Despite a difficult 2020, Portland is in solid financial shape and is poised to continue growing, according to mayor Mike Callis.
In his annual state of the city address last Tuesday, Callis spoke of the effects of the past year and hopes for a better 2021. Callis’ speech was streamed on the Portland Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page and can be viewed there.
“We’re doing things a little bit different today,” Portland Chamber of Commerce Director Sherri Ferguson said of the format. “We’ve been fortunate to be able to continue business for the most part as we have.”
Callis said that COVID-19 had a minimal impact thus far on the operations of city government and services. When there have been positive cases, the mayor said that it typically was one or two at a time, which allowed for others to pick up the slack as needed.
“We deal with quarantines and positive tests just like any other business,” Callis said. “We’ve been fortunate that it’s been a trickling effect in our departments. Not everyone can run a water plant, or be a fireman, or be a police officer. We’ve been working through that.”
Portland’s finances are strong, and the city is in good shape, according to the mayor.
“We have seen our sales-tax revenue exceed where we thought we’d be at,” Callis said. “That’s due to Tennessee being open.”
Asked about property taxes, Callis pointed out that Sumner County raised its tax rate but that the city did not.
“We closed out ahead ... it was amazing,” Callis said. “The projection was we were going to have to hit the rainy-day fund pretty hard.”
Looking ahead, Callis spoke about an $18-million project to upgrade sewer lines in the city and provide more opportunities for growth.
“We’ve got big projects,” Callis said. “We’re carrying a entire new sewer line around the community. We’re completing the upgrade to our plant. We’re building for the future.”
Ongoing improvements at Meadowbrook Park and Richland Park were another area the mayor focused upon in his remarks.
At Meadowbrook Park, the city has spent $68,000 to upgrade the playground and also has been working on improving the lighting and the barn. Adding volleyball courts and another tennis court are possibilities looking forward.
“The guys have made that look good,” Callis said of city employees’ work at the park.
Richland Park’s community center is undergoing work and “was in disrepair,” the mayor said.
Attracting new business is another area Portland wants to work on in 2021. The city has used a retail consultant for the past two years, and Callis said that some projects had been thought to be in the works prior to the pandemic.
“We continue to plug away,” Callis said. “We’re still getting interest. The housing market continues to expand here in the city. We’re hopeful.”
The mayor said that supporting local businesses that are already in place was another key to attracting future business.
Callis indicated that the 2020 Census might have Portland’s population as high as 13,000 and praised the community for a strong response.
Asked about the obstacles to recycling in the city, Callis said, “No one’s buying recycled trash right now.”
Callis also gave an update on the progress of remodeling Portland City Hall and the possibility of holding the Portland Strawberry Festival this year. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s festival, one of the biggest annual events in Portland.
This year’s festival is tentatively scheduled from May 7-8.
“Maybe we’ll have a bumper crop,” Callis said. “The last year has created a lot of difficulty for all of us. We’ve gotten out of our normal routines and events. The good news is, we’re still pushing forward.”
With regards to city hall, Callis said that he hopes the Portland City Council will be able to meet at the building in March. Part of the renovations includes a new meeting chamber for the board.
“We’re trying to move a few offices in,” Callis said. “The inside of the building is looking tremendous. The idea of building the way we did was to make it look like one cohesive project.”
The mayor also spoke on work on the Temple Theatre and Southern Occasions nearby to city hall.
“This is going to help downtown and our events,” Callis said. “Downtown parking will be vital.”
Ferguson said that she hoped to have the mayor back for more video chats on a regular basis going forward.
“We may do a quick questions every month or so,” Ferguson said. “Everyone out here is engaged and interested in what (the mayor) has to say.”
Reach Chris Gregory at 615-450-5756 or email@example.com.