Ballot set for March 3 voting; sales tax hike will be decided

Ethan Steinquest

Special to the News

The ballot is set for Wilson County’s Republican primary election, which will be held on March 3 alongside the sales tax referendum and presidential preference primary.

Voters will choose from candidates for Division II circuit court judge, Division III general sessions judge, public defender, assessor of property and the Wilson County Commission’s District 17 seat.

“In most of these elections, the winner will be running unopposed on the general election ballot,” Wilson County Administrator of Elections Phillip Warren said, noting that the filing deadlines are the same for primary and general elections. “Democrats aren’t having a county primary, and nobody has filed as a Democrat for these races. We did have one candidate, Branden Bellar, file as an independent for the circuit court judgeship.”

Since every other candidate is running as a Republican, the primary has an outsize influence on the Aug. 6 general election. Here’s a closer look at the field for each primary contest:

Circuit Court Judge — Division IIMichael Collins, Javin Cripps and Shawn McBrien will compete in the Republican primary for the 15th Judicial District’s Division II circuit court judge.

Collins currently serves as a judge for the Smith County General Sessions court, with jurisdiction over the Smith County Juvenile Court. He was elected in August 2014.

Cripps has been the assistant district attorney for the 15th Judicial District since 2006 and previously worked in private practice in Carthage.

McBrien has worked in private practice for 34 years and is currently based in Lebanon.

The winner among the three candidates will face Trousdale County Attorney Branden Bellar in the general election. Judge John Wootten Jr. retired from the position at the start of the year, so the general will determine who fills out his term ending August 2024.

Wilson County Commission — District 17Incumbent Joe Ali will face James “Rusty” Keith for a spot on the Wilson County Commission.

Ali was appointed to the District 17 seat in October 2019 following the resignation of former commissioner Gary Keith. Before serving on the commission he was best known as the owner of Auto Village, a Lebanon car dealership.

“Rusty” Keith is the son of Gary Keith and works with the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office. He currently serves as the school resource officer for Gladeville Elementary School.

The winner between the two candidates will be unopposed on the general election ballot deciding who fills out Gary Keith’s term, which ends in August 2022.

Wilson County Assessor of PropertyIncumbent Stephen Goodall and Charles Leeman are vying for a four-year term as assessor of property.

Goodall was elected to his first term in 2016. He had previously worked as the school resource officer at Mt. Juliet High School for six years before being promoted to sergeant and overseeing a majority of SROs in western Wilson County.

Leeman worked as an appraisal specialist for the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury for several years and has continued a second career as a Lebanon-based realtor since retiring from government.

The winner between the two candidates will be unopposed on the general election ballot.

15th Judicial District Public DefenderIncumbent Shelley Thompson Gardner is running unopposed in the Republican primary for public defender.

Former Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Gardner to the position in October 2018 following Comer L. Donnell’s retirement announcement.

Gardner has practiced in criminal, general sessions and juvenile courts throughout the 15th Judicial District, and worked as a longtime supervisor over all Wilson County courts.

She will also be unopposed on the general election ballot, which will determine who fills Donnell’s term ending August 2022.

General Sessions Judge — Division IIIIncumbent Ensley Hagan is running unopposed in the Republican primary for the 15th Judicial District’s Division III general sessions judge.

The Wilson County Commission appointed Hagan to the position in 2018 following the retirement of Judge John Gwin. He has jurisdiction over general sessions family court and juvenile child support court.

Hagan will also be unopposed on the general election ballot, which will determine who fills Gwin’s term ending August 2022.

Although Democrats do not have candidates in local primary elections, they can still vote in the party’s national primary contest. The referendum on a half-cent sales tax increase will appear on all ballots regardless of party affiliation.

Planning Commission explores lifting accessory home restrictions

Ethan Steinquest

Special to the News

Wilson County residents could soon have the ability to build accessory homes on their properties, which could be used for purposes such as long-term rentals or housing elderly relatives.

The Wilson County Planning Commission discussed a zoning ordinance that would allow for those structures at its meeting Friday, ultimately deferring action until February.

“There have been concerted efforts over the years by our different zoning administrators to make sure people don’t have above-garage apartments and other things on the property, largely out of fear of people causing trouble with those,” Wilson County Planning Director Tom Brashear said. “I think we’ve reached a point in our demographic and cultural progress that with the growing expense of health care, we need to have a way for people to be able to put up their mom by having an apartment garage or something to that effect, and given how the regulations are right now we’re hurting more people than helping by not allowing that.”

Under the current draft, accessory dwellings would be allowed on properties zoned as rural residential, suburban residential, agricultural or agricultural preservation districts.

“They must have adequate septic or sewer capacity to accommodate the additional one bedroom before we would allow it,” Brashear said. “They must be no more than 900 square feet in size, they must have permanent connections to all utilities and they must comply with all permanent foundation requirements put in place.”

The ordinance would also prevent those spaces from being used for purposes like short-term rentals or bed-and-breakfasts without approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals.

After some discussion, the commission opted to have the item rewritten to streamline the process for families. Most of the questions raised dealt with which organizations would be responsible for inspections or code enforcement.

“Let’s try to write this where it’s easier, where we can allow people to take care of their elderly parents, sick sister or brother,” commission member Terry Ashe said. “Maybe we need to go back before we vote on this, unless we’re under a time constraint, to try and clean up every question … to make sure the people that need to be taken care of, we’re taking care of the families.”

The commission also narrowly voted to deny final plat approval for a subdivision development on Hearn Hill Road in Watertown, 4-4 with one abstention. Although the property would have allowed approximately 15 lots, the commission only had authority to vote on nine of them due to their acreage.

“I will point out to folks that they have an inherent right, without coming before this board, to make five lots out of these 25 acres,” chairperson Gene Jones said. “It will not have to come before any regulatory board.”

Residents in the area had been battling the proposal for months, citing concerns that the population growth would bring dangerous levels of traffic. District 9 County Commissioner Sara Patton, who represents the area in question, also spoke out against the development at the meeting.

“You’re out there on Hearn Hill Road and you’re going to multiply that population by about four times what’s there,” she said. “You don’t have a red light, you don’t have a stop sign, all you’ve got is curves and drop-offs. Every single school child that risks on that bus … they’re risking their lives. That’s what this is about.”

The developers had meet the requirements and recommendations set forth by the planning department, and those supporting the project cited promoting growth through development.

Commissioners Randall Hutto, Margaret Dixon, Roy Major and Gary Nokes voted to deny, while commissioners Johnnie Ricketts, James Woods, Terry Ashe and John Jewell voted to approve. Commissioner Eric Thompson abstained from the vote.

The Wilson County Planning Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Feb. 21, at the Wilson County Courthouse located on 228 E. Main St. in Lebanon.

County to vote on Second Amendment ‘sanctuary’ resolution

Rima Austin

Special to the News

The Wilson County Legislative Committee voted Thursday night to send the Second Amendment Sanctuary Resolution to the Wilson County Board of Commissioners for a final vote in a little over a week.

The resolution is similar to a document being distributed by the Republican parties in Virginia and was created by the Wilson County Republican Party. It asks Wilson County commissioners to designate the county as a Second Amendment sanctuary county.

According to the resolution, this means, “any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms shall be regarded by the people of Wilson County to be unconstitutional, a transgression of the Supreme Law of the Land and its spirit of individual sovereignty, and, therefore by necessity, unenforceable and invalid from the outset.”

“I have not read the resolution,” said County Attorney Mike Jennings. “My understanding is they’re asking the county commission to take a stand and say we’re against anything that infringes upon our Second Amendment rights.”

In an interview after the committee meeting, Terri Nicholson, Wilson County Republican Party state executive committeewoman, said her party got the idea after hearing about what is happening in Virginia concerning gun laws.

“This is a proactive approach to what is taking place in Virginia,” said Nicholson. “Militias are being formed and I hate it has come to that but obviously they feel like there is a high possibility of an infringement on their Second Amendment rights just to keep and bear arms.”

After a brief discussion about concealed weapons laws, the committee decided to send the resolution to the county commissioners on Jan. 27 for a final vote.

Mt. Juliet delays deliberations on funding youth sports

Special to the News

Mt. Juliet commissioners voted last week to deny funding to the Mt. Juliet League, which provides the city’s youth sports, and Commissioner Art Giles feels some are treating him as an enemy of local youth sports for his stance on the issue.

In debating the finer points of what Vice Mayor James Maness called an “unorthodox” ordinance to fund new lighting for the Mt. Juliet League’s baseball and softball park, Commissioner Ray Justice sparred with Giles to an extent that exploited the backlash Giles had already incurred via social media.

“Let me just state if I may so that Facebook can light up again,” Giles said as the board neared a vote, “I am not against” Mt. Juliet League Inc.

“We presented you with a budget; you know that the money is there, and it’s obvious that we can pay it back,” Justice said. “You said, ‘OK, if you meet certain items here, this won’t be a problem. We’ll get it through.’ We’ve had obviously certain things come up tonight that are different from that, and those have been resolved, I feel like, in a decent manner. So, I mean, what you’re saying now is — like I said, I mean, it’s obvious where you’re at, and it’s obvious that you have no love for the ballpark.”

This was met with sweeping gasps from constituents in attendance at the public hearing. Giles could be heard raising his voice over them in response to Justice’s accusation.

“Ray, don’t make a statement like that!” Giles demanded. “Listen to people. I’m not gonna sit up here — no! I do have love for the ballpark. My kids played over there. I contribute to them, so don’t make a comment on what I feel on it just because I want to vote because the city said and my constituents say.”

Maness interceded to stop the spar between commissioners, quieting the board and ushering it to a vote on whether to defer until Jan. 21. The vote to defer was ultimately affirmative, allowing the board to adjourn for the evening after discussing the issue for just under an hour.

Mt. Juliet League Inc. has been vying for new lighting for over a decade now. The ordinance proposed aimed to loan the league $450,000 at 0 % interest to be paid back in 10 years. It acknowledged the city already giving the league $15,000 annually, and league representative Toni Rayburn explained that, to her knowledge, the league will need to be creative in fundraising if it receives this loan.

“We have bids that were north of $2 million, right?” Rayburn said. “So we’ve done very well of making sure that we’ve got the right contractor and the right solution for the park to make sure that we can keep those lights on. Sustaining a maintenance bill of $49,000 a year for lights and lighting is just not something we can do, right? So we’ve got to find something we can do.”

The rate of repayment discussed by commissioners was $45,000 per year. The vote to fund it would certainly have failed had they taken it that night since it required three affirmative votes as both Giles and Maness had already said they couldn’t vote in favor as is. Mayor Ed Hagerty was absent from proceedings, and Justice was legally compelled to recuse himself from the vote due to being a board member for the league.

“It’s not that I am against any kind of athletic programs for youth. My boys — both my boys — played over there,” Giles clarified. “And one of the things we talked about in our workshop was that, as you just saw, we settled a suit for $593,000. We’ve got a fire department that’s going to be built — a new one, and it’s going to take a million dollars to fund just the staff for that, and we need that. And I’ve had several people say and tell me, constituent-wise and otherwise, that we’re not in the banking business. And so, it’s very hard. It’s not that I’m not supportive of them.”

‘Project Blue Bird’ signals $70M investment

Ethan Steinquest

[email protected]

Retail and tech giant Amazon is expected to open a facility in Mt. Juliet in spring 2021, but they may have some competition.

A nationally known logistics and e-commerce client, currently unidentified, is looking at investing roughly $70 million into a 400,000-square-foot facility in the area. Wilson County’s Joint Economic and Community Development Board is helping them explore two potential sites for the build, which has been named Project Blue Bird.

“Blue Bird has zeroed in on Speedway Industrial Park,” JECDB Executive Director G.C. Hixson said at the organization’s meeting Thursday. “I’m getting calls from construction companies and calls from all the Realtors, so it appears to me that they’ll pull the trigger this month.”

Hixson said the projected investment is large compared to the facility’s scale because of the quality of life the company aims to provide workers.

“That means underground cooling systems, solar panels, things that are the philosophy of the company,” he said. “Not your typical warehouse distribution-type group. I can’t identify the company coming right now, but if I did, you’d realize their brand. It’s a good project, and I think that’ll be our first one this year to go on the board.”

Amazon itself is moving forward with the site it purchased in Mt. Juliet, which is expected to provide 1,000 jobs once the facility opens.

“We have done all the grant applications that the state asked us to do, and we’ve submitted those to them to be prepared,” Hixson said. “That’s $250 million in investment that will be on the tax roll in 2021.”

Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash also provided an update on Kroger’s request for tax relief as the company looks to expand its Lebanon location. Representatives had previously come before the JECDB, and the Lebanon City Council discussed the possibility at its Jan. 2 work session.

“We’re not going to do anything,” Ash said. “As it progresses, we might help with some of the fees or something, but I doubt we’ll do anything on taxes. We didn’t want to set a precedent.”

Kroger does not have a timetable or floor plan in place for the expansion, but Ash said the store has projected an additional 40,000 square feet, $1.5 million in annual payroll and 50 new jobs.

The JECDB’s next meeting is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Jan. 28, at 200 Aviation Way, Suite 202, in Lebanon.

MJPD announces Guardian Shield program

Cedric Dent Jr.

Special to the News

The Mt. Juliet Police Department announced last week the institution of Guardian Shield, a new law enforcement program designed to protect the city from crime by using fixed-place automated license plate readers (ALPRs) to catch hot-listed vehicles attached to various crimes and suspects.

The Guardian Shield program has not yet been fully budgeted and could, therefore, require the mayor and city commissioners to amend the fiscal budget for a yet unknown amount. On the other hand, MJPD Capt. Tyler Chandler said the amount “would be minimal” due to the city having already budgeted $100,000 for the program.

The program will be operated by Rekor Systems Inc., a tech firm focused on the use of artificial intelligence applications for public safety solutions. The firm boasts of providing law enforcement and security solutions in more than 70 countries worldwide, and they were one of four firms whose technology was tested in the city — one of three to respond to MJPD’s request for proposals.

Mt. Juliet police worked with IT professionals during an extensive review of ALPRs from not only Rekor Systems but also Skycop, Vigilant and Flock. They concluded that Rekor’s system performed best, and the conclusion was partly based on the fact that Rekor’s product led MJPD to successfully apprehend a wanted shooter who had driven into the city from Franklin.

“Rekor’s Edge and Watchman vehicle recognition technology provided better results than its competition during our trial period,” according to Police Chief James Hambrick. “With higher accuracy than other providers, as well as the ability to affordably scale, Rekor’s solutions fit the needs of our department both now and for the future.”

The scale to which he referred starts with covering 37 undisclosed areas throughout the city with Rekor’s AI-assisted cameras, and these locations were selected in order to make for the most efficient coverage of the entire Mt. Juliet community.

MJPD has emphasized on more than one occasion that ALPRs are not for use in traffic law enforcement; rather, they’re purposed with recognizing vehicles that are either attached to a hotlist or to investigations in progress. Hotlists are made for vehicles connected to specific crimes like forcible rape, criminal homicide, kidnapping, motor vehicle theft, burglary, robbery, aggravated assault, general theft or certain drug offenses.

For $89,000 per year, Rekor Systems will support these ALPR units, assuming contract negotiations are successful. According to Chandler, this “means that if we provide a mounting surface, Rekor handles the installation and maintenance of the system. If it is damaged, they fix it. If it is having technical issues, they fix it. If they upgrade their technology, they replace it.”

The contract, however, is still being finalized, so elements remain subject to change. Once the contract is completed, it will be made available to the public, pending local government approval.

“It will also have two be approved by the Board of Commissioners,” Chandler added.

Transparency is a sticking point with ALPRs since multiple cities and states like Chicago, Virginia and Texas have been led to civil suits over apparent violations of privacy laws, gathering too much information on drivers and holding it for too long. Tennessee, and much more so Mt. Juliet, has made a conscious effort to obviate such possibilities from the equation with strict measures on data retention.

The state mandates that data collected via ALPRs can only be held for 90 days whereas the city shortens this even further to only 30 days. This data includes not only still images but videos of the vehicle, but in Mt. Juliet, the technology will not be used to track drivers or passengers. Furthermore, the system doesn’t access the state’s license plate database, which means personal data and vehicle ownership are not collected through these ALPRs.

MJPD expects Rekor’s units to be deployed in March or late February.

MJ BPAC hosts its 5th annual Christmas light walk

By Cedric Dent Jr.

Special to the News

On Dec. 23, Willoughby Station hosted Mt. Juliet’s fifth annual Christmas Light Walk as a means to unite the community.

About 75 people took advantage of great weather on the Monday before Christmas to participate in the Christmas Light Walk, organized each year by the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. The purpose of the walk is not only to fitness and community but also the enjoyment of the decorations in the neighborhood.

Willoughby Station is a subdivision known for its Christmas lights in part because of annual contests that award houses that showcase the best decorations. The neighborhood boasts of a particularly high density of houses that decorate, which is why it’s been the site of each Christmas Light Walk so far, according to BPAC member Steve Armstrong.

“So much work goes into creating these beautiful displays,” said BPAC Chairman and City Commissioner Art Giles. “We have all seen Christmas lights from our cars but this is a unique opportunity to see the lights from a different perspective, up close and personal. I can’t think of anything that will get you in the holiday spirit more than looking at Christmas lights and mixing that with a little exercise and Christmas cheer.”

Participants gathered at City Hall for coffee first at 6 p.m., also enjoying cookies and hot chocolate. Thereafter, everyone drove to Willoughby Station where they and others met at the neighborhood clubhouse. The walk both began and ended there, lasting close to two hours after departure from the clubhouse.

Participants were also accompanied by a police escort as well as a vehicle from the Parks Department, which was equipped with a sound system they used to play Christmas music for all walkers to enjoy as they perused the neighborhood.

“The Christmas Lights Walking Tour provides an opportunity to get a few steps in and view some of the best light displays in Mt. Juliet from a different perspective,” according to Armstrong. “It really is a fun time and it is perfect for all ages.”

The event was also enjoyable for its weather, having been rescheduled from its original date on Dec. 16, which fulfilled its forecast of heavy rain. Committee members, law enforcement and everyday citizens from both inside and outside Willoughby Station participated in the walk as a means of fitness and getting to know others in their own community while appreciating festive decorations.

In the broader sense, this is the general idea behind not just the Christmas Light Walk but all events organized by the BPAC according to Armstrong. The same committee organized, for example, a more greenway-centric walk for Independence Day this past summer as well, albeit with a smaller turnout.

“The BPAC encourages activities that promote physical activity and our mission is to help secure funding for walking, running and biking infrastructure in Mt. Juliet,” Armstrong said.

The Christmas Light Walk, however, is considered one of the BPAC’s more successful events based on attendance and longevity. Having been established five years ago, the event accrues more and more people as it gets older, so it continues to be the primary lure to the BPAC’s many other events year-round.

License plate reader nabs wanted man

Cedric Dent Jr.

Special to the News

Mt. Juliet’s use of automated license plate readers has already led to an arrest even before they could be deployed citywide, and the arrest serves as a proof-of-concept for the city.

One of the test units deployed to demonstrate how automated license plate readers can and will be used in Mt. Juliet tagged a vehicle in connection with a warrant for the arrest of an alleged shooter from Franklin. This led police to pursue and apprehend the suspect while he was in Mt. Juliet.

The 35-year-old suspect, Gabriel Jordan, was considered armed and dangerous after allegedly shooting at his estranged wife in the Cool Springs area on Dec. 21. He fled east in a black, 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander, which Franklin police promptly announced with an offering for a cash reward. He entered Mt. Juliet, and his license plate was recognized by one of the test license plate readers.

The readers are essentially high-speed cameras assisted by artificial intelligence designed for pattern recognition. The AI recognizes license plates in particular — tagging plates that have certain state logos, letters and numbers in specific combinations.

“The vehicle [Jordan] was driving was the suspect vehicle associated with his wanted entry,” MJPD Capt. Tyler Chandler said. “When the tag passes under a camera, the only information we receive is that it is in a hotlist for a certain category. In this case: ‘Wanted Person.’”

A hotlist is a catalog of license plates that are all associated with either wanted persons or ongoing criminal investigations. According to Chandler, once Jordan’s plate was recognized, it was up to dispatch and officers to cross-reference Jordan’s license plate with a database in order to get personal data and other details that correlated with the vehicle.

“No personal data is transmitted or received through the system,” Chandler said. “It simply reads the public tag and checks if it is on a hotlist.”

While this confirms the efficacy of such technology to apprehend criminals, the readers have become a point of controversy in other states and cities on the basis of transparency. For that very reason, an ordinance appeared before the Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners for its first reading in late August to pass both readings within the next month regarding how long law enforcement can retain information on vehicles connected to hotlists.

At the time, Vice Mayor James Maness expressed concerns about 16 different states, including Texas, that were already seeing use and arguably abuse of this technology to keep information on innocent civilians and for extended periods sometimes measured in years. Commissioners were eager to see to it that Mt. Juliet had no similar issues.

Tennessee already took steps to preempt perceived violations of privacy with license plate readers by legislating a maximum 90-day retention period for data captured by the readers, but Mt. Juliet went even further, alowwing retention for up to only 30 days.

Furthermore, “There is no data stored on any civilian,” Chandler said. He said that the system “only stores the tag and video of the traffic, which is accessed during a criminal investigation.”

Rose announces local office hours

Congressman John Rose’s staff will be in Mt. Juliet on June 4 to meet with local citizens who need assistance with federal services.

“I am thrilled to have a talented district staff serving the good folks of Tennessee’s Sixth District. We are focused on providing top-notch constituent services for all 19 counties,” said Rose. “Knowing that at times it may be difficult to travel to one of our two district offices, I have directed my district staff to periodically set up office hours in other locations throughout our 19 county-district. This will allow everyone in the Sixth District to have face-to-face access to my district staff and the services we provide.

“The next opportunity for constituents to take advantage of these remote office hours will be in Wilson County. Ray Render, my deputy district director, will be meeting with constituents at Mt. Juliet City Hall in the meeting hall lobby area on Tuesday, June 4 from 1-3 p.m. Constituents who do not need a face-to-face meeting may, of course, call the Gallatin office to discuss any questions at 615-206-8204.”

Rose represents Tennessee’s Sixth District and lives in Cookeville with his wife, Chelsea, and son, Guy.

Two July 4 fireworks shows possible in Mt Juliet

By Angie Mayes

Mt. Juliet News Correspondent

There could be two separate fireworks shows on Independence Day in Mt. Juliet.

Originally, the city canceled its event, claiming there was nowhere to safely have it that would also allow spectators to view the event.

Along came Tom Needham, owner of Needham Nurseries, who said he would sponsor an event that would take place at the Providence shopping area in the city.

City Manager Kenny Martin said recently he found a place to hold the fireworks show, despite previous statements that included, “Mt. Juliet is a “dense city,” meaning there are quite a few buildings within the city limits, which, in turn, leads to no appropriate space for the fireworks to be lit.

“You have to have a proper and safe fall-out zone to properly discharge fireworks,” Martin said in March about the area needed for fireworks debris to land safely.

For a professional fireworks display, depending on the size of the shell, there has to be a certain equal distance from the fireworks shells to the audience. That will allow the debris to not fall on spectators.

Martin said in March there is no “[current] piece of land perfectly situated to do such a thing. Some have asked why we couldn’t do it off of Golden Bear [Parkway], but we simply don’t have the adequate parking to safely do something like that.”

In April, Needham said his business would hold a private fireworks show near the Providence area.

“A couple of weeks ago, [Martin] canceled the fireworks show with no explanation,” Needgam said in April. “Then, I started hearing Kenny’s explanation. No parking. No fall-out zone. No safety-zone.

“[The Providence area has] the very best parking, noting he called Dale McCullough, a representative from Jones Brothers who owns land in the area. McCullough said he’d be glad to offer his property for the show. McCullough also said Martin did not call him to ask if the city could use his property for the show.

“The next area was owned by the Boyle Group,” Needham said. “Now the Boyle Group has been a very important part of our community. They have been good to our community.”

He said the person he called with the Boyle Group said they would agree to hold the show on its land and added Martin didn’t call to ask about using the land this year.

In May, Martin there was adequate parking at local grocery stores, Charlie Daniels Park and local schools.

After Martin said the city would once again have the display, Needham questioned why the city was “spending $15,000 for [about 500 cars to park], when at you’ve spent $30,000 for tens of thousands of people. That makes no sense.”

Needham said he worked as a volunteer with the state on the Fireworks Safety Council, “helping write the safety laws. Kenny, I know you love Mt. Juliet, but safety is something you said [in originally canceling the show]. The site down below Publix is the safest place that we’ve had.”
He said “thousands and thousands of cars” could park at Providence to see the fireworks.

“Visibility,” Needham said. “You can see it from miles around. It’s the best place we’ve ever had.”

Commissioner Ray Justice said, “I have never in my life seen more fireworks over fireworks. With everything we have to consider in the city, fireworks is a little ridiculous. Once [Needham] got it in his hands [to do the fireworks show], rather than calling the city manager and having a conversation with him about other places that may be opportunities within the city, he decided to come down here and call the city manager everything but a child of God.”

Justice said there “are parking issues over there, but those parking issues are no more than any other place in the city of Mt. Juliet. There will be a traffic safety plan and a fire safety plan.”

He said the police and fire resources will be in the north end of the city, where the fireworks will be shot.

“There will be adequate plans in place to make sure it’s acceptable and safe,” Justice said.

Vice Mayor James Maness asked about the two shows.

“I have no idea,” said Justice, who noted Needham had not taken out any permits to hold his show.

Martin said, “Just like with any site, the [city’s] fireworks show has moved many, many places over the years. The city has grown tremendously over the years, and we can only use property that we can use.”

He said there are plenty of places to park for the city’s show.

“Will it be the same as Providence?” Martin asked. “Maybe not, but it’s still going to be a great show.”

Martin said the fireworks show would start at 9 p.m. at the Mt. Juliet Little League Ballpark. Impact Pyro will present the show.

Martin said various locations to park would include along Mt. Juliet Road, Lebanon Road, Charlie Daniels Park and Mt. Juliet Middle School.

“This is similar to the Providence area but a smaller scale,” Martin said Thursday. “The city was able to secure a location.”

Martin said the show would last between 20-30 minutes. He said in year’s past, the budget was $30,000, but this year’s budget will be $15,000.

As for Needham’s potential show, Martin said a permit must be granted to hold a fireworks show, and no permits were applied for as of May 16.

Wilson County lawmakers respond to House speaker scandal

Wilson County’s state House members gave their thoughts on Republican House Speaker Glen Casada and multiple calls for him to resign amid scandals.

Casada, a former House GOP Caucus chairman and majority leader, is under fire with calls to resign from some Republicans and nearly all Democrats amid the scandal that involved text messages with a former top aide, 32-year-old Cade Cothren, who stepped down last Monday.

Cothren, who in one text discussed using cocaine in a state office building, was Casada’s press secretary until his promotion to the newly elected speaker’s chief of staff in January.

Black lawmakers are furious over some of Cothren’s racist text messages, too. The messages were leaked.

State Rep. Susan Lynn laid out her arguments for Casada to remain House speaker in a statement Wednesday to The Democrat.

“I do not rush to judgment when I hear bad news about others, because there is always more to the story that is unknown,” said Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet. “I have investigated each of the allegations and as far as I can tell, I do not believe that the Speaker should resign.

“There are basically four allegations, inappropriate text messages, an accusation of the manipulation of a date on an email by his chief of staff, listening devices in the Cordell Hull building and the white noise machines.

“In 2016, there were a small number of inappropriate texts privately shared as friends between then Tennessee House Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, the House GOP press secretary Cade Cothren, and a disgruntled former employee.  Speaker Casada did not actually remember these texts because they were very trivial goings back and forth outside of work, but he has taken full responsibility for the content, and he has apologized.

“The disgruntled former employee also shared some inappropriate text messages from 2015 and 2016 that were between only himself and Cothren, which involved partying and drug use. The behavior and the messages were unknown to the speaker until [News Channel 5 reporter] Phil Williams showed him. The speaker could not even believe that Cade would ever take part in such activity. However, when confronted last week, Cothren confessed, and the speaker asked for his resignation.

“The email manipulation has since been proven false. There are no listening devices in the Cordell Hull building other than the clerks’ office video recording system for committee meetings, and the white noise machines were installed because the walls are thin.

“It should be understood that the three text messages that included the speaker in the thread are very old, long before he was speaker of the House and at a time when he was going through a divorce, and it is easy to understand that at such a time he might have leaned on the friendship of these two young staffers. We should be careful to not judge harshly when we come into one chapter in the story of someone’s life. Speaker Casada is a great leader, a very humble, kind and generous person and a loyal friend, which is very rare in the political world.”

State Rep. Clark Boyd, who was in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday for a work trip, said he would know more after a Republican Caucus meeting scheduled for Monday.

“As legislators, we are held to a higher standard and even more so are those who serve in positions of leadership,” said Boyd, R-Lebanon. “I am very disappointed by the actions and behavior that have recently come to light surrounding our leadership in the House of Representatives. I have spoken with our speaker on multiple occasions and have expressed to him my disappointment. I have given him my recommendation, and I will continue to pray for him as he considers my advice, as well as the advice of many other legislators. The House Republican Caucus will meet on Monday to decide what actions to take as we move forward.”

State Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, said he didn’t want to comment on incidents in the House.

“I know the House has their own ethics committee, as well as their own rules on how they handle House issues,” Pody said. “As a senator, it is not something that I will be involved in. Thank you for asking.”

A seventh state Republican representative called on Casada to step down amid a scandal over lewd text messages, eavesdropping allegations and reports of a FBI investigation into the school vouchers bill vote.

“Yes, I do,” Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, of Lancaster, told The Hartsville Vidette on Friday. “The choices made by these people – including the speaker – should have consequences. That teaches a lesson to everyone.”

Weaver, a religious conservative, said, “If one’s going to step up to a place of authority – mayor, county commissioner – there is a level of representation you’ve got to bring to the table. …Bad choices bring bad consequences and bad consequences have victims. Good choices make good things happen.”

Six other GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, of Signal Mountain, previously called on Casada, a Williamson County Republican elected speaker in January, to step down.

Others include Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn, of Knoxville; Rep. David Hawk, of Greeneville; Rep. Jeremy Faison, of Cosby; Majority Whip Rick Tillis, of Lewisburg; and Rep. Sam Whitson, of Franklin.

Others have raised serious doubts and concerns about Casada, 60, including Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Republican Senate speaker from Oak Ridge, last week said “I believe it would be in the best interest of the legislature and the state of Tennessee for Speaker Casada to vacate his office at this time.”

McNally emphasized that it’s the House’s decision.

While stopping short of calling for Casada’s resignation, Republican Gov. Bill Lee, also of Williamson County, said if Casada were a member of his administration, he would ask him to resign.

Meanwhile, a Nashville television station reported Friday that FBI agents started talking to lawmakers asking whether any improper incentives were offered to support Lee’s school voucher bill, which narrowly passed the House on a 51-49 vote after first deadlocking 49-49 for 40 minutes.

WTVF reported FBI agents are interested in whether anything of value – such as campaign contributions – was offered to anyone in exchange for their vote.

The station said it was unclear whether those inquiries are part of a preliminary investigation or a development in an ongoing probe. Casada played a key role in pushing the measure through the chamber.

While stopping short of calling for Casada to step down, Lee made his firmest remarks yet about the speaker who faces multiple calls to resign over a scandal involving sexually explicit and misogynistic texts and other allegations.

Asked last Thursday evening if he would ask fellow Williamson County resident Casada to resign if he were a member of his administration, Lee replied, “I would.”

Lee also told reporters after a Nashville graduation ceremony for technology and trade students that “given what has unfolded in the past days, I have a responsibility in the executive branch to speak to what culture should look like, to the standard that should exist in the executive branch.”

The governor said he has “communicated that to my team, and it’s a standard of integrity, honest and transparency, values and principles that are consistent with Tennesseans.

“I think some of the events that have come to light in the last several days are not consistent with that, and if an employee in my administration acted in a way that wasn’t consistent to that they wouldn’t be in my administration.”

Still, Lee said, it’s House representatives’ call and not his on what course of action to take.

“It’s important to remember that the members of the House of Representatives have the responsibility to choose a leader, and it’s not the governor’s responsibility, and it’s important that they weigh in because it is their responsibility to do so,” Lee said.

It was an echo of similar remarks made earlier Thursday by McNally, who said that if Casada were a senator he would “probably” ask him to resign and added that “if it were me that did some of those things, I’d probably be packing my bags for Oak Ridge.”

Andy Sher with the Chattanooga Times Free Press contributed to this report.

Belinda City residents protest development

By Angie Mayes

Mt. Juliet News Correspondent

More than a dozen Belinda City residents stood in front of the microphone at the Mt. Juliet Planning Commission meeting Thursday night to protest a development that would directly affect their community.

“I understand there is going to be so many commercial lots on 76 acres,” said Betty Evans, who lives on Belinda Parkway. “I understand you’re going to be voting on townhomes or condominiums. This is directly behind my home. According to the plan, we have one of the entrances comes directly behind my fence. We’re in the middle of Belinda City. I don’t understand why there has to be entrances to this built in our neighborhood.”

Paul Leeks lives on Sunset Drive. He said, “I’ve been a resident of Mt. Juliet for 17 years. I was here before Providence was here. I enjoy Belinda Parkway because there’s not that much traffic. There’s never been that much traffic. Children can play on that road. I’ve seen children ride their bikes up and down that road.”

“Now with this project, there is going to be tremendous traffic on that road. If they are going to put restaurants up there, like I’ve heard they’re going to do, how are they going to get their materials up there? They’re going to drive semis up and down the road.”

Belinda Parkway resident Brent Bassett also spoke.

“As I look out my back, I see bats. I see raccoons. I see deer back there,” he said. “There are birds, lizards, things we didn’t experience in Colorado because of the elevation. Now I have to worry about bulldozing and how many years it’s going to take. I hope something else can happen.”

Former commissioner Jim Bradshaw lived at his home in Belinda City since 1990.

“Currently, there are properties available in Providence Marketplace, In Paddocks, where Walmart is.,” he noted. “There’s 500 acres on the east side of Beckwith Road. We’ve been waiting for years for development to start there. I haven’t seen anything.

“There’s Golden Bear Gateway. All the way down to Curd Road, to Bender’s Ferry, to Lebanon Road. I haven’t seen a single development there yet, and that’s been there a while now. There are ample properties all over Mt. Juliet. That’s just a sample of it, not even counting the North side of town.”

Brenda Madden has lived on Belinda Parkway for 32 years.

“One of the entrances to the townhomes will be right across the street from me,” she said. “There is an open field there at this time. I watch all the neighborhood kids play ball in that field. Our schools are already overcrowded. You put townhomes in, that’s more kids. We have new schools being built. They’re overcrowded when they open.”

Mt. Juliet planning director Jennifer Hamblen grew up in Belinda City and said she understood the citizens’ concerns.

“I would like for the residents to know that we, as staff, and you guys have their best interest in mind when we look at these projects,” she said. “We do everything we can to make it better. We cannot stop development, but we can make it better.

“With that being said, I’ve spoken with Joe Haddix, who is the engineer for this project, to have a town meeting [with the residents], because I think there’s been a bunch of misinformation spoken about tonight, and I would like the residents to know and be the most informed they can be when this development does come back for a vote.”

Haddix, who is with Civil Site Design, told the commission, “We would like to ask for a one meeting deferral based on the comments I’ve heard here tonight. I think a town hall meeting would be a great way to address the concerns we’ve heard here tonight.”

Planning Commissioner Chuck Turner asked whether the traffic could be diverted off Belinda Parkway.

“I’ve heard a lot of citizens say about Belinda Parkway. Is there any way to eliminate traffic onto Belinda Parkway for this development?”

Hamblen said, “I think that would be terrible planning to be honest with you. I get what [the residents] are saying, but that would be terrible planning.”

Haddix said, “When this development would tie to the two pieces of property directly east, all the way to the interchange, your retail, your shopping, this is kind of leading you back to the residential and more commercial and business and the townhomes. As this develops, you’re going to see a lot more growth around that interchange.

If we don’t connect to Belinda, the bottleneck gets worse around Rutland and Posey. Right now, we have everybody going down there just to come back around to the retail that everybody wants at this interchange.”

Hamblen is currently collecting information to determine when the town hall meeting will take place at City Hall. For an exact date and time, call the planning office at 615-773-6283.

Education Committee hears tax options

By Angie Mayes

Mt. Juliet News Correspondent

Wilson County Commissioner Lauren Breeze brought information about educational impact fees to the Wilson County Education Committee meeting Thursday night.

“I talked about educational impact fees at the last meeting,” Breeze said. “This is a summary from the County Powers Relief Act, which we’re not under because we are under a private act for the [adequate facilities tax].”

The County Powers Relief Act said, “a county that levied a development tax or impact fee with a private act under previous law cannot levy a school facilities tax authorized by the act, so long as they are levying and collecting a development tax or impact fee under the authority of the private act.”

Breeze said if Wilson County tried to create an educational impact fee like Williamson County did, “that would take us out under our private act and put us under the County Powers Relief Act, which would restructure how we do [adequate facilities tax] in general.”

She said if the commissioners “wanted to explore the idea of an impact fee, we could increase the [adequate facilities tax]” and designate [the extra tax money] for schools.

“We could use money that way for building improvements and to work on facility improvements that was given to us by schools.”

If the adequate facilities tax was raised from its current level, the extra amount of money would go into the educational fund balance, Breeze said.

Youth Links will no longer be a part of Wilson County Schools, according to Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright.

The program will now be a part of the Tennessee Workforce Development System, she said.

“They’ve consolidated programs,” she said. “If you remember several years ago, they did that with the adult high schools and several other programs. They collapse them around the state in different regions. That’s what we’re seeing right now with Youth Links.”

She asked for approval for other lines of the account. Listed on the sheet was a $66,382 increase, which included $750 for unemployment and $65,632 for other supplies.

The expenditures included $9,000 for clerical; $53,500 for other salaries; $2,879 for Social Security; $94 for state retirement; and $909 for Medicare. The items were reclassified per the grant guidelines by the granting agency, according to the report.

Also included in Wright’s requests was a capital outlay transfer of $400,000 to the school system’s fund balance.

The money will be used for small wares for Gladeville Middle School. That will include pots, pans, utensils and other small items to be used in the kitchen.

Also included was the repainting and refreshing of some school kitchens, to install a card-entry system for school cafeterias, which is part of the Wilson County Schools safety program. A state safety grant was used to buy keyless entries at all of the schools that did not have them, Wright said.

The final project that would be paid for out of the transfer is the renovation of the serving and eating areas at Wilson Central High School. Included in that will be the replacement of aging tables and chairs.

“The serving and eating areas are nearly 20 years old and are in need of these improvements,” Wright said. “Wilson Central is our oldest high school.”

Justice offers city funding options

By Angie Mayes

Mt. Juliet News Correspondent

Mt. Juliet Commissioner Ray Justice gave an optional city funding presentation to a proposed property tax increase Friday at a Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce meeting.

Justice told the crowd of various options to fund the fire department and help fund infrastructure needs.

The original proposal from city staff was a property tax increase to a total of 59 cents, which would be broken down to 39 cents specifically given to fire department needs and 20 cents directed to infrastructure projects.

“In 2011, Wilson County passed a resolution that stated Wilson County would not cover the fire services for the city of Mt. Juliet above what they were currently providing,” Justice said in his presentation. “Any enhancement to the city of Mt. Juliet’s fire coverage by the city itself would result in the city having to take over all fire services. The funding of this project would fall to the city taxpayers to fund. Our taxpayers had to have fire service. It had to be funded.”

He said the tax rate for the city of Mt. Juliet was not lowered, although the service was no longer provided.

It was lowered from 20 cents to 16 cents in the past due to reappraisal of properties, according to Mayor Bill Hagerty in a Mt. Juliet City Commission meeting a few months ago.

“The current property tax funds the Mt. Juliet Fire Department,” Justice said in the presentation. “[We have the] lowest city property tax rate in Wilson County. [The] proposed city property tax rate increases to 59 cents or 39 cents would still be lowest city tax in Wilson County.”

The current property tax on a $150,000 home is $62 per year. On a $300,000 home, it is $125. On a $500,000 home, it is $208.

“The current budget deficit for [the fire department for] fiscal year 2018-2019 is $450,000,” he said. “[For the] 2019-2020 projected [fire department] budget deficit at the .1664-cent property tax rate is $565,000. [The] majority of property tax revenue is received between December and February. Depleting reserves creates cash flow problems from July to November. [The] current plan for construction and operational cost of additional fire station is why we are having these discussions.”

To build a proposed fire hall on the north side of the city near the new Green Hill High School, the cost is estimated to be $4.138 million, while operating costs would be just less than $2 million.

Justice said there are additional needs for the fire department. An increase of funding would help the department “close existing budget deficit [of $565,000], add staffing for at least one ladder company [at 12 personnel with four per shift]; critical need based on increasing number of multi-story facilities, including assisted living complexes; staffing could be phased in over time.”

Also, the city would need to replace self-contained breathing apparatus and turnout gear, replace the Center City fire station behind city hall and replace squad 103 and engine 104 in 2023. The need to add staffing for a dedicated shift commander of three personnel with one per shift, and replace compressor and radios, Justice said in the presentation.

Justice said under the first option, which was previously proposed, the city would raise taxes. To fully fund the current operation, it would levy a 23.5-cent tax increase. To fund the operations of the north station, the cost would be an additional 11 cents. To cover the additional needs for the north station, and then the City Center station would cost 4.25 cents, for a total of 39 cents.

The increase for a $150,000 home would be $84, which would bring the total to $146. For a 300,000 home, the cost would be an additional $168, which would bring the total to $293 and for a $500,000 home, the increase would be an additional $280 to $488.

A second option would be to increase the tax rate to 59 cents. That would increase the tax rate for $150,000 from $159 to $221. For a $300,000 home, the increase would be $318 to $443. For a $500,000 home, the increase would be $530 to $738.

Other options include a sales tax increase from 9.25 percent to 9.75 percent, which would generate an estimated $555,000 annually. That would require a public referendum to pass or fail the measure. Last year, Wilson County proposed an increase by referendum, but voters rejected it by about 2,000 votes.

There could be general fund transfers to cover deficit. The general fund supports all other city departments and includes current transfers to state street aid fund, debt service fund, and capital projects fund, Justice said.

Impact fees are also an option, Justice said.

“Impact fees for infrastructure are very common for cities and counties,” he said. “Justification studies are underway to determine actual cost of growth. [We can use] per-capita costs of growth. Williamson County recently was allowed to implement and take advantage of [an] impact fee by the courts.”

The newest option is to use half of the hotel-motel tax that guests pay in their bill and is collected by the hotel or motel. The funds were originally dedicated to parks capital improvements, Justice said.

“[It is] now bringing in about $800,000 per year,” Justice said in his presentation. “A cap of $400,000 would continue to be dedicated to capital parks projects. The remaining $400,000 would be directed to the fire department to help offset the current deficit.”

Fees for infrastructure are about $1.8 million.

“TDOT has announced four projects being placed in the three-year plan for Mt. Juliet-west Wilson County, all as a result of the IMPROVE Act,” he said.

That includes an interchange at Central Pike, right-of-way acquisition on Lebanon Road and right-of-way acquisition on South Mt. Juliet Road, from Central Pike to Providence Drive, according to the presentation.

“The total cost for road and greenway projects between 2020 and 2024 is estimated to be $37,841,438,” Justice said.

The city projects nearly $17.1 million would come from state and federal grants, the presentation said. City funds for the projects are estimated to be nearly $19 million that would be spent in the next four years, according to the presentation.

For a project, the estimated costs, which would affect road projects are $75,000 for turn lanes, $180,000 for a red-light addition, $300,000 for a road widening and $70,000 for sidewalks along peripheral roadways, for a total of $625,000, Justice said. The per-home impact fee would be $2,500 and with the increase, would be used to help pay for infrastructure projects.

Boyd gives update on process to end emissions testing

State Rep. Clark Boyd gave an update on the ongoing process to end vehicle emissions testing in Wilson County and Middle Tennessee.

“One of the most common questions that I get from constituents in Wilson County is about the timeline for ending the vehicle emissions testing,” said Boyd, R-Lebanon. “Although we moved quickly last year to pass legislation at the state level, we are now discovering that the wheels of bureaucracy move somewhat slower as we wait on the various stages before going to the federal government for final approval.”

In 2018, Boyd co-sponsored House Bill 1782 – which received unanimous support from the General Assembly – to begin the process to end vehicle emissions testing with approval from the Environmental Protection Agency. Then-Gov. Bill Haslam signed the bill into law May 15, 2018.

Although all 95 counties have reached attainment status related to ozone, the state must maintain air quality and demonstrate to the EPA that elimination of the testing program will not interfere with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Currently, the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation is finalizing its analysis of whether the elimination of testing will interfere with NAAQS.

Once the phase is complete, the next phase will include briefing and receipt of approval from the state Air Pollution Control Board, a public hearing and comment required by federal law and the rulemaking process under state law, as well as a review by the attorney general and General Assembly. It is estimated the phase would be completed by spring 2020 and will then be submitted to the EPA for final approval. Once submitted, the EPA has up to 18 months to make its final approval.

“Although the steps involved in bringing emissions testing to an end are taking longer than we thought, it will be worth it when we can finally bring this time-consuming process of vehicle testing to an end,” Boyd said. “My hope is that the federal government will move as quickly as possible in approving our request.”

Boyd serves as chair of the House Consumer and Human Resources Committee and as a member of the Calendar and Rules, Commerce and Select Committees on Rules. He is also a member of the House Employee Affairs and House Utilities subcommittees. He represents House District 46, which includes Cannon and parts of Wilson and DeKalb counties.

Abston announces his resignation

By Angie Mayes

Mt. Juliet News Correspondent

Mt. Juliet Commissioner Brian Abston submitted his resignation Monday, effective May 24.

Abston, who represents District 4 in the city, said in a prepared statement he plans to move outside of the district.

“I have enjoyed working for the citizens of my district and all of Mt Juliet over the last six-and-a-half years,” he said. “It has also been my pleasure to work with the mayor and the other commissioners and the entire staff of the city of Mt. Juliet.

“Mt Juliet is a great place to be and where everyone should be proud to say they live. I hope to have left at least a small positive impact on this area.”

He said he and his family are, “moving to our dream home, but we will still be proud residents of Wilson County. I look forward to continuing serving alongside you all in a different capacity in the future.”

Abston started his second term on the commission after he defeated challenger Jim Bradshaw in the November municipal election. Abston served as commissioner since 2014 after he unseated Bradshaw that year.

County discusses sales tax increase

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

The idea of a sales tax increase referendum to help pay for county budget items was brought up again at the Wilson County Finance Committee meeting Thursday night.

Finance director Aaron Maynard presented some of the budget lines at the meeting when the idea of the referendum was again discussed.

“I guess the bottom line is, if we need more money, then we’re going to have to get more money,” said committee chair John Gentry. “So, it depends on how to get that money. When we need a new elementary school or middle school or jail or court system, it doesn’t grow on trees.”

Maynard agreed and said, “Don’t you guys wish, that with every step you’ve taken in life. Don’t you wish you can see it from a perspective of 10 years later. When the real estate market was in the dumps, and construction people were begging for work, that would have been a great time to be building like crazy. But that’s hindsight.”

Gentry said, “In my opinion, we started too late [on the sales tax education] to do the sell job. If we want to have a policy that says we want the sales tax, we have to do it early. To start it early, so we have a concerted effort.”

Maynard said the county commission chose to put the issue on the general election ballot, rather than have a special election. If county funds are spent, they can’t be spent in an advocacy way. They have to be spent in an education manner. I know people have complaints about that.

“We did the best we could under the circumstances that were presented, and I wish, before those 10,000 voters had voted [early], those educational pieces had been out there. Do I think it would have made a difference? Yea, I do.”

The measure failed to pass, with 27,424 people voting against the measure and 25,199 voting for it.

“[The failure] wasn’t from lack of effort on the part of the school system, on my part, on the mayor’s part,” Maynard said. “I worked as hard on that as I have for anything in my life.”

Gentry said, “The decision was made a little too late to get anything done. If we’re going to do it again, we’re going to have to get ahead of the game. We need to get ahead of the game and get it done. We need to make the decision early, whether it be from the budget committee, the finance committee, or someone has to bring the motion up.”

Gentry said he didn’t think a special election was the proper form for the referendum because, “we spend too much money [paying for election costs].”

Maynard said he understands the commissioners not wanting to hold a special election, but a special election could offer a “strategic” measure for the issue.

“We sat around for a while saying, ‘how will we fund a $110 million high school?” As we got down to the time where we didn’t have to have a tax increase, [Commissioner] Kenny Reich said, ‘We’re going to have future debt. How are we going to pay for that?’ That’s when he stood up in the commission meeting and said, ‘Hey, let’s put the sales tax on the next election,’” said Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto

Hutto said by the time the wording was approved for the ballot, the county had 54 days to educate the citizens.

“Williamson County did it in a general election, but they spent a year ahead of time, walking around and going to every city and asked every city there, ‘Hey, you give me your first three years’ of that 50 percent you get so we can help take care of these schools,” Hutto said. “That way, he sold it in each city, and those city people knew that ‘our money is going on the line for this, but we’re going to reap the benefits after year four, five, six and on down the line.’”

He said he talked to the Wilson County cities early on, but never received a commitment from them.

“I think in the time we had, 54 days, I think the people here were giving you a little message, saying ‘Hey, don’t raise my property tax, and maybe not the adequate facilities tax, but raise my sales tax,’” Hutto said. “You can choose to do that in 2020, if you want to do that. If you want to do that then this budget season is the time for somebody to say, ‘This is the way we want to go,’ and give us a year to educate the folks and say ‘Hey, I’ve got debt coming. Is this the way you want to pay for it?’ And we’ll go to work on that.”

City leaders present tax increase plan

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

About 25 citizens and 10 city leaders met Thursday night at the Mt. Juliet Police Department to present a proposed tax increase plan.

The proposed increase, which would bring the tax to 59 cents for every $100 of assessed property. The increase, like others, would be on all land, homes and businesses in the Mt. Juliet city limits.

Thirty-nine cents of the proposed rate would be earmarked and specifically used for the Fire Department of Mt. Juliet. Among the items it would pay for would be a fully equipped and manned fire station on the north side of the city.

Currently, the station in the center of the city behind City Hall, responds to the north side. The response time is more than nine minutes versus the response times for the central and south districts, which have stations in the area.

The other 20 cents would be used for infrastructure improvements and other costs.

After a 25-minute presentation, members of the public, as well as the city commission, talked about their ideas of an increase. No citizen in the room appeared to be for the increase, but some spoke to just get more information.

The current property tax rate is 16.64 cents. When the property tax was first levied, it was 20 cents, but due to reassessment of property two years ago, it was lowered so residents and business owners would not have to pay more.

On a $150,000 home, residents pay $62 per year. For a $300,000 home, the owners pay $125 per year. For a $500,000 home, they pay $208 per year.

Within the presentation, city finance director Dana Swinea laid out the proposal in a multi-page PowerPoint program. Mt. Juliet fire Chief Jamie Luffman and assistant public works director Andy Barlow also spoke about fire and transportation needs, respectively.

According to the presentation, the fire department’s budget is in a deficit of $450,000. Next year’s projected budget at the current tax rate, the deficit would increase to $565,000. The tax bills are mailed Oct. 1, and the majority of tax revenues come in between December and February.

The deficits are paid by the general fund, but Swinea said when that happens, there is less money for other departments. The current general fund balance is about $1.8 million, she said.

The location for a new fire hall scheduled for the north side isn’t finalized. There is a building pad that was created next to the new Green Hill High School, but it isn’t platted yet, so there is no option for the city to build the station on that land, according to City Manager Kenny Martin. He is also looking for other land, specifically a parcel, which could be donated to the city, he said.

Estimated costs for the new station are nearly $4.14 million, which would include construction, equipment and furnishings, fire apparatus equipment, radios, turnout gear and uniforms. That would be a one-time cost. The annual expenses, which would include payroll, maintenance, fuel, tires and other items come to nearly $1.2 million, Swinea said.

The recommended property tax rate to fund the fire department only would be 39 cents. Included in that number is 23.75 cents to fully fund the current operation, 11 cents to fund the operations of the north station, and then the center station itself would be 4.25 cents.

If the proposed 39-cent property tax increase is approved, owners of a $150,000 home would pay $84 more for a total of $146. For a $300,000 home, the payment would be $168 more for a total of $293. For a $500,000 home, the tax rate would be $280 more for a total of $488.

The Insurance Services Office rates fire departments by response times, hydrants, etc. Currently the city’s rating is a public protection rating of 5. Luffman said currently, the cost of insurance for a $150,000 home is $732. With a new station, insurance premiums could go from the $732 for a ISO of 5, to $600 for a ISO of 4 and $468 for the department’s goal of a ISO of 3. The rates depend on the age of the home and other factor, he said.

Mayor Ed Hagerty said he hasn’t seen a decrease in his rates when the ISO went from 6-7 to 5. He said he doubts there would be a decrease in insurance rates.

The additional 20 cents would be allocated for infrastructure projects. The city has a number of projects underway, including Lebanon Road widening, Old Lebanon Dirt Road widening, the Mt. Juliet Road bridge widening over Interstate 40, the new Central Pike interchange and Central Pike widening.

Some of the projects are mostly covered by grants, but the city will still have to pay its share of the project, based on grant rules. Although the presentation said the projects would cost $194 million with the city to pay $40 million, Barlow said he believed the cost would be much more.

With the full 59 cents approved, property tax rates for a $150,000 home would be an additional $159 for a total of $221 per year. For a $300,000 home, the rate would be an additional $318 a year for a total of $443. For a $500,000 home, the rate would be $530 more for a total of $738.

There are other potential funding sources such as holding a referendum for the citizens to vote on a sales tax increase from 9.25 percent to 9.75 percent. Wilson County recently held a referendum to do just that, and it was defeated.

The city could transfer money from the general fund. That fund supports all of the other city departments and includes current transfers to the state street aid fund, debt service fund and capital projects fund.

During the town hall meeting, there was heated discussion between Hagerty and Vice Mayor James Maness, Commissioner Ray Justice and Commissioner Brian Abston.

Justice said in 2011, the Wilson County Commission voted to basically force Mt. Juliet to start its own department, eliminating the use of the Wilson Emergency Management Agency covering fire protection within the city.

However, Justice said, the citizens still pay a tax within the county property tax rate for WEMA.

Hagerty said it’s is the same with other departments such as the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office.

“But the sheriff’s office has a jail and gives us the school resource officers,” Justice said.

Maness created a spreadsheet seven years ago that outlined estimated costs for the fire department during a five-year period.

Hagerty said many of the estimates were not accurate, and the revenues and expenses were higher than anticipated.

Abston said Hagerty shouldn’t blame Maness for his plan.

“He referenced equipment that was bought used, not leased like we do,” Abston said. “[Hagerty] voted for it, and we agreed to lease them at $300,000 a year.”

Abston said it was “not right to keep the level of service to the city. If we do nothing and the city has to lay off firefighters, [that would be a problem] if something were to catch on fire.”

Hagerty said, if the 39 cents rate were to go into effect, “you would be overtaxing the people, because we don’t even own the land for a future station. I’m not ready to put that burden on the people.”

After the meeting, Hagerty handed out a single-page flyer.

“This is not a revenue problem. There is a spending problem,” Hagerty’s flyer said. “The proposed property tax increase is from 16 cents to 59 cents, a proposed increase of almost four times. When created, it was promised that the new fire department would be a group of firefighters, that it would not become a bureaucracy like so many other government agencies.”

Hagerty said the spreadsheet prepared by Maness seven years ago, gave estimates of the revenue and expenses of the new department for the next five years.

“On the revenue side, we received tax revenue for the first year of $1.3 million, as predicted,” Hagerty said. “This year, it was nearly $2 million, an increase in funding of 42 percent in only five years. This was actually far above, far better than, the vice mayor’s projections. On the expense side, the department spent $2.6 million last year, rather than the projected $1.3 million as predicted by the vice mayor.”

Hagerty also said the department spent $1.9 million on payroll alone.

“If you take $1.9 million divided by 24 paid positions it equals $80,000 per person,” he said in the flyer. “That includes benefits, workman’s comp and more, which factors in a 41 percent add-on to salaries.”

He said the differences in firefighter ratings gave way to the various salaries throughout the department. Not everyone received $80,000. A firefighter 1’s salary tops out at $37,509, not including benefits. An engineer tops out at $51,813, not including benefits.

He also said the fire department bought four brand new fire trucks, “one at $800,000 is largely unused.” They also bought two “fully outfitted pickup trucks for part-time employees. The department has 11 vehicles and only eight people on duty at a time. [There is also] expensive equipment unused in a closet and now out of date.”

Hagerty’s solutions were to reduce spending and increase the sales tax that is paid by everyone, through a referendum.

A second town hall meeting will take place May 6 at 6:30 p.m. at Mt. Juliet City Hall, and Martin hopes more of the public will give their opinions.

Commissioners will vote on the 2019-20 budget in two meetings scheduled for May 13 and June 10.

Carafem weighs options after Mt. Juliet OKs zoning ordinance

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Carafem, a women’s health care clinic in Mt. Juliet, is weighing its options after the city approved a zoning change to move surgical abortion clinics from commercial activities zoning to industrial zones in March and April.

Carafem moved to Mt. Juliet to be close to Nashville and serve Middle Tennessee patients who needed health care or wanted an abortion. At the time, carafem planned to provide surgical and medicated abortions. After the city’s vote, it only provided the abortion pill, which could be given to patients up to 10 weeks pregnant.

“We are obviously disappointed that the city has decided to exercise its zoning authority for the political purpose of targeting abortion providers and specifically carafem, said Melissa Grant, chief operating officer with carafem. “We are considering a variety of options in moving forward and remain committed to our serving our mission in Tennessee.”

In March, Grant said, “carafem opened a reproductive health care and family planning center in [Mt. Juliet] to provide safe, convenient and affordable health care options with a licensed, quality health provider to serve women in Tennessee. The health center offers early abortion care up to 10 weeks with the medical abortion pill, STI testing, a wide selection of birth control options – such as IUDs, birth control implants, Depo Provera shots, birth control pills and emergency contraception.”

Among other things, the ordinance, which passed on first reading in March, said, “[surgical abortion clinics] shall be located within 1,000 feet [measured property line to property line] of any church, public or private school ground, college campus, public park or recreation facility, public library, child care facilities or a lot zoned residentially or devoted primarily to residential use.”

Also allowed in the industrial zone are scrap operations; warehousing goods, transport and storage; wholesale sales; waste disposal services, manufacturing and automotive parking.

The clinic moved to Mt. Juliet and opened without securing the appropriate permits to become an actual business, according to Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty.

After the March meeting, Hagerty said, “What we did tonight is we amended the zoning ordinance. That’s something that municipal governments do from time to time. We amended the zoning ordinance to what you heard me read into the record with all of the changes being proposed to be changed in our zoning ordinance and we did that by unanimous vote.”

Hagerty said the business that prompted the zoning change, carafem, opened without the city’s knowledge.

“They’ve made no application to the city of any sort, so I don’t know [about the clinic],” he said at the time. “I have read that stuff in different media publications, but I have no first-hand knowledge because they have made not application to the city, so I don’t even know what business you’re referring to, nor what zone class they apply that they would like to apply to be in. They have not applied for any inspection or any application of any sort.”

Hagerty said not applying for permits was “not normal. They would do that in advance. For example, just so you know what zoning means, if you live in a subdivision and one of your neighbors wants to open up a gas station, they can’t do that. That would infringe on your rights as a property owner. We have zoning in our city and every city, so that uses are proper. All we did tonight is what we do time to time, is change and modify the zoning ordinance.”

Before the March vote, District 4 Commissioner Brian Abston said, “I was disgusted to hear they plan to open in my district and my town. I realize they have rights, but my constituents and I don’t want it here. I am pro-life so I will take any action possible within the law to make sure it’s not here.”

Carafem chief operating officer Melissa Grant said the Nashville area, specifically Mt. Juliet, was selected as the location for the nonprofit’s fourth abortion clinic after an increase in the number of women who traveled to its Atlanta clinic for services. Grant said about 5 percent of the women who seek abortions at the Atlanta clinic come from the Nashville area.

When asked about local opposition to the clinic, Grant said carafem is concerned with support of women’s rights over their own health.

“Carafem health supports a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her personal health care. Studies of abortion services worldwide found that abortion-related deaths are rare in countries where the procedure is legal, accessible and performed early in pregnancy by skilled providers. Carafem encourages women to make health decisions together with their family and their physician that are based on medically accurate information. Carafem staff is available 24-7 to answer questions and provide information about the safety and availability of abortion care with carafem. Carafem provides safe, quality medical care that follows all applicable state and local laws,” Grant said.

As abortion is a politically charged topic that has a history of violence against clinics and doctors, Mt. Juliet police stepped up security in the area in March. It was an effort Capt. Tyler Chandler said would ensure safety for everyone.

“Once we were made aware of the heightened activity surrounding the clinic’s location in our city, which we learned from a news article, we educated our staff, placed a surveillance camera tower nearby and instructed officers to provide extra patrol. Our department has a duty to remain neutral and ensure everyone is safe,” Chandler said at the time.

Ministers and others have protested outside of the building that houses the clinic. They have used bullhorns to protest, but city officials asked them to turn them down so they wouldn’t disturb hotel guests and business employees nearby, according to Mt. Juliet City Manager Kenny Martin.

In March, Hagerty said he does not know if the clinic will sue the city regarding the rezoning ordinance.

“I have no idea,” Hagerty said. “That’s an issue they’ll have to take up.”

Fireworks show a go in Mt. Juliet after all

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

A fireworks show will take place in Mt. Juliet this year after all, but the issue didn’t come without controversy.

Needam’s Nursey owner Tom Needham said his business hold a private fireworks show near Providence. He made the announcement at the Mt. Juliet City Commission meeting last Monday night.

“A couple of weeks ago, [City Manager Kenny Martin] canceled the fireworks show with no explanation,” Needham said. “Then, I started hearing Kenny’s explanation. No parking. No fall-out zone. No safety zone. I got to looking at my newspapers from last year and saw [the fireworks show] took place down at the south end of Providence.”

Last year, Martin said the event took place at the current AtHome property next to Academy Sports.

Needham said, “[It has] the very best parking. On June 22, 2018, [Martin] said, ‘I’m positive, we’ll have this great place for next year.’ When I started hearing that, I thought maybe these people who owned this private property canceled it and want’s nothing to do with us.”

Needham said he called Dale McCullough, a representative from Jones Brothers who owns land in the area who said he’d be glad to offer his property for the show. McCullough also said Martin did not call McCullough to ask if the city could use his property for the show.

“The next area was owned by the Boyle Group,” Needham said. “Now, the Boyle Group has been a very important part of our community. They have been good to our community.”

He said the person he called with the Boyle Group said they would agree to play host to the show on their land and added Martin didn’t call to ask about using the land this year.

“Me and my wife have put up our $10,000 in a GoFundMe account,” Needham said. “Anyone else who wants to contribute can go to my Facebook page and contribute.”

Needham said he called Commissioner Ray Justice last year, but Justice didn’t call him back.

Needham said the show, which will begin at 9 p.m., will take place on the Boyle Group property at the south end of Providence.

During commissioner’s comments, Justice said, “Kenny is my friend, and I’m extremely loyal to him. For Mr. Needham to come out here and then walk out afterwards, shows what kind of class he has. His comments were unfortunate. They were reckless, and he was completely misinforming the public when he got up there and spoke.

“This is something [Needham is] well known for. He has, over the years, claimed that he has provided the fireworks to the city when, in fact, we have voted for [them]. It has been in our budget, and we have paid $30,000 for the fireworks. If Mr. Needham has paid for those fireworks, I haven’t seen a receipt. He may very well have. I’m not saying he hasn’t.

“I just think his comments, his remarks and his attitude is a direct reflection on another reason why we do not need to be involved with Mr. Needham and his fireworks event. I think his comments and attitude cast a bad light on the city of Mt. Juliet. I’m extremely disappointed.”

Justice then praised Martin and said, “I really don’t appreciate somebody coming in here and jumping him like this.”

In other business, Commissioner Art Giles announced the fifth-annual Ride Mt. Juliet will be May 5 at the Music City Star train station at the corner of Division Street and North Mt. Juliet Road.

“This has been a fun thing for the last few years,” Giles said. “Kids chase a fire truck. The police are riding in it. Families ride. We go from the park to the police department, and we go down Woodridge and Golden Bear Parkway to Clemmons and Division and back [to the train station].”

The path is about 5.8 miles, Giles said, and the event “is a lot of fun. There are a lot of giveaways.”

Among those is a children’s Trek bicycle donated by Biker’s Choice. Children 12 and younger can register for a chance to win the bike, Giles said. This year, there will also be 50 helmets for the first 50 children who arrive, he said.