Shelbyville City Manager Joshua Ray spoke at a community forum hosted by the Bedford County Republican Party Monday night.
He spoke to concerns about the City’s growth and development, speaking positively about future plans and about the City’s fiscal stability.
Ray originally hails from North Carolina and is a self-proclaimed “Christian, conservative.” He has been in local government for 20 years and been city manager in four other cities, including two in North Carolina, New Mexico, and Texas. Now, he’s been managing in Shelbyville since January.
“The numbers for the City of Shelbyville are fantastic. And this occurred well before I got here,” Ray said at the forum. He said for the last decade, Council has done an amazing job of setting foundation for fiscal responsibility. Currently, total fiscal stability of $13.6 million in reserves.
“Between the police and fire departments, about 9.5 million dollars per year, that’s all ad valorem property tax,” said Ray.
This is a critical point when trying to determine the foundation of what a city wants versus needs. Funds from sales tax go to value adds, as Ray terms them, like funding for parks.
One of the primary challenges he said he has faced in other cities is information dissemination. Therefore, he said there are plans to create a PEG (public education government channel) to service the greater Bedford region. It would provide local content all the time, through antenna and cable, as well as Roku, YouTube, Apple TV.
“As great as social media is, I think that sometimes it’s a little unreliable...So there’s a challenge there of getting information out effectively to our community,” said Ray.
The other biggest challenge he has faced as city manager, and is facing in Shelbyville, he said, is balancing “smart growth” with “wild, risky growth.” That is, things that do not fit the city’s vision.
Ray assured there are ways to ensure growth is controlled.
For example, any subdivision greater than four lots requires a traffic impact analysis. And even though Shelbyville’s roads are better than they were in the 80s, Ray said, they still need additional planning. Updating ordinances and making sure development is a higher improvement and not just a “build it and run” will also help ensure the City grows smartly.
But in the meantime, the City has “big” plans to accommodate more amenities.
For example, something tangible going on is the historic downtown renovations.
Concerns were raised at Monday night’s forum about the downtown square renovations, especially since they will be going on through the holiday season as people frequent the boutiques for shopping.
“Eighteen-month project, either way it would impact a Christmas season,” said Ray.
“But it just destroys downtown merchants during Christmas,” said Danny Robbins of the Bedford County GOP.
Ray admits, “It’s a horrible plan that was laid out and it was set in motion prior to [my] arriving here.”
Ray explained the City is trying to tie in with the contractor to move the project around and “get things done that don’t impact the businesses as much during the season.”
For example, they hope to move the work over to the north side of the square (where the bank and the church side are). Priority focus will shift to that side during December. When it comes time to renovate the sidewalks in front of any business, the contractor will have to provide access, even if it’s just a five-foot wide board, according to Ray.
Also, the trees on the square will not be back. Instead, there will be new signage for the businesses.
Ray encourages citizens to be active in their local government, saying, “The apathy, the laziness by citizens is not acceptable...But the challenge is, be active citizens in listening. I don’t ask people to show up in Council meetings, but at least contact a representative or listen to an issue,” Ray said.
Often, he hears council members say “my people want me to do this...” That’s the right way council should vote, Ray emphasized.
“Local government is the only form of government where you actively have your reps in your Walmart, in your Food Lion, in your Kroger, every single day,” he said.
Ray provided a list of Council’s initiatives. There is no definite timeline for these projects’ completion.