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VOL. 128 | NO. 221 | Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Suburban Prospects

Germantown’s amenities shape its future

By Andy Meek

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Walker Taylor’s business philosophy is a simple one, and it’s helping keep his Germantown-based restaurant a must-visit for diners from around the world.

Forrest Smith, left, and Ray Holmgram enjoy lunch at Germantown Commissary. The restaurant is a staple small business in the community that recently was named one of the nation’s top suburbs.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“Put out a good product at a fair price, and treat your customers special,” said Taylor, who in 1981 bought the Germantown Commissary, which today has a growing Web presence and is preparing to dish out hundreds of hams and turkeys for the Thanksgiving rush.

“I tell people all the time – you’re only as good as the last barbecue you served.”

The eatery, which was run as a small country store for nearly a century before its current incarnation, has some employees who’ve stuck around for three decades. The restaurant also is a distinctive feature of Germantown, to which it draws traffic from beyond the town – all over the world, really, including far-flung places like California and China.

It’s Germantown, Taylor said, which is an ideal home for his business.

“The government here has become pretty pro-business over the last 10 to 15 years,” he said. “We have great police and fire – those are important when you have a business. The overall management of the city, in my opinion, is excellent.”

The town arguably needs elements like Taylor’s business especially now, given that Germantown is at something of an inflection point.

On one hand, the town’s demographics and related features – its cost of living, amenities and statistics relating to crime, education and employment – recently earned it a place on a list of “America’s Best Suburbs.” Meanwhile, headwinds include a tax base that’s contracted in recent years, the town being at its borders under its annexation plan, sales tax receipts lower in the recent past and the future of the city’s schools.

Big developments are on the way. The city’s planning commission in December, for example, is set to vote on plans for a new Whole Foods Market, which would be the second store in the Memphis area. The proposed 41,000-square-foot store, which would employ 100 to 150 people, is being developed by Cypress Realty Holdings in conjunction with Ford Jarratt Realty & Development Co.

A “Bring Whole Foods to Germantown” Facebook page at week’s end had picked up nearly 1,300 “likes.”

At the end of October, the Movoto real estate blog – part of San Mateo, Calif.-based online real estate brokerage Movoto – released a study ranking the country’s top suburbs based on criteria that include cost of living, education and amenities.

Movoto put Germantown in that list of the country’s top 10 suburbs – along with Cupertino, Calif., the home of tech giant Apple.

Meanwhile, Germantown lost almost 7 percent of the value of its tax base this year as a result of the 2013 countywide property reappraisal. The assessed value on the town’s tax rolls – assessed value being the percentage of appraised value on which taxes are paid – stood at a little more than $1.4 billion for 2013, down from a little more than $1.5 billion in 2009.

The previous countywide property reappraisal occurred in 2009.

“Reappraisals are based on market activity in the years prior to the reappraisal date of Jan. 1,” said Patrick Lafferty, chief administrative officer for Shelby County Assessor Cheyenne Johnson. “Germantown’s certified rolls are nearly 80 percent residential, and I would point to the downturn in the local housing market as a major factor in the percentage decline in (Germantown’s) certified rolls from 2009 to 2013.”

Germantown has no annexation reserve area left to take in. So if a locale like Germantown runs out of land to tap where new houses can be put, that makes other taxes besides the property tax even more important sources of revenue than they might have been before.

And unfortunately for Germantown, Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy estimates there’s been a drop of 4 percent in the amount of general fund revenue Germantown gets from the local options sales tax over past years.

That drop is despite mounting aggressive “Buy Germantown” and shop local campaigns.

New development, bringing in business and new customers generating sales tax revenue, can help. But other potential headwinds – relating to schools, for example – are still question marks at the moment, in terms of how they’ll affect the town’s future.

Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson has proposed keeping Germantown Elementary, Middle and High Schools in the county system. Goldsworthy took a formal request to the Shelby County Schools board recently seeking terms that would allow the Germantown municipal schools district to claim the three schools, or at least Germantown Elementary School.

“The brand associated with the municipal school districts is a work in progress,” said Germantown School Board member Ken Hoover. “Shelby County Schools had been a plus for home values, and it will take a couple of years for the differentiation to be noticeable. My sense would be that people familiar with Shelby County would have an immediate preference for municipal rather than the unified school district. I think the municipals will inherit that preference. It’s my hope that friendly competition raises the performance of all of them, because there will be tremendous pressure on all of us to excel.”

PROPERTY SALES 36 154 6,546
MORTGAGES 34 94 4,129
BUILDING PERMITS 201 554 15,915
BANKRUPTCIES 43 126 3,396