Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Mayor Paige Brown of Gallatin, Tennessee to the newsmaker line to discuss her background in broadcasting and her current role as mayor.
Leahy: We welcome to our newsmaker line, Paige Brown, the mayor of Gallatin, Tennessee. Good morning, Paige.
Brown: Good morning. How are you?
Leahy: We’re delighted to have you on the program. I didn’t know this about you. You’re from Gallatin. You went to Florida State. You majored in Broadcasting.
You’ve been an anchor for TV stations in Tallahassee and Panama City. You worked for the Nashville Network and worked for News Channel Five. You are a broadcasting veteran.
Brown: (Laughs) And I like what I’m doing now, but thank you for highlighting my career path.
Leahy: Now you’ve been mayor of Gallatin. Tell us why you came back. Because you were out. You went for the bright lights and big cities.
You wanted to leave Gallatin behind, but now something happened and you’ve come back to live in Middle Tennessee and now be mayor of Gallatin. What happened to make you want to come back home?
Brown: I tell people the true story. Yes, I grew up here and couldn’t wait to leave. And a job brought me back to the Nashville area. And I kind of went from Nashville to Hendersonville and back to Gallatin. And then when the tornado actually on April 7th, which would have been yesterday in 2006, hit my hometown, I was in the control room at News Channel Five in Nashville, and I watched the devastation in my hometown, and I thought I want to be home.
And so I found a job here and worked in the community and was very engaged. And people started suggesting I run for mayor, which I thought was an absurd suggestion, but ultimately decided to give it a whirl. And I’m now in my eighth year of serving.
Leahy: Wow. Is it a four-year term? How long is the term for mayor there?
Brown: It is a four-year term.
Leahy: Are you up for re-election?
Brown: Yes, sir. This year.
Leahy: Do you have much competition?
Brown: I don’t know yet because the municipal election is not until November with the general election. So at this point, I don’t know.
Leahy: You’re interested in tax policy. Tell us, do we need to make some changes in tax policy?
Brown: We always want changes in tax policy that will relieve the burdens on the citizens. But right now the tax policy that I’m interested in is one with the state of Tennessee.
And I think I speak for all mayors in the state of Tennessee when we’re talking about really revenue shares that the state historically has given back to the cities where these funds are generated.
When I say we’re interested in a tax policy change, this has no impact at all on the citizens. And I want to be clear about that. Back in 2002, when I wasn’t engaged, and most of the legislatures who are in the state now weren’t engaged at that point, there was a change in our state tax structure.
Apparently, it was a very difficult time for the state of Tennessee, and they were in a critical budget situation. And so the sales tax was increased from six percent to seven percent.
And what we call the single article cap, which is the amount of a single item purchase above which local taxes aren’t collected, was changed from 1,600 to 3,200. In both of those instances, the state retained the entire gain on that increase.
And before that time, the states had always shared a portion back to the cities again from which those funds were generated so that we could support our city budget. And so since 2002, they have retained all of that.
And now cities are asking that we go back to that revenue-sharing model that we have had for so many years. The state has been very generous with cities in recent years as far as giving us some larger grants so that we can use those funds for things that we need within our cities. But we really want a revenue-sharing model so that we can budget we can project and we can plan for the future.
Leahy: Not have to wait and beg for a grant.
Brown: (Chuckles) Not be assured that it’s coming.
Leahy: (Chuckles) My words, not yours. Is there a bill before the Tennessee General Assembly to do what you propose?
Brown: There are two bills that they are considering. We have had varying degrees of positive feedback. I think the legislators do understand, particularly for us cities in the Middle Tennessee area where we’re trying to navigate all of this incredible growth that has fallen upon us and we’re facing the same workforce challenges that everyone in the private sector is.
We’re doing well with our sales tax collections, as is the state because that’s why they have such a surplus. But we need to be able to project out and plan for the future. And for the city of Gallatin, addressing our employee wages is really important at this point in time.
Leahy: Very good. What do you think the odds of succeeding in that are?
Brown: I am very hopeful that there will be progress made. There has been some discussion that maybe they would do a graduated return of the revenue sharing.
That would be something that again would help us plan, and project out. Remember when the hall packs went away and they did that over a period of a few years.
Even if they did that for us, that would be very meaningful. Again, it would allow us to plan and kind of figure out where we were and project what’s coming in the future. We are all worried about fiscal fall. Without that, we can all manage well and this would help tremendously.
Leahy: Who is helping you the most in the Tennessee General Assembly?
Brown: We’ve had good conversations with so many different legislators and some are very supportive and some ask lots of questions.
Leahy: What are your biggest challenges as mayor of Gallatin? How big is Gallatin? How many residents of the city of Gallatin?
Brown: With the last census shows us it’s just under 45,000. We think we were undercounted as do a lot of our cities. We believe our population to be close to 50,000 at this point.
So what that means is that the city of Gallatin in the last decade has grown 50 percent. I look around and I think, well, 30 percent of the people aren’t from here.
30 percent of the people have moved here in the last 10 years and that’s crazy to think about and it presents tremendous challenges.
Leahy: What are the biggest challenges as mayor that you have?
Brown: Gallatin is very fortunate that we have strong utility infrastructure and we own all of our own utilities which is one of the reasons that we’re so attractive. But our road infrastructure, our 386 which is our Vietnam Veterans Parkway that connects to I65 that goes into Nashville.
A lot of congestion throughout and all through Middle Tennessee cities and interstates. And so I think that is very difficult. The only thing that we are having a really hard time with is no one wants anything built next door to them.
They don’t understand that they’re not the only ones who are fleeing to Tennessee from some other state because we look more attractive than where they came from.
And so I think we say that everybody wants to be the last one in but then their friends or their family want to come at the same time. The people who are natives of this area have children who grow up and they have parents who want to downsize and so the housing market is just horrendous for everybody.
And then the other big challenge is the workforce piece because we don’t have the people to fill the jobs that are here and that’s in every single sector. And our wages have gone up substantially throughout our community. But they certainly are within the city as well.
Leahy: The last question for you. Which is more fun being a news anchor or being mayor of Gallatin, Tennessee?
Brown: I love what I do. I had some really good times in my TV career but I really, really love what I do. So that’s the answer. Being mayor is more fun. It also is a lot more stressful and probably causes more tears.
Listen to the interview:
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