about $780,000.

Council voted to apply for the grant at the Jan. 8 meeting. Pinkerton said the request may be looked upon more favorably than the last one.

“I assume it will be well-received,” he said. “We talked to them about that, since we’re making it again. I assume it will be more favorable. I don’t know that that means we’ll get it.”

The vote was six to one, with Councilman Kevin McClure voting against the measure.