Morristown’s MSA  designation in doubt due to proposed change

Local officials are concerned about a possible change to a federal designation that could lead to Morristown losing millions in federal dollars.

The Office of Management and Budget announced in January that the designation for metropolitan statistical areas could change this year, leading to some cities being downgraded.

Morristown is one of three Tennessee cities that could possibly be downgraded from the change.

“There are so many areas which rely on this designation in funding and program eligibility that we don’t really know what the impact might be,” said Tony Cox, Morristown city manager. “It is clear that we have a lot to lose if federal funding decisions follow from this proposed change.”

The city was alerted about the possible change a few weeks ago from a letter from the OMB. The other two cities that could be downgraded in Tennessee include Cleveland and Jackson.

The current designation to be included as a metropolitan statistical area is any city with an urban core more than 50,000. The new proposal doubles that number to 100,000.

If the change occurs that would mean 142 cities across the United States would lose the designation, according to reports. The impact of the change could be tremendous. Many cities within the MSA status are able to receive more federal funding for things such as road projects, housing funding, hospital reimbursements and community block grants.

Another possible hit from the downgrade could be a loss of status to help with industry recruitment.

“That is a major concern,” Cox said. “We are able to get on the radar of a lot of prospects by being in this metropolitan data group. We don’t need to take any steps back in our visibility or funding as we compete for industrial prospects. Success in industrial development is vital for the future of Morristown.”

The proposed change is under a public comment period for the OMB. The decision will be made at a later date.

The possible change has led Tennessee Senators Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, along with U.S. Rep. Diana Harshbarger, R-Kingsport, to write a letter to the acting director of the OMB.

“As we recover from the pandemic, we ask you to halt any upcoming rulemaking until the end of the pandemic and work with Congress and stakeholders to implement updated statistics as appropriate,” the letter stated.