by Matt Wright
The Lakeland Board of Commissioners (BOC) officially approved a .15 cent property tax increase in Lakeland at their June 15, 2023, meeting. The meeting, which was held at Lakeland City Hall, was attended by a large crowd of residents who spoke both against and in favor of the tax increase. The tax increase would cover the cost of a dramatic revitalization project around the I-40 intersection reshaping one of the major entrances to Lakeland.
The new proposed rate of $1.19 per $100 of assessed value received approval with a final vote of 3-1. Mayor Josh Roman, Commissioner Jim Atkinson, and Commissioner Michele Dial all voted yes, while Commissioner Connie McCarter voted no. Vice Mayor Wesley Wright was out of the country and could not attend, but Mr. wright did vote yes on the first reading of the proposed tax rate at a previous BOC meeting. With the increase, Lakeland still boasts the lowest property tax rate in Shelby County, now at $1.19. Arlington has the next lowest rate of $1.28.
The additional funds would allow the city to acquire the Econo Lodge Motel, plus the Refuge Church across the street from the motel on Huff N Puff Road. Once purchased, that property would be developed into a top-notch Lakeland Recreation Center through a partnership with the YMCA. At previous meetings, renderings of the recreation facility showcase impressive amenities, including a pool, lazy river, gym, and baseball field, among other things. Lakeland City Manager, Michael Walker, told the BOC that the YMCA said they can contribute $7 million of the estimated $18 million dollar construction cost. The City of Lakeland would fund the balance from the increased revenue via a USDA 40-year loan. The YMCA would manage the recreation center, while ownership would belong to the city. Commissioner Jim Atkinson said the city would move quickly and looks to start tearing down the Econo Lodge Motel as early as late July of this summer.
In addition to purchasing the Econo Lodge and Refuge Church for the Lakeland YMCA facility, the increased revenue would also allow the city to purchase the Relax Inn, located at I-40 and Canada Road, including the five acres of property behind the motel. Mr. Roman said there are already discussions to put in a Shelby County Sheriff Crime Prevention Office at that location enhancing law enforcement within Lakeland. Mayor Roman stated the Crime Prevention Office would not look like the sprawling Sheriff Substation currently located in Arlington. Instead, it would be more welcoming as residents enter the city. However, no drawings of that proposed facility have been shown in public at this point.
Commissioner Jim Atkinson, himself a former City Manager for Lakeland, said this would be a “transformation project” for Lakeland and it was not a decision made overnight. While he is against tax increases to cover operational expenses, he said not taking advantage of this opportunity would hurt Lakeland in the future. “Choosing not to act, I think, is going to cost us dearly in the future. From revenue we are going to give up to the need to repair and fix the hotel problems when it gets further out of hand,” he said. He also stated community surveys have shown a tremendous desire for an indoor community center over the past decade and we now have the opportunity to give that to citizens with the YMCA facility. Commissioner Michele Dial echoed his thoughts saying, “We’re getting something great in return (for the tax increase).”
Commissioner Connie McCarter, who voted no on the increase and the plan to buy the hotels and bring a YMCA to Lakeland, pondered if it’s even important at this juncture. “Do we need a YMCA right now?” she asked the other members of the BOC. Mrs. McCarter said she would rather wait and see if a business might buy those properties at some point in the future instead of Lakeland acquiring them for the revitalization project.
More details about the new YMCA facility, as well as the proposed Sheriff Crime Prevention office, can be expected at scheduled BOC meetings throughout the summer.