From thousands of new residents to increased traffic throughout the city, Gallatin’s rapid growth has seemingly not been hindered by the pandemic.
Currently, there are more than 6,500 new residential housing units that are either pending approval, were recently approved or are under construction in Gallatin, according to a non-comprehensive list of new developments provided by the city last month.
“The reality is that at this point in time in Gallatin, everybody has been impacted by growth,” Mayor Paige Brown said. “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.”
The city’s building codes department issued a record 685 residential building permits during the 2019-20 fiscal year, according to data provided by the department. The department averaged 540 residential building permits annually during the previous five years.
As a result of Gallatin’s continued growth, officials estimate the city’s population had grown to 46,265 as of January – an increase of 53 percent since 2010. The estimate, if accurate, represents nearly 11,800 more residents added since a Special Census was concluded in early 2016.
“A lot of people feel like this happened overnight and lot of people feel that it happened because we are building houses,” Brown said. “I argue that the converse is true. We’re building houses because there are so many people interested in living in this region, this state and this city.”
Realtors report high demand, increased home prices
In Sumner County, realtors describe the local housing market as extremely competitive, which can be lucrative for sellers but challenging for buyers.
In March, there were 25 percent fewer homes on the market when compared to the same period last month, according to a report from Sumner Realtors, a nonprofit trade association for local realtors and affiliated professionals.
The average sales price was $358,725 – a 12 percent increase from March 2020.
“Because of the low inventory, people are paying over the asking price and over the appraisal price and bringing cash to the table to get their offers accepted,” Sumner Realtors President Shellie Tucker said. “Some houses are getting offers sight unseen.”
According to Tucker, many home buyers are moving to the area from other parts of the country due to the state’s low tax rates, good schools and because some have family in the area.
Most of the housing inventory on the market are new constructions, she added.
“The builders are building as fast as they can,” Tucker said. “We don’t have that many actual individual sellers, so as long as the demand is there, prices will continue to stay stable or go up even more depending on how many home buyers stay in the market.”
It is the demand for housing, not the approval for new residential developments, that continues to drive the growth Gallatin is experiencing, according to Brown.
“A lot of people will say we should stop building (so others) can’t come here, but they’ll continue to come here and pay any price for a home and you won’t be able to find a home to afford,” Brown said. “It has long been a goal of generations of people that have been leaders in Gallatin to have opportunities for people to live and work in Gallatin. We’ve made a lot of progress with that, but we’re almost at that tipping point where people who work in Gallatin can’t afford to live in Gallatin.”
County commissioner: ‘All of these developments are going to cost us’
The area’s rapid growth is also being felt by residents who live in the more rural parts of the county, according to Sumner County Commissioner Moe Taylor.
Taylor, who represents the 1st District, said his constituents in the northeastern part of the county have seen their county property taxes raised twice since 2014 as a result of the growth that is occurring in other cities like Gallatin.
“We go in the hole with every house that is built in Sumner County,” Taylor said. “The infrastructure isn’t in place and there is no way to make a development pay for itself. We’re putting that on the backs of the existing property owners.
“It’s not just Gallatin, but they are the ones that are kind of like growth on steroids.”
While the county does charge an adequate facilities tax of $0.70 per square foot for new residential constructions in order to pay for school debt, some officials say it isn’t enough.
According to Sumner County Commissioner Jeremy Mansfield, the county has averaged approximately $2.8 million in “inadequate” facilities tax collections during each of the last five years. However, the county incurred an average of approximately $48 million each year in new school debt during that same time.
“I’m the last one that wants to talk about raising fees or something like that on somebody, but you’ve got to make what’s causing the problem pay for the problem,” Taylor said. “We’ve got to do something because what we’re doing is not working. All of these developments are going to cost us.”
“My disdain for what is going on in Gallatin isn’t personal,” he added. “It’s nothing against the people personally that are making the decisions, but they’re killing us. We can’t catch up.”
Brown: Gallatin is an asset, not a burden to the county
Last year, Brown said she met with the finance directors from the city and the county to determine Gallatin’s impact on the county’s finances.
“It’s a compelling narrative, but I don’t think it’s an accurate one,” she said about Taylor’s concerns. “The last thing the city wants to do is to be an unfair drain on the other citizens of the county, but I think we actually make a case for being an asset.”
While Gallatin represented 21.6 percent of the county’s overall population, the city brought in 25 percent of the county’s total property tax collections, according to data provided by the city’s finance department. Gallatin was also responsible for 21.6 percent of sales tax collections.
The findings, Brown said, show the city’s residents may actually be subsidizing other parts of the county.
“The county is not paving roads in the City of Gallatin, yet our taxpayers are helping to pave roads in other parts of the county,” Brown added. “There are some cities in Sumner County that are so small and have such limited revenue streams that that they would never be able to fund their own school for example, but we want those parts of our county (to prosper).”
Regardless of the city’s financial contributions to the county, the majority of Gallatin residents say they do not believe growth is being managed well, according to the results of a community-wide survey released last fall.
The statistically valid survey, conducted by Kansas-based ETC Institute, found that only 29 percent of residents felt growth was being managed well. Additionally, 39 percent said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with overall traffic and congestion management by the city.
“I do think (Gallatin) is growing too fast, and I wish there was some way that we could balance it better,” Brown admitted. “When we talk about traffic… it’s a hassle, it’s a challenge and it’s a problem, but we do have a lot in the works to help mitigate some of that impact.”
In addition to “lots of improvements happening at intersections” across the city, Brown said a long-awaited traffic synchronization system is expected to be completed this year, which will help reduce traffic delays by coordinating 25 traffic lights along Highway 31E and in the downtown district.
An extension of Albert Gallatin Avenue from Dobbins Pike to S.R. 109 is also expected to help.
While it has been a challenge to manage growth “unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” Brown said Gallatin is not the only city facing the challenge.
“There is not a gate that we can drop,” Brown added. “It is a migration that is happening within the country. (Gallatin) is an appealing city with solid finances and low tax rates in a no income tax state with very conservative fiscal practices. We’re going to continue to appeal to people.”
For more than four decades, Bill “Hoss” Allen shared his love for rhythm and blues and soul music with radio listeners across the country while also helping launch the careers of some of the recording industry’s biggest stars.
The renowned disc jockey from Gallatin, who died in 1997, was honored last week with the unveiling of a new Tennessee Music Pathways marker highlighting his career and contributions to the music industry. The marker is located near the Rogan Cottage at Bledsoe’s Fort Historical Park in Castalian Springs.
“He was a DJ that saw no color, a pioneer whose work was really pivotal in broadening the base for R&B and for soul music,” Tennessee Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Mark Ezell said about Allen. “He is the kind of legend we want to remember… and for people to come and learn more about.”
Born in 1922, Allen was introduced to African American gospel music by the family’s maid. He went on to attend Vanderbilt University in the early 1940s before becoming a drummer in the United States Service Origination (USO) band during World War II.
After the war, Allen returned to the school but left to become an announcer at Gallatin’s new local radio station WHIN in 1949. He soon moved to WLAC in Nashville where he eventually took over the station’s nighttime broadcast slot in 1955 following the retirement of R&B disc jockey Gene Nobles.
Allen, who was also known as “Hossman,” could be heard by listeners from Alaska to Jamaica and is credited with helping to launch the careers of artists such as James Brown and Otis Redding. Several others have also cited his influence including Bob Seger, The Band and Waylon Jennings.
“I’m still in awe of what he did,” Allen’s daughter Bebe Evans said about her father. “I really appreciate him being honored and I think he would like this as much as anything.
“The fact that people are still writing about him is a really big deal.”
In addition to radio, Allen also worked in record production with Chess Records, was a partner in Nashville’s Pro-Sound Studios, founded several record labels and spent time as a concert promoter during his career.
He also booked and hosted 26 episodes of “The !!!! Beat,” a television show that was filmed in Dallas and featured popular artists like Etta James, Freddie King, Otis Redding, Percy Sledge and “Soul Man” singers Sam & Dave.
In 1980, the “Hossman” returned to WLAC where he continued to host a gospel show until 1993. He died four years later at the age of 74.
The decision to place the marker near the Rogan Cottage, commonly known as Rogana, was due to Allen’s family connection to Hugh Rogan, an Irish immigrant who settled in the area following the American Revolution.
“How many generations might it have taken for R&B, blues or gospel to become mainstream had he not known it, loved it and continually made the effort to play it for listeners?” Gallatin Mayor Paige Brown said about Allen, whom she grew up listening to on the radio. “I’m very proud that he was from our community… and that he is being recognized for his contributions and his efforts right here in Castalian Springs.”
In 2010, Allen was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. He was previously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1994.
Launched in 2018, the Tennessee Music Pathways is an online planning guide aimed at connecting visitors to the state’s rich musical heritage, according to the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. The program features hundreds of landmarks across all 95 counties in the state. For more information visit www.tnmusicpathways.com.
While a bill that would allow citizens to renew their car tags every two years may benefit some citizens, there are still unanswered questions about how the proposed legislation would work, Sumner County Clerk Bill Kemp told House Transportation Committee members last week.
Sponsored by District 40 Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster), House Bill 1544 would allow vehicle registration plates to be renewed every 24 months instead of requiring it every year. The $80 annual renewal fee would double to $160 for those who choose the 24-month renewal option.
Weaver said she proposed the optional measure in order to make the renewal process more convenient for citizens.
“It’s very convenient for the citizen,” she said during the April 7 committee meeting in the Cordell Hull Building. “It’s to help the citizens.”
Kemp, who is legislative chairman for the County Officials Association of Tennessee, was one of two county clerks who addressed the committee.
He noted that 94 of the state’s 95 county clerks offer the convenience of online renewals and 27 counties have self-serve kiosks. In addition, an app is available for those who want to renew using a smart phone.
“We are offering convenience in every way we can,” he said.
Kemp said that several questions were raised about the proposed legislation during sub-committee meetings that his colleagues didn’t think had been answered.
For one, it’s not clear if specialty license plates like those issued to fire fighters and organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police or the Tennessee State Guard would be included since they require annual documentation, Kemp noted.
It’s also not clear if some county clerks would be able to opt out of the legislation or if they are required to offer a 24-month renewal option, he added.
“It appears to us we’re saying we’re going to put this into law and we’re going to answer the questions after the fact,” said Kemp. “We would prefer to answer the questions and then put it into law.”
Rep. Sam Whitson (R-Franklin) said he thought the idea was a good one, but added it wasn’t clear how the counties that still require annual emissions testing (including Sumner County) would handle the 24-month process.
Kemp also expressed concern that those who ignore notices of auto insurance coverage until they have to renew their car tags would go longer without being detected.
Rutherford County Clerk Lisa Crowell said she shared many of Kemp’s concerns – particularly if those with specialty plates who are required to submit paperwork annually would be excluded from the legislation.
“How are they not allowed and others are?” she asked.
Transportation Committee Chairman Dan Howell (R-Cleveland) suggested rolling the bill over into the next legislative session so that some of the questions could be answered
“It sounds like people like your idea, but we don’t like the fact that it’s not fully vetted yet,” he said to Weaver.
Weaver agreed to move the item to the January, 2022 calendar.
When asked after the meeting if he thought more people would renew their car tags every two years in Sumner County, Kemp said he’s not so sure.
“I think it could be helpful for some registrations,” he said. “But I think we’d have a greater number of people who would want to renew twice a year.”
Kemp said a lot of people struggle to pay the $80 fee.
“If they struggle to make that $80 payment, they really won’t be able to pay $160,” he said.
Where the $80 car tag registration fee goes:
$29 – state highway and general fund
$35 – Sumner County Schools
$15 – Sumner County Highway Dept.
$1 – Sumner County Clerk’s Office
Gallatin’s fire protection services have been rated among the top in the state and could lead to cheaper property insurance rates for residents, according to officials.
The Insurance Services Office (ISO), a private company that measures a community’s fire protection capabilities, has improved the Gallatin’s rating from a Class 4 to a Class 2/2X, according to a news release from the city.
Ratings are based out of 10 with lower scores being more desirable.
“Gallatin has positioned ourselves with one of the best fire services in the state,” Mayor Paige Brown said. “Residents and businesses alike benefit from this distinction in safety, but also property insurance rates could decrease with a lower ISO rating.”
Of the 857 fire departments rated by the ISO in Tennessee, only 33 others have received a Class 2 rating like Gallatin, according to the release. Additionally, just seven departments have achieved the top rating of Class 1 from the organization.
The improved score indicates a home or business is less likely to be severely damaged or destroyed by a fire and therefore could cost less to insure. Officials also say insurance rates can also vary depending on the distance a building is from a fire station or hydrant.
According to Gallatin Fire Department (GFD) Shift Captain Charles Johnson, construction of a new fire station in recent years along with new staffing, training, a new radio tower, the Sumner County Emergency Communications Center and the city’s water supply and distribution systems were among some of the contributing factors that led to the city’s improved rating.
“This is a case where being number two is a tremendous win for our GFD personnel who work so hard to keep our residents and visitors safe,” Johnson said. “This rating shows there is still room for improvement that can translate into shorter response times to protect property and save lives as well as being one of the best departments in the state.”
Formed in 1971, the Insurance Services Office serves as an advisory and rating organization for the property and casualty insurance industry. The organization collects statistical data and distributes rating information on behalf of insurance companies.
Gallatin’s new ISO rating will become effective July 1.