Golden Bears shine on TV with 16th straight win

MT. JULIET — Mt. Juliet showed its wares on MyTV30 Friday night and dominated Station Camp 17-1 for the Golden Bears’ 16th straight win.

The Bears led 22-10 following the first quarter, 38-21 at halftime and 56-34 through three periods as they improved to 17-1 for the season and 6-0 in District 9-AAA.

Will Pruitt poured in three 3-pointers to lead Mt. Juliet with 19 points while Gage Wells added 11. J.C. Crawford notched nine points and Gavin wilson eight as each sank a pair of threes. Bryan Aiken scored six points while Taj Mason finished with five, Riggs Abner four, Ryan McIntosh and Jacob Burge two apiece and Isaac Thomson a free throw.

Kavon Blankenship sank all six of his free throws as he totaled 22 points for the Bison, who fell to 14-5, 4-2.

Mt. Juliet played host to rival Wilson Central on Tuesday night and will travel to Lebanon to open the second half of the district round robin at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Local economic projects good start for 2019 development

By Matt Masters

[email protected]

The Joint Economic and Community Development Board of Wilson County’s executive committee met Thursday to discuss new projects and businesses coming to Wilson County and what it sees as a good first quarter outlook for development.

The meeting’s most significant agenda item was the consideration of expanded investment by an existing manufacturer, identified as Project Commerce.

The project expansion has an additional investment of $17 million in real and $17.5 million in personal property. The project is projected to require between 25-50 additional jobs with a projected average wage of $21 per hour. All new positions would be full time, and the employees would be covered under the company’s benefits programs. Currently, the company totals 175 employees and committed to 90 new positions in the 2018 payment in lieu of taxes incentive program.

According to a memo provided by the JECDB, the new project was evaluated using a minimum of 25 new positions and the $17.5 million in personal property value, which was the same format of the approved PILOT. The additional personal property investment would result in a projected abatement of $357,054 and a payment to the county of $58,187 during a proposed five-year term. Additionally, under the proposal, the company would be responsible for the payment of all real property taxes during the term, which was estimated at $856,426. The motion to approve the expansion was passed unanimously.

Other major projects discussed were Project Clover, a consultant-led project that seeks 50-70 to build a 430,000-530,000-square-feet expandable manufacturing facility with up to 200 jobs in the first phase. A decision date was set for the first quarter of 2019 with full production expected to take place by the first quarter of 2021.

Project Mockingbird is a Nashville real estate firm that represents a client that seeks a 100-acre interstate-exposed site to build a 1 million to 1.5 million square feet e-commerce and logistics center. The project will also have an onsite sales and showroom component. The company president visited the site Dec. 4.

Project Grayfield is a tier one supplier in the aeronautics industry. It is a consultant-led project that requires between 200-250 acres with rail service. The three-phase project could total up to 1,200 employees and have a total investment of more than $1 billion.  The Department of Economic and Community Development project manager toured the Sparta Pike site Dec. 19.

Project Upper is a project with Volunteer State Community College, which seeks to build a minimum of 12,000-15,000 square feet of training and classroom space for a new center. The project manager said a site was identified and submitted to the state for comments and consideration and has a site approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Project Slim is a project that involves Dykes Industries that closed on 25 acres off Maddox Road at Couchville Pike and Interstate 840. The company would build a 120,000-square-feet facility, which would provide final finishes and assembly services for doors and windows. T.W. Frierson is the firm responsible to build the facility with expected completion in 2019.

Project Runway is a Nashville real estate firm that has a client who wants to buy a new 400,000-square-foot facility in Park 840 in Lebanon. The project aims to consolidate two Tennessee locations and total 450 positions. The company expects to hire a minimum of 150 people locally. The JECDB executive committee approved the PILOT request.

Poverty simulation aims to make people understand

By Matt Masters

[email protected]

The Wilson County Poverty Simulation took place last Monday at Mt. Juliet Elementary School and offered Wilson County teachers the chance to gain a unique understanding of the challenges and realities of poverty that faces students and families throughout the county.

The community-awareness simulation took place in the school’s gym with chairs set in circles and a packet of information placed at each group. The packets contained a description of a fictional family’s size, lifestyle, home life, jobs, education, financial means and other descriptive information.

Tables were set up with volunteers, and each table represented a different service or interaction that will impact each family’s time, money or other resources – the supermarket, work, utilities and a mortgage payment were some of the steps in the process. Teachers filled the seats and got a firsthand glimpse of the chaos, stress and challenge to make ends meet in a state of poverty.

About 40 educators gathered to take part in the simulation, which was led by University of Tennessee Extension family consumer sciences agent Shelly Barnes. Barnes said the program that started in 2007 has helped dozens of educators and volunteers get a better understanding of the realities of poverty.

“This is not the upper or lower end of poverty, it’s kind of right in the middle, but it does give the participants a glimpse of what it’s like to live in poverty and how hard it is,” Barnes said. “Usually, with groups like this, if they didn’t grow up in poverty or haven’t had many stressors growing up as a child, they don’t even know where to begin. They don’t know what resources that we have in the county or in this community. So we do talk to them about that, but we give them very little guidance because we want them to figure it out on their own.”

Judy Throneberry, a former volunteer, said the experience showed her the lack of inequality in the community and how those can lead to a lack of opportunities.

“I think it really opens your eyes to the disadvantages that the lower-economic part of society faces, especially with transportation – getting to and from school, jobs, health care, groceries,” Throneberry said.

Julie Harrison, an English as a second language coordinator for the school district, said the simulation taught the teachers how to find unique educational solutions through compassion and support.

“We strive really hard in education to remove barriers that students encounter that might prohibit them from getting the education that they need. So that’s why we do training with teachers, so that they know how to recognize those barriers,” Harrison said. “The poverty simulation is great, because it allows teachers to kind of live it and see how it feels because most of us grew up middle class. We’ve never been in poverty, so we don’t always know so this helps us to understand the frustrations that these families encounter on a day-to-day basis – trying to get to work and trying to get your bills paid and trying to get the service that you need.

“It helps them to realize those things that may be going on at home, so that may be a very valid reason why they don’t have their homework the next day. So if teachers have a good understand of that, then they can help the child get what they need at school instead of penalizing them for something they don’t have.”

Harrison also said schools have a process to identify those who may need help to ensure every student has the opportunity to succeed.

“Whenever students register every school year, the parents fill out a student-residency form, and there’s some questions on that form about the living situation. So that form lets us know if the family is doubled up with another family, or if they’re living in a shelter, or if they’re house by themselves, or whatever situation they’re in. So that lets us know who we need to talk to and kind of ask them if this would be helpful to them. What we run into sometimes is that when we register them in August, things may be fine. But in October or November or December, something happens where a family might lose a home. It might be a natural disaster, loss of income, medical, many things can happen. So families need to let us know if those things change, and we train our staff to look for warning signs.”

Mt. Juliet police sergeant helps Boy Scout troop that had equipment trailer stolen

When local Boy Scouts Troop 1204 had its equipment trailer stolen in November, it was left without camping supplies.

Police said the white enclosed cargo trailer was taken sometime between Nov. 9-13 from the parking lot at St. Stephen Catholic Community at 14544 Lebanon Road.

The trailer contained camping supplies such as tents and lanterns and has an estimated value of about $5,000. The trailer has “Boy Scouts of America Troop 1204, Hermitage, TN, Unit 1” printed on both sides of the trailer.

Mt. Juliet police Sgt. Cory Cook heard about the theft and began to think of ways the department could help the troop replace its trailer and camping equipment. So, he contacted Boy Scout Troop 911 to organize a service project at the department’s firearms training facility, and the scouts were able to collect more than 2,200 pounds of brass ammunition shells.

The shells were swapped for cash, and it brought in $2,800 for Troop 911, which donated the proceeds to Troop 1204 to help cover the loss of the trailer.

“We would like to express our sincere gratitude and appreciation for Sgt. Cook’s initiative and community involvement that truly benefitted many people,” said Boy Scout mom Rachel Underwood. “Because of Sgt. Cook’s ideas and actions, embodied the Scout Law and Oath, he was awarded a plaque from the BSA Hermitage District on behalf of troops 911, 1204, and 263 at the leader’s roundtable meeting.”

The Boy Scout troops recognized Cook this week for his efforts to assist the troop in replacing its equipment trailer and camping supplies.

Anyone with information about the crime is encouraged to contact Mt. Juliet police at 615-754-2550. Information may also be given anonymously by calling 615-754-8477 or at mjpd.org.

Gladeville barn destroyed by fire

Wilson Emergency Management Agency firefighters battled a barn fire Thursday evening at 7281 Stewarts Ferry Pike in Gladeville after a tossed lit cigarette set the barn ablaze.

The barn was filled with hay gathered to feed about 80 head of cattle. The fire burned the hay and destroyed the barn.

According to WEMA director Joey Cooper, no people, firefighters or livestock were injured in the fire.

Wilson County sheriff’s deputies and Rehab 23 volunteers also responded to the barn fire.

Man pleads to animal cruelty after dogs starve

By Matt Masters

[email protected]

A Mt. Juliet man pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges Wednesday in Wilson County criminal court.

James Elwain Williams Jr., 58, pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty and two counts of criminal information as part of a plea deal.

Wilson County criminal court Judge Brody Kane sentenced Williams to nearly four years of supervised probation. Williams was originally charged with two counts of aggravated cruelty to animals, a Class E felony, that stemmed from a 2017 incident at his home on Corrinth Road in Mt. Juliet.

Assistant District Attorney Tom Swink outlined the state’s case against Williams. Swink said on April 15, 2017, a Wilson County sheriff’s deputy responded to the home Williams owned but didn’t live in after a neighbor discovered two dead and decaying pit bulls chained in the backyard after the neighbor smelled something dead.

Williams told the deputy he knew the dogs were dead, but the dogs belonged to a woman who used to rent the home from him and never returned to get them after she moved.

Williams said he had no way to contact the owner, and the dogs were not his responsibility. Williams told Kane he did fed the dogs for a while, but he went to work a construction job in Gatlinburg and returned April 14 and found the dogs dead.

Williams told the deputy animal control had never been to the home, but animal control went to the home and got the bodies of the two dogs. They performed a necropsy on the dogs and determined they died from malnourishment.

The nearly four-year probation sentence was a result of four 11-month and 29-day sentences to be served consecutively.

Friendship Christian School basketball homecoming court

Friendship Christian School will celebrate basketball homecoming Friday. The ceremony will take place at 5:30 p.m. prior to the games with Davidson Academy.

The homecoming queen is Bayley West, daughter of Bill Bob and Kimberly West, of Lebanon. The homecoming king is Jake Blair, son of Rick and Kristen Blair, of Mt. Juliet. The senior attendant is Cameron Burton, daughter of Terry and Renee Burton, of Lebanon. The senior escort is Landon Crecelius, son of Stephen and Renee Crecelius, of Lebanon. The junior attendant is Mallory Dean, daughter of Jennifer and Charley Dean, of Lebanon. The junior escort is Jaheim Robinson, son of Adam and Kimberly Tune, of Lebanon.

The sophomore attendant is Khia Nicole Young, daughter of Kera Dye and Jerry Young, of Lebanon. The sophomore escort is Cole Cottrell, son of Renn and Nancy Cottrell, of Lebanon. The freshman attendant is Nishika Shah, daughter of Vick and Mona Shah, of Lebanon. The freshman escort is D.J. Rogers son of Amy Flippin, of Gallatin. Pictured (back row, from left) are Rogers, Robinson, Blair, Crecelius, Cottrell, (front row, from left) Shah, Dean, West, Burton and Young.

Lifeway gives gift of music to Cumberland

Cumberland University officials announced one of the most generous gifts ever received by the university is now in place in historic Baird Chapel.

The gift is a magnificent pipe organ donated by Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, formerly the Baptist Sunday School Board.

 For more than 50 years the custom-built 23-rank Wicks two-manual pipe organ with more than 1,200 pipes, provided music in the Van Ness auditorium of the Lifeway Christian Resource Center in downtown Nashville. When Lifeway made the decision to raze their building and move their center to a new location, leadership decided to gift the organ to the university.

The agreement to give the organ was signed in summer 2017. The instrument was removed from its previous location, and Milnar Organ Co. in Eagleville completely refurbished, modernized and updated it. An important part of the process involved “revoicing” the organ appropriately for its new home in Baird Chapel. The installation began in early October and was completed mid-December.

To the delight of almost 600 attendees, the organ was played for the first time in its new home as part of the Bert Coble Singers’ annual Christmas Dinner Show on Dec. 13-15. Bert Coble was a longtime faculty member at Cumberland who began the tradition of the Bert Coble Singers and its annual Christmas show. Because of his significant contributions to the Cumberland music program and the countless lives of students he influenced during his career, the university named the organ the Bert Coble Memorial Organ.

University president Paul C. Stumb expressed his gratitude to Lifeway during the Bert Coble Singers’ annual Christmas Dinner Show.

“We are so thrilled and appreciative to receive this remarkable gift from Lifeway Christian Resources,” said Stumb. “The organ will add immeasurably to the historic nature of Baird Chapel and will keep music alive for future generations of Cumberland students and thousands of guests who attend events in the chapel each year.”

A public concert to formally dedicate the new organ is planned for early 2019.

For more than 177 years, Cumberland University has advanced its long tradition of excellence to rise, endure, prosper and illuminate the world. Recognized as one of the fastest-growing liberal arts universities in Tennessee, Cumberland continues to evolve to meet the needs of a diverse and expanding community while it provides a transformational higher education experience through more than 100 fully accredited academic programs of study in three distinct schools.

Rescued animals spend Christmas with volunteers

By Matt Masters

[email protected]

Lebanon’s Animal Rescue Corps shelter houses more than 100 rescued animals, and the organization’s volunteers spent Christmas caring and loving for their furry family members.

The animals, all of which were rescued in Carroll County as part of Operation Noah’s Ark, have called a warehouse in Lebanon home since April, as the criminal case against the animal owners continues.

The cats, dogs, rabbits, chinchillas and ferrets have received nutrition, shelter, medical treatment, exercise and most importantly love due to the work of the staff and volunteers of Animal Rescue Corps, a national animal rescue nonprofit that facilitates animal care in large-scale abuse cases.

Like any other day, the animals were in need of care on Christmas, a day where volunteers wanted to be with the animals to give the care that everyone – regardless of how many legs they stand on – deserves.

“We had over 20 people here on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” said Animal Rescue Corps public information officer Michael Cunningham. “We have two shifts a day. We have a 9 to 1 and a 1 to 5, and we had people who came and stayed all day. We cleared off all the desks and set up big tables and all sat down and had a meal together. We serve vegan meals or vegetarian meals here. We never serve meat in the building, and people brought food. We bought food; we made food; we barbequed and had a great time together.

“I was expecting that we would have a real light crew over the holidays, because people want to spend it with their families, but we were literally telling people that we were full, which is just amazing. This is a place that people want to be. We have fun.”

The ongoing rescue operation is done free of charge with the help of volunteers and donations. Everything from cat litter, dog food, toys and animal bedding comes in daily through donations on the rescue’s Amazon wish list.

“There are thousands of rescue groups that can take on five animals, seven animals, 10 animals. What there isn’t is a resource for law enforcement to address situations of large-scale animal cruelty,” Cunningham said

He said ARC actually collects the evidence for prosecution.

“We build the case. We collect all the evidence, all the forensics and everything – dead bodies, every nail we trim, every tick we pull off these animals, all of that is maintained as evidence and turned over to law enforcement for the criminal case,” Cunningham said.

“It’s not that the sheriff doesn’t know that something is going on in their town. It’s that they don’t have a really good option when it comes to it. They could euthanize all the animals in the shelter to make room for new animals if there’s enough room. They could euthanize all the animals on the property, because there is no place to put them, or they could do nothing, and that’s what they do. They do nothing, because the other two options are so terrible that they just don’t have that resource to address it. So that’s what we are.

“We are a free resource for law enforcement, and we will come in and handle all the animals. We will do all of the extractions. We will emergency house them. We will get them medically sound, and then we will move them onto our placement partners, and they will find the homes for them once they have full legal custody.”

Cunningham started ARC with his husband, Tim Woodward, who serves as ARC’s chief operations officer, eight years ago and completed their first rescue in McMinville. Cunningham and Woodward both have a Silicon Valley background where they founded and sold startups, a far cry from the large-scale animal rescue operations they do currently, but something they both wouldn’t have any other way.

Cunningham said while the job can be emotionally taxing, it’s worth it just to change the lives of even one animal, many of which have serious medical conditions due to abuse and neglect such as ammonia poisoning, eye ulcers and internal parasites.

“‘No more bad days’ – that’s what I say. When we show up, I say, ‘There’s no more bad days, guys,’ and they’re gone from that,” Cunningham said.

Mary Biggers, a volunteer with ARC said the connection made with the animals is special, something she and many of the volunteers think about each day when they go home.

“We just fall in love with them, because we’re their only family right now,” Biggers said.

Director of operations Amy Haverstick said the best thing the public can do to help animals is to know if they are capable of caring for an animal, something that is a long-term relationship with another living being.

“You have to be financially capable of owning an animal, of being that pet’s guardian, and if you don’t have that in your budget, you shouldn’t get an animal for that animal’s sake,” Haverstick said. “It’s a lifetime commitment.”

ARC is always in need of volunteers and donations. Volunteers may contact ARC by email at [email protected] Cases may be reported at [email protected], and general information may be found at [email protected] or at animalrescuecorps.org.

4 armed teens charged in standoff

Staff Reports

Mt. Juliet police officers charged four armed teens after an early morning standoff on Boxcroft Circle on Christmas Eve in the Cottages of Providence neighborhood.

Police initially responded to a suspicious car stopped in the middle of the road at about 6 a.m. on the 4600 block of Boxcroft Circle.

The call took an unexpected turn when officers determined the car was reported stolen in Nashville. Officers found four teens in the car all between 15 and 17 years old who appeared to be unconscious and armed with a pistol and an AR-15-style rifle outfitted with a silencer.

The four teens either did not respond to or refused to comply with officers’ commands in the standoff that lasted for about 90 minutes and shut down the residential neighborhood. The incident prompted residents to shelter in place while others were evacuated to a nearby hotel.

The Mt. Juliet police special response team also assisted in the negotiations. The teens eventually surrendered to police without any injuries or shots fired.

The teens, ages 15, 16 and two 17-year-olds were taken to an undisclosed youth detention center. Their names were not released due to their ages.

Police also recovered two 3-pound steel hammers, along with the two loaded guns, which were reported stolen Thursday in Davidson County. The four-door hatchback car was reported stolen Sunday.

The investigation remained open with Metro-Nashville police.

Mt. Juliet church gives winter coats to police

By Matt Masters

[email protected]

Joy Church International last Wednesday gave each Mt. Juliet police officer a new winter coat.

The gift of 75 coats embossed with the Mt. Juliet police patch each included a $50 gift certificate just in time to keep officers on their beats warm and comfortable during the cold winter months.

Police Chief James Hambrick expressed his appreciation and gratitude for the gifts in a Facebook video.

“We want to say God bless you and a big thank you for your generosity and the gift that you’ve given our men and women here at the Mt. Juliet Police Department,” Hambrick said. “Your commitment to community and to our police department and this city is just outstanding.”

Wilson Central assistant principal appears on ‘Ellen’

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Fresh off her appearance with the Wilson Central High School dance team on Ellen DeGeneres’ television show, “Ellen,” Wilson Central assistant principal Ranesa Shipman was once again on the show, but this time, it was in person.

During her first appearance, DeGeneres invited Shipman to be an audience member during a taping of the popular talk show.

At Monday’s show, DeGeneres called Shipman down from the audience. Shipman called the experience, “unreal, phenomenal, outstanding. It knocked the breath out of me.”

With tissues in hand, Shipman told DeGeneres that DeGeneres was wonderful.

“I was mesmerized to be in the studio, to see people and her,” Shipman said. “What you see on TV, magnify that by 10 million. She is so pleasant, caring, loving and has a heart of gold. She has such generosity and care for people. I’m just grateful. It was a wonderful time, and I’m excited that my family and I had the opportunity. To think enough of us, to include us in the event, I’m humbled and grateful. It was a remarkable time.”

During the show, DeGeneres talked about Shutterfly’s previous gift of $15,000 to the dance team and another $15,000 to Shipman herself. At the show Monday, DeGeneres gave Shipman another $20,000 from Shutterfly to help pay off Shipman’s “secret” credit card bill.

“I’ve had it since I began teaching,” Shipman said. “There are a lot of other educators who do the same thing, especially when it comes to things needed in the classroom. We don’t want to be a burden to the parent, and the educators just get it. I don’t want to draw any attention to me. I’m not doing anything extra. I’m just doing what any other human would do to help out their brothers and sisters. I don’t want to be recognized. I just want to help people and be remembered as a loving person, who was upbeat, happy and energetic.”

She said with the $20,000, she hopes to create a nonprofit that will give back to others who need things for the school.

“I think a lot of the $20,000 will go for legal fees, but I want to start the process for creating a nonprofit,” she said. “I don’t want people to think I’m taking the money for myself. I’m giving back to the community.”

Shipman and her family were in Los Angeles for two days.

“It was a very short trip,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve slept in the past 72 hours. I had to come back, because there are people who depend on me.”

A closer look at the taxes Wilson County residents pay

Since a half-cent sales tax increase is on the ballot for voters to decide in the Nov. 6 elections, it’s important for voters to know exactly what types of taxes residents pay, how much money each generates and how the money is used.

The Wilson County Commission is required to create and manage the county budget to fund schools, the sheriff’s office, Wilson Emergency Management Agency, roads, the county court system. All of the services and departments are funded with four main sources of money collected through taxes. They are property, sales, wheel and adequate facilities taxes.

School operations are funded by about $56 million in local taxes. About $85 million of education funds come from the state, and about $11 million comes from the federal government. About $7.6 million is funded through fees for school lunches and after-school care.

Annual debt service payments, which are primarily for education, are funded by about $30 million in local taxes.

The sheriff’s office and jail operations cost about $23 million. About $2 million is funded by the state as reimbursement for housing state inmates and other small items. About $21 million is funded by local taxes.

WEMA operations cost about $13.6 million. About $2.2 million is funded by ambulance fees and $2.7 million in state-shared revenues. The remaining $8.7 million is funded by local taxes.

Road department operations cost about $12.3 million. Of that, about $6.7 million is funded by local taxes.

Schools, debt service, the sheriff’s office, WEMA and the road department make up about 85 percent of Wilson County’s total budget expenditures.

State law says budgeted local revenue must be equal to or greater than the previous year’s budgeted amount, unless the average population decreases.

It prevents local governments from reducing local funding and replacing them with state funds. This is commonly known as “maintenance effort” and/or the “supplanting test.” If maintenance of effort is not achieved, the state funding can be withheld from the county.

Also, the sheriff may not get less money for personnel than the prior year without his permission. Elected officials are generally constitutional officers, and they have the authority to sue in chancery court to have their offices adequately funded.

“I want to dispel the myth that we just can’t take a scalpel and cut the budget without pretty dire consequences,” said Wilson County finance director Aaron Maynard. “The misperception is that we can just reallocate funds and make it work. The state set it up to prevent this from happening. For example, when the state gives us an increase in the education budget, they intend for us to use it for education and not to reduce what we’re contributing by an equal amount.”

Sales Tax

Since voters will decide on a half-cent sales tax increase next month, let’s explore it first. While the Wilson County Commission can raise other taxes with a majority vote, sales tax adjustments require a public referendum.

Wilson County’s sales tax rate is currently 9.25 percent, and the proposal is to raise it to 9.75 percent, which is the highest rate a county can set by law.

The difference in the sales tax increase would equal an extra nickel for every $10 spent by someone buying goods and services in Wilson County.

Of the current 9.25-percent sales tax rate, the state gets 7 percent, and Wilson County gets to keep 2.25 percent. During the last fiscal year, sales tax accounted for about 9 percent of the county’s revenues.

Sixty of the state’s 95 counties currently have a sales tax rate higher than Wilson County. Forty-nine or nearly 52 percent of counties in the state have a 9.75-percent sales tax rate.

By comparison to surrounding counties, Wilson County’s 9.25-percent sales tax rate sits on the low end. It’s higher than Cannon County at 8.75 percent. It’s the same as Trousdale and Sumner counties. It’s lower than Montgomery County at 9.50 percent and Rutherford, DeKalb, Smith, Robertson and Williamson counties at 9.75 percent.

The general purpose school fund is the county schools operating budget. It is used for operational expenditures of the county schools. For the fiscal year that ended in June general purpose school fund received about $14.1 million.

The Lebanon Special School District receives a proportionate share of the sales tax dedicated for education based on student population as compared to the student population in county schools. During the last fiscal year, the LSSD received about $4.1 million.

The special purpose tax fund and rural debt service fund together received about $9.5 million. The funds are primarily used to make debt payments for elementary and middle schools.

By law, the first half of the sales tax is dedicated to education. The second half of the sales tax is dedicated to the city in which the sale took place.

For example, a business in a city collects and remits $1,000 in sales tax. The state would get about $757. The remaining $243 is split with half to educational services and the other half to the respective city.

A half-cent sales tax increase would generate an increase of $11 million in additional revenue annually with $5.2 million granted to Wilson County and $5.8 million granted to the city in which the sale took place or the Lebanon Special School District.

“Wilson County’s portion would provide the additional funds needed for the future county jail and our growing county’s infrastructure,” said Maynard.

If voters don’t approve a half-cent sales tax increase in the Nov. 6 referendum, funding for several upcoming projects will have to come from somewhere, and there are effectively about three choices that would remain.

Aside from sales tax, Wilson County’s primary sources of revenue come from property tax, adequate facilities tax and wheel tax. On the Nov. 6 election ballot, voters will decide on whether to raise the sales tax rate from 9.25 percent to 9.75 percent, which is the highest allowed by state law. If the proposed sales tax increase fails, the Wilson County Commission will likely raise one or a combination of the three other taxes to pay for projects such as a jail expansion and to build and expand schools due to growth. To generate the same revenue as the half-cent sales tax increase, property taxes would be raised by 15 cents, the wheel tax would increase to $33 and the adequate facilities tax would go from $3,000 to $3,561.

Property Tax

Wilson County’s property taxes are the primary funding source and generate the most money each year. Property taxes last year generated more than four times the amount raised by the other three taxes combined.

“Property owners are consistently asked to bear the burden of increased taxation,” said Wilson County finance director Aaron Maynard. “There are two primary reasons this happens. Property tax revenue is the most stable form of revenue. It is not subject to volatility in the economy, including declining real estate values. Most other revenue increases, including increases in the sales tax rate, are subject to being voted on by the people living in the county [through referendum]. Perhaps the most important reason to consider sales tax as opposed to property taxes or others is that this tax affects the broadest base of people. All citizens, tourists, and people simply passing through Wilson County are equally subject to the tax. An increase in sales tax does not penalize property ownership.”

The current Wilson County property tax rate is $2.5189. The property tax rate is set annually based on the needs of the county.

In the current budget year, 1 cent of property tax will raise $407,000 in revenue, according to Maynard. The amount changes annually based on the value of the properties in the county.

Maynard said property taxes would need to be raised 14.98 cents to generate an equal amount of revenue as the proposed half-cent sales tax increase. The property tax rate increase would actually generate about $6.1 million in additional revenue, which is about $900,000 more than the $5.2 million Wilson County would receive in additional revenue from the proposed sales tax increase.

But Maynard said the additional money would be for good reason since any property tax money spent on construction of a new elementary or middle school in Wilson County Schools, Lebanon Special School District would get a proportionate amount of property tax money, which is currently 16 percent and fluctuates, depending on student enrollment.

“It all boils down to what the [Wilson County] Board of Education brings to me as its next project,” Maynard said. “If it’s an elementary or a middle school, we have to give Lebanon Special School District its proportionate share of the property taxes when we take out the bonds, whereas if it was funded through sales tax, we wouldn’t, because Lebanon Special School District would have already received its share.”

Maynard said the proposed jail expansion or a new high school, for example, would require a 12.78-cent property tax increase to equal the proposed half-cent sales tax increase.

Compared to surrounding counties, Wilson County’s $2.5189 property tax rate sits somewhere in the middle. It’s higher than DeKalb County at $1.8335, Smith County at $2.14, Sumner County at $2.50, and Williamson County at $2.15. It’s lower than Rutherford County at $2.68, Cannon County at $2.89, Trousdale County at $2.93, Robertson County at $3.0850 and Montgomery County at $3.07.

Last year, property taxes in Wilson County generated nearly $122 million or 46 percent of the county’s total revenue, sales tax generated nearly $23 million or 9 percent, the wheel tax generated nearly $2.7 million or 1 percent and the adequate facilities tax generated about $1.8 million or less than 1 percent.

Property tax increases are authorized by the Wilson County Commission.

A median-priced Wilson County home assessed at $275,600 generates total property tax revenues of $1,735.52. About $800 of that revenue is designated for educational operations. A median Wilson County household income of $60,774 generates local sales tax revenues of  $1,367.42. Nearly $700 of that revenue is designated for educational operations.

The total educational local tax dollars generated from the median property tax and median sales tax paid equals $1,484.47. The required local tax dollars to educate one child each year is $3,504. The remainder is funded by the state.

Of the $2.5189 total property tax, 0.8544 cents goes to the general fund, 0.1104 cents goes to public works for highways, 0.0455 cents goes to highway capital projects, $1.1622 goes to schools, 0.0535 cents goes to solid waste-sanitation and 0.2929 cents goes to general debt service.

Adequate facilities tax

One tax opponents to the sales tax say most appropriate to raise to fund future projects is the adequate facilities tax, also known as impact fees.

The adequate facilities tax is a one-time fee on newly built homes. It is currently $3,000 per home, which includes individual homes and individual condo or apartment units. In the past five years, along with the amount budgeted for the current fiscal year, the adequate facilities tax generated an average of nearly $5.1 million in revenue for the county on an average of 1,685 homes built each year.

The adequate facilities tax revenues are earmarked for two funds in the county’s budget, capital projects and debt services. The total amount received from the tax is divided about two-to-one for capital projects compared to debt services. The average for the past five years, along with the amount budgeted for the current fiscal year generated nearly $3.6 million for capital projects and nearly $1.7 million to pay debt. The annual amounts equate to about 2 percent of Wilson County’s combined revenues.

Wilson County, according U.S. Census Bureau estimates, increased by 22,449 residents – a 20-percent increase – in the last seven years. The U.S. Census Bureau also estimates Wilson County will add another 21,488 residents – a 16-percent increase – in the next six years. Its annual estimate for Wilson County is currently at 137,442. It estimates by 2023, the population will be at 157,930.

“This has put a strain on county infrastructure, in particular with regards to school buildings,” said Wilson County finance director Aaron Maynard. “We are now seeing a problem with the inmate population at our jail and will be in need of adding to that facility in the near future.”

If the Wilson County Commission were to increase the adequate facilities tax by $1,187, it would be able to raise about $2 million annually with no additional increases, but that would be enough to pay back the bonds, with interest, taken out for the new Green Hill High School in Mt. Juliet currently under construction and no other projects.

By comparison, the half-cent sales tax increase would generate $11 million with $5.2 million to Wilson County and $5.8 million to the city where the sale took place or the Lebanon Special School District. Property taxes would need to be raised 14.98 cents to generate an equal amount of revenue as the proposed half-cent sales tax increase.

But the option would mean most current residents would not see an increase of taxes. New residents would pay the tax, which essentially passes the financial burden to the new citizens.

Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce executive director Mark Hinesley offered what he described as a seldom-discussed scenario on the adequate facilities tax.

“To think that an adequate facilities tax only impacts new residents is simply not a true statement,” Hinesley said. “In general terms, suppose that a family with four children in our public school system finally has all four of them graduated and off to some points yonder. I believe the current cost of one child in our schools is between $7,500 and $8,000 per year per child. Clearly that is an impact on our system, but since they lived in that home prior to the current adequate facilities tax put in place, they have paid nothing extra to help offset the cost or impact over the years. Now, jump ahead a few years and those same parents who are now empty-nesters want to downsize from their four- or five-bedroom home into something smaller since the children are gone. If they go build a new home in which to retire, they are hit with the adequate facilities tax and have zero impact on the schools.

“However, the family who bought their four- or five-bedroom home to start raising their family pays nothing toward the true impact they make at a cost of let’s say more than $30,000 per year. We are taxing the wrong folks, as well as incentivizing the wrong folks. We are penalizing the wrong people. We want new homes with taxpayers and wage earners living there, and it’s an added plus if they are retirement age or at least have no children in school anymore

“I truly believe that what it really boils down to is it is a tax on people who do not yet live there or here and cannot vote. To say that only new residents are buying new homes is very misleading at best.”

But Maynard had a different take on the adequate facilities tax.

“Mr. Hinesley certainly has a compelling argument against an increase in adequate facilities tax,” Maynard said. “However, it is important to note that the market dictates the price of the home and not the actual cost incurred in building it, including any taxes paid. In 2008-2012, contractors were selling and even building a lot of houses with little profit margin, or even at a loss in some cases. Today, many people are bidding more than the asking price of the house. The contractors will profit to the extent that the market will bear regardless of the cost of construction.”

Wheel tax

The wheel tax is collected annually when residents register their vehicles. It is currently a $25 annual fee in Wilson County.

Wilson County has about 103,000 registered vehicles, which resulted in nearly $2.7 million in actual revenue last year. Last year, property taxes in Wilson County generated nearly $122 million or 46 percent of the county’s total revenue. By comparison, sales tax generated nearly $23 million or about 9 percent, the wheel tax generated nearly $2.7 million or about 1 percent and the adequate facilities tax generated about $5.1 million or about 2 percent.

By comparison to surrounding counties, Wilson County’s $25 wheel tax sits at the lowest compared to Smith County at $65, Sumner County at $51, Williamson County at $25.75, Rutherford County at $52.50, Cannon County at $50.25, Trousdale County at $40, Robertson County at $85.25 and Montgomery County at $30.50.

In summary

Whatever voters or the Wilson County Commission decide regarding taxes, its residents currently fare well when compared to other Tennessee counties.

SmartAsset, a New York-based financial technology company, recently ranked Wilson County as the second-best place in Tennessee to save money through a study of each county’s average household income, cost of living, purchasing power and taxes.

Wilson County’s median household income came in at $63,426, cost of living at $33,121, purchasing power at 1.91, estimated tax rate at 12.27 percent and best places to save index at 57.78.

Only Williamson County ranked higher, and Sumner, Rutherford, Fayette, Robertson, Tipton, Moore, Loudon and Montgomery counties rounded out the top 10.

Wilson Central’s Ranesa Shipman, dance team, appear on Ellen

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Wilson Central High School assistant principal Ranesa Shipman had a dream come true.

She appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres daytime talk show last Wednesday afternoon and was able to speak to one of the people she admires the most.

But it wasn’t just Shipman. She was thrust into the spotlight a month ago when the school’s dance team coach Katie Stricklin invited Shipman to dance with the team at a school pep rally.

Shipman learned the steps and was on her way to fame. That’s because the video of the dance routine to Ciara’s “Level Up” went viral.

“It started off because I previously dressed up for a routine, and when I dressed up, the kids went nuts,” she said. “They enjoyed it so much.”

After she was invited to dance, Shipman performed with the team for two days. It was videoed, and with the help of her daughter, she learned the exact steps for the performance.

“The kids loved it,” she said, reflecting on the dance. “It’s all about the kids. I am nothing without my school family and district. This is a great opportunity Dr. [Donna] Wright and Mr. [Travis] Mayfield have given me. This brought joy to the kids, and that’s what it’s all about. I want to give a special thanks to Dr. Wright and Mr. Mayfield. Without them, things aren’t possible. This is a great school system, and I have a great, supportive school family.”

She said the original plan for the dance was to do it as a joke.

“We wanted the kids to laugh and have fun,” she said. “Coach Stricklin then said she was going to make it go viral. She posted it on Facebook, and people shared it and tagged Ellen.”

“I was focused on giving the ACT [test] and giving to my school. I was doing my roles and responsibilities as assistant principal,” Shipman said.

After the performance, DeGeneres presented a $15,000 check from Shutterfly to the dance team. Shipman said the money would probably be used for uniforms, travel costs and dance team-related events.

DeGeneres also presented Shipman a check for $15,000 from Shutterfly. She doesn’t know what she’s going to do with the money, but said she does know she’s going to tithe to her church.

“I want to give back to God,” she said. “Give back to where it all starts from.”

When Shipman was allowed to talk to DeGeneres, her excitement was apparent. She said talking to DeGeneres was “an out-of-body experience. It was overwhelming. I’m a huge fan. At the end of each show, she tells people to remember to be kind. That’s what we have to focus on as human beings. If we do that, the world will be a better place. Everyone needs to look at the glass as half-full, not half-empty.”

Shipman also said talking to DeGeneres was “amazing. It was a life-long dream to hear her sweet and caring voice. It was a great feeling. It was like Christmas Eve, waiting for Santa and I see him, and he sees me.”

Shipman said she loves her job so much, “if I were to win the lottery, I probably wouldn’t be able to cash the check because I have responsibilities at the school. I have duties as the assistant principal.”

Shipman said she is proud of the dance team.

“They go above and beyond what you saw on the video,” she said. “That was a very mild performance. They give 1,000 percent when they perform. They brought this dance down to my level.”

During the interview, DeGeneres invited Shipman to come to Los Angeles for a taping of the show.

“I don’t know when I’ll get to do that, but I’m just flattered that she offered,” Shipman said. “I’m thankful for the small things like Lebanon and Wilson County Schools. I’m blessed. In life, I focus on the small blessings. Hopefully, this video will make somebody’s day brighter.”

More than 13K early vote in Wilson

By Jared Felkins

[email protected]

Early voters continue to visit the polls in droves for the Nov. 6 midterm elections in what will likely be a historic turnout.

Early voting totals ended Monday at 2,965, which pushed the overall early vote count to 13,824 through five days of voting.

Though the vote count was about half of what it averaged the first three days of early voting in Wilson County, 1,628 voters went to the polls Saturday to cast their votes. Early voters totaled 3,172 Friday, which was the highest mark of the three days. A total of 2,908 votes were cast Thursday, which beat Wednesday’s count of 2,862 by 46.

Across Tennessee, daily vote totals remained high as 426,149 votes were cast early as of Monday evening.

Several key races and issues are on the Nov. 6 ballot for voters to decide. They include a race for governor between frontrunners Democratic nominee Karl Dean and Republican nominee Bill Lee among several independent candidates who qualified. A race to determine who will replace Bob Corker in the U.S. Senate is also hotly contested between Republican nominee Marsha Blackburn and Democratic nominee Phil Bredesen. The frontrunners to replace Diane Black and represent the U.S. House’s Sixth District are Democratic nominee Dawn Barlow and Republican nominee John Rose.

Three key state races are up for grabs among Wilson County voters, including Republican incumbent state Sen. Mark Pody versus Democratic challenger Mary Alice Carfi for state Senate in District 17; Republican incumbent state Rep. Clark Boyd versus Democratic challenger Mark Cagle for state House in District 46; and Republican incumbent state Rep. Susan Lynn versus Democratic challenger Jordan Cole for state House in District 57.

Two municipal elections include incumbent Brian Abston and challenger Jim Bradshaw for Mt. Juliet City Commission in District 4 and Camille Burdine and Zabrina Seay for Lebanon City Council in Ward 3 to replace current Councilor Rob Cesternino, who decided not to seek re-election.

Wilson County voters will also decide on whether to raise the county’s sales tax by a half cent from 9.25 to 9.75 cents, and Watertown voters will determine whether wine can be sold in grocery stores.

Wilson County Administrator of Elections Phillip Warren reported strong turnout and a smooth start to early voting Wednesday at the Wilson County Election Commission office in Lebanon.

Warren said Wednesday at about noon, the Wilson County Election Commission offices had lines of voters out the door, which reflected the importance and level of engagement in what could be remembered as a historic midterm election throughout the country.

Early voting will continue through Nov. 1, with Election Day on Nov. 6.

Early voting sites in Wilson County include the Election Commission office at 203 E. Main St. in Lebanon, Mt. Juliet Community Center at 1075 Charlie Daniels Pkwy., Watertown Community Center at 8630 Sparta Pike, Gladeville Community Center at 95 McCreary Road and the Lighthouse Church at 6141 Saundersville Road in Mt. Juliet.

All of the locations will be open Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., with the exception of the Lighthouse Church, which will close Wednesdays at 5 p.m.

Those who plan to vote early or on Election Day should remember to bring valid photo identification with them to the polls. A driver’s license or photo identification issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, as well as photo IDs issued by Tennessee state government or the federal government, are acceptable even if they are expired. College student identification will not be accepted.

For more information and to view the sample ballot specific to Wilson County, visit wilsonvotes.com.

Community grieves loss of teen who drowned

By Jared Felkins

Keon Dotson

[email protected]

WATERTOWN – A tight-knit community continued Monday to mourn the loss of a 17-year-old boy who drowned Saturday while swimming at Old Hickory Lake.

Wilson Emergency Management Agency divers found the body of Elijah Keon Dotson, of Watertown, on Saturday evening after about a three-hour underwater search at Cedar Creek Boat Ramp in Mt. Juliet. 

Dotson was a senior at Watertown High School. He previously played football and was a member of the track and field team. According to Watertown High School principal Jeff Luttrell, counselors were made available Monday to students who needed support. 

“We are so saddened as a school and community at the loss of our student, Keon Dotson,” Luttrell said. “He possessed a powerful smile and a personality that drew people to want to know him. We will take every step possible to ensure we assist our students as they grieve the loss of a friend and classmate.”

A community prayer service was held Sunday evening in the library at Watertown Middle School, organized by the Bridge’s parents of teens life group and the church’s youth group. All community members and students were invited to participate. 

According to social media posts, students and faculty wore red Monday to school in honor of Dotson. According to a tweet by a member of the football team, the Purple Tigers dedicated their season to Dotson, and the student section plans to have a “red out” during Friday night’s game against Westmoreland. 

Wilson County sheriff’s Lt. Scott Moore said the incident on Old Hickory Lake happened Saturday at about 2:30 p.m., and divers found the Dotson’s body at about 6 p.m. He said Dotson tried to swim to a buoy beyond the swim area, and there was a change in water depth where he went under and was unable to surface. 

Wilson County sheriff’s boat patrol and Wilson Emergency Management Agency water rescue crews searched for Dotson on Saturday afternoon in Mt. Juliet. 

WEMA director Joey Cooper said divers were called to the boat ramp to search for the teen. Moore said it’s believed no foul play was involved. 

Cedar Creek Boat Ramp is at 9264 Saundersville Road in Mt. Juliet. Old Hickory Lake is part of the Cumberland River.

Football manager’s dream comes true

By Angie Mayes

George Page • Mt. Juliet News
West Wilson and Walter J. Baird players cheer for Aiden Atkins (80) as he heads toward the goal line last Tuesday night to score the first touchdown of the ball game.

Special to Mt. Juliet News

A magical moment during the West Wilson Middle School football game last Tuesday night brought people to their feet and tears to their eyes.

That’s when Aiden Atkins, the team manager, entered the game and ran the first touchdown of the evening. The moment was unique because Atkins has a muscular disease.

The moment was the brainchild of head coach Naz Roseberry. He knew Atkins has a dream of playing sports, but, because the disease that affects his leg muscles, he was unable to be a part of a team as a player. Instead, he joined the team as the manager.

“Aiden has been a manager for me for two years,” Roseberry said. “It’s kind of been a conversation of ours that kind of became real this year. I saw the opportunity to do it. I thought it would be a special moment for him.”

Roseberry admitted, while the moment was special to Atkins, it was also a high point in his career.

“The moment was special for him, but it was probably more special for me and the school,” he said. 

Roseberry said West Wilson’s opponent, Walter J. Baird Middle School, was more than happy to help. 

“I called them, and their coach was very open and said, ‘anything we need.’ They wanted to be a part of this special moment, too,” Roseberry said. “He felt like this would be a good teaching moment for his guys, as well.”

Atkins said the touchdown was, “a very surreal moment for me. I was very in the moment. I really didn’t have a concept of this. I just went along with what was going on, and it happened. Coach told me I was going to run it in. I only had an hour to prepare.”

He said he prepared mentally and “through Christ. I have a good relationship with Christ, and that helps with mentally preparing myself.”

Atkins’ dad, Alan, and mom, Michelle, were in the stands. Atkins’ dad said he was proud of his son.

“This was a wonderful experience,” Alan Atkins said. “He came home saying it was a lot of fun. Of course, winning [the game] helps.”

Alan Atkins said it wasn’t hard to keep the secret. His son knew he was going to dress out. 

“He was not fully expecting to do what he did,” Alan Atkins said. “It was something very special for us and him. He loves the team and feels like he’s contributing something by being their manager. The team also appreciates what he does for them.”

His parents were gracious to Roseberry for planning the event.

“I want to thank [Roseberry],” Alan Atkins said, who added the family “thinks the world of him. We were so excited to be able to experience that with him.”

Aiden Atkins said he’s always wanted to play a sport, but was never able to due to his condition. 

“This is one opportunity that I’ll never forget,” he said.

 

Corn maze to open at fairgrounds

By Matt Masters

Mark Bellew • All Hands Fire Photos
A corn maze will open Saturday at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in honor of News Channel 5’s longtime meteorologist Lelan Statom.

Mark Bellew • All Hands Fire Photos
The Farmers’ Corn Maze will open Saturday and remain open weekends through Nov. 5 at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in Lebanon.

[email protected]

A corn maze will open Saturday at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in honor of News Channel 5’s longtime meteorologist Lelan Statom.

Sunshine and Justin Gregory with Farmer’s Produce in Castilian Springs planted the maze with the help of the James E. Ward Agricultural Center and Wilson County Expo Center staff.

Sunshine Gregory said they have transitioned from growing tobacco into produce and agri-tourism and saw the Wilson County Fairgrounds and the James E. Ward Agricultural Center as the perfect place to have the attraction.

“The maze is actually not corn. It’s sorghum sudangrass. We did that because corn wouldn’t grow tall enough in the ground, and it’s about 4 acres,” Sunshine Gregory said. “We are celebrating 25 years of Lelan Statom this year, and we will have pumpkin painting, face painting, pumpkin bowling, duck races and other activities. Everyone knows about the Wilson County Fairgrounds, so we couldn’t think of a better place to have this celebration.” 

The maze spells out “Celebrate 25 years with Lelan” with the likeness of Statom cut into the maze. 

Charity Toombs, director of marketing and events for the Wilson County Expo Center, said that the maze is just one way the fairgrounds and Expo Center plans to offer new attractions to the people of Wilson County.

“When the county purchased this land, it was solely for the fact of promoting and having a place for agriculture, and so we’ve continued to take that mission and improve upon it. So with the new director, Quinton Smith, and myself and our staff, it has been our mission that the ag grounds become a place where people can literally be a part of agriculture and to get their hands dirty. And so it’s our passion to have these events where they can experience agriculture directly,” Toombs said.

The maze will be open  weekends from Saturday through Nov. 3 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Admission is $8 per person, and children 3 years old and younger will get in free. 

Wilson County honors POWs, MIAs

By Matt Masters

[email protected]

Matt Masters • Mt. Juliet News
A POW/MIA memorial service concludes with the posting of two POW/MIA flags outside the Wilson County Veterans’ Plaza and Museum where they fly high in memory of those lost but never forgotten.

Veterans, active-duty servicemen, former prisoners of war and their civilian supporters gathered Friday morning at the Wilson County Veteran’s Plaza and Museum to remember America’s prisoners of war and missing in action.

Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash gave the keynote speech and issued a proclamation to honor the day in recognition of POWs and MIAs. Ash also said Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto also issued a proclamation.

“To those that are still missing, we will not rest until you or your remains are returned home. To all those former POWs, we will never forget your service and sacrifice that you and your families have given to this country and for us individually,” Ash said.

Ash also invoked the memory of possibly the United States’ most famous POW, Arizona Sen. John McCain who died Aug. 25. McCain was shot down over Vietnam in 1967 and held as a POW for five and a half years.

“There is a continuous effort by the United States government and activist groups like Rolling Thunder, who we heard from today and others, to bring these soldiers home, but it takes all of us to keep the pressure on until every last soldier has been accounted for,” Ash said.

Linda Yates, president of the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1004, said education and recognition of the sacrifices is key to keep the history and memory of POWs and MIAs alive.

“There’s way too many POWs and MIAs unaccounted for. As we heard, there’s over 90,000 between all the different conflicts and wars, so it’s important that we remember them and work toward bringing them home,” Yates said. “This is one of the under recognized ceremony days and we wanted to make sure that it’s memorialized because of the connections to our community right here in Lebanon.

“The other part that we wanted to do today is to educate the younger generation and we are fortunate also that they publicized it in some of the schools, particularly Tuckers Crossroads, which actually did a program with their children, and we showed them the [POW/MIA] flag and explained to them the significance behind it. It’s important because it’s being forgotten. You have Bill Leslie, who in his 80s, his story is very important and those stories could be lost.”

Wilson Central JROTC cadets laid a uniformed cap on the Missing Man Table to remember those who await their honorable return home. State Rep. Clark Boyd and Dennis Guillette with the Vietnam Veterans of America participated in the roll call ceremony to remind the crowd just how many people never made it home from each of America’s engagements.

Bill Burkhart, whose father was shot down in Vietnam, spoke about the hardships of growing up not knowing if his father was alive and the challenges to find his final resting place. Burkhart said in the past year, advances were made to locate his father’s crash site, and work is ongoing to try and make more discoveries in the hope to bring his remains home.

Bill Leslie shared a unique story as a civilian POW as a child during World War II when he and several thousand people were held in a concentration camp by the Japanese while living in Manila, were they faced starvation and disease among other horrors.

Burkhart and Leslie laid a wreath in memory of those lost, provided by the American Legion Post 15.

Paul Williams with Rolling Thunder Tennessee Chapter 1 in Middle Tennessee, an advocacy group that seeks to bring full accountability for the country’s POW/MIA service members, said it’s important to support those who have sacrificed so much, especially those who did not make it home through their sacrifice.

“The main tenant of Rolling Thunder is the POW/MIA issue. We want to help keep it in the forefront so that we can get as full an account as possible for all of our missing servicemen and women. Today is the National POW/MIA recognition day, and we also do things to help current active-duty servicemen and women and our veterans, including providing a motorcycle escort for anyone who asks for it during a veteran’s funeral,” 

The service concluded with the posting of two POW/MIA flags outside the Wilson County Veterans’ Plaza and Museum where they fly high in memory of those lost but never forgotten.

Auditions for character party business taking place

By Angie Mayes

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
Ella Rollins interacts with Kamryn Boyd as Beauty, one of many characters that will be a part of By Royal Invitation, a new character party company in Wilson County.

Special to Mt. Juliet News

A new business in Wilson County is expected to be popular among young children thanks to the stars of the show – princesses currently and superheroes in the future.

The company, By Royal Invitation, is owned by Middle Tennessee actress, director and vocal coach Katharine Boettcher.

“I have been wanting to create something like this for the past three years,” Boettcher said. “I played Ursula a few years ago in a production of the Little Mermaid and had an amazing time. Seeing the kids react to the characters on stage just made me smile. I know how giddy I get when I visit characters in the Orlando parks, I can only imagine the excitement is 100 times more in a little one.”

She said as a child, she “hand sewed all of my Halloween costumes and had a blast creating some of my favorite Broadway characters come to life.”

The characters in By Royal Invitation are “based on classic fairy tales and villains. As the company grows, there will be superheroes and heroines and who knows where else our imagination will take us.”

There’s no limit to the number of characters that will be available for shows, parties and the like.

“We will have a small roster to begin with, but as we grow, we will continually expand and bring in new characters,” she said.  Among them will be “the Snow Queen, the Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Mother Goethel, Cruella De Ville and more.”

Not affiliated with Disney, the use of the names is allowed due to the characters taken from Grimm’s Fairy Tales and stories from Hans Christian Anderson. 

“It is not our intent to infringe on copyright,” Boettcher said. “Our fairy tale characters are based on the Grimm Brothers and other historic fairy tale characters. Our costuming is of the highest quality. They are designed by [me], and many are built from scratch by a costumer in Nashville. Our characters have unique names and personalities.”

She said the company will offer “some Jedi knights, and we are hoping to cast a couple of superheroes during the audition process.”

The audition process is currently taking place.

“We currently have a casting call out for face actors and are taking submissions for all characters,” Boettcher said. “Once submissions are gathered, I will pull and have one-on-one auditions.”

Anyone interested in submitting materials must be 16 years old, have reliable transportation, send in a resume with height clearly marked, headshot and full-body shot. The information must be emailed to [email protected] At the time of hire, eligible talent will have passed a background check and be eligible to work in the United States before a contract will be offered. 

“There is no weight or ethnic requirement,” she said. “I am looking for diversity. Something that will distinguish By Royal Invitation is the fact that a character is not limited by their ethnicity or weight.  I do want to keep true to some height requirements as there are expectations of how tall characters are when they are meeting guests. 

The actors’ auditions, resume and personality will have a lot to do with the hiring process, she said.

“I am looking for people who are fast on their feet,” Boettcher said. “Children can ask a variety of questions, and our characters need to be able to stay in character and answer as the characters.  Our characters are going to be entertaining so they must be able to sing and act, as well as interact with our guests to make their day an extra-special occasion.”

All actors must sing and be able to tell their characters story as if it is their own, she said.  

“We have several options for what our characters will perform-do at a variety of occasions,” Boettcher said. “[That includes] photo opportunities and, of course, corporate and community events. I’m hoping to hold a couple of character nights at some of Wilson County’s local restaurants that have kids’ nights. 

All face characters are paid per event, she said. Each character is accompanied by a paid attendant to assist with children and the character’s needs during the event. All characters are also attendants when not in character.  

“We are hoping to have several special events for kick offs, as well as for charity events,” she said. “My heart is with Make-a-Wish Foundation, and I hope to build a relationship with them. And I am hoping to have a Halloween bash with some fun villains and bad guys, too.”

For more information, contact Boettcher through the company’s Facebook page, By Royal Invitation, or via email [email protected]. Boettcher will launch a website when the full cast of characters is finalized.   

Boettcher said her company is “the first of our kind in Wilson County, and [we] are very proud that we have some amazing Wilson County talent already on our roster of characters. Character parties are huge. So many folks love to have this one-on-one experience with these iconic characters. And if you can’t get to the magic down in Florida, we hope to bring a little fairy tale magic to Middle Tennessee.”