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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for April 11, 2024

WKOM/WKRM RadioSouthern Middle Tennessee TodayNews Copy for April 11, 2024

All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.


We start with local news…

Maury Regional Expansion (MSM)

Maury Regional Medical Center’s proposed sale of roughly 6.5 acres of property on Trotwood Avenue for a potential hotel was presented to the county’s Health & Environment Committee during its April 1 meeting.

The Maury Regional Board of Trustees presented a resolution passed at the group’s March 28 meeting indicating its desire to sell seven tracts on Trotwood for at least $2.95 million to Duke & Gobble Properties, LLC, a development group based in Lawrence County.

The proposal was approved and advanced to the Budget Committee, which was scheduled to meet on April 8.

Dr. Martin Chaney, Chief Executive Officer of Maury Regional, spoke with commissioners about the proposed sale. Per the Private Act of 1995 passed by the General Assembly, the sale of any hospital property exceeding $1 million requires the approval of two-thirds of the county commission.

“It’s been in the talks for a while… We look at all of our properties and how we can strategically use them. Are they bringing us current benefit, are they going to have future benefit?” Chaney said. “We were approached several months ago with an intriguing proposal to buy that property for the placement of at least one hotel.”

Chaney said the hospital’s leadership team and Board of Trustees had examined the proposal and endorsed it. He presented both identified pros and cons to the potential sale.

“A partnership for a hotel is good for Maury Regional. To have it that close to our hospital, we would use it a lot,” he said, noting past snow days when the hospital had to house nurses and had nowhere to put them, in addition to the ease for patient visitors.

Other identified pros to the idea included increased tourism development and assistance with the financial stewardship of the hospital.

Chaney did say if a hotel were built on the property, the hospital would have to develop a working relationship. In addition, the potential impact to traffic on Trotwood Avenue was addressed.

“There will have to be some work done… we do see this as an opportunity to potentially incorporate some turn lanes there,” Chaney said.

Commissioners seemed amenable to the proposal, with Kevin Markham saying, “I’m in favor of doing this. That property needs to be used for something productive.” 

However, Scott Sumners raised concerns over Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder having written the resolution on behalf of the hospital. Chaney noted that Molder has served as the hospital’s backup legal counsel for a number of years and that he was only used because Maury Regional’s regular attorney was on an extended vacation.

Gabe Howard also addressed traffic concerns, saying he had reviewed traffic crash data on Trotwood Avenue and that most crashes occur between Columbia Academy and Columbia Fire Station 4.

Ray Jeter asked about the current zoning of the property, with Chaney saying the property would have to be rezoned in order to put a hotel there.

Commission Chairman Eric Previti added, “This side of town, we’re not very well served. This will be a gamechanger, a boost for the restaurants.”

Chaney also spoke on the hospital’s strategic growth plan. Noting there were 61 defined growth initiatives in the five-year plan that covers 2023-28, Chaney said 60 percent of those had been accomplished or were in the process of being completed in the first year.

“We’ve met our new provider recruitment goals for the first year, issued really strong marketing plans and then our renovations and brand identity to address our increased volume is well underway,” Chaney said.

The hospital has purchased land in Lawrenceburg for an eventual 60,000-square foot health park. Part of that space will be subleased to other providers, but the park will include labs, an imaging center and eventually the hospital’s sleep lab.

“We’re hoping that within a year from now, we’ll be fully operational in this building,” Chaney said.

Of 15 projects on the main Columbia campus, 11 have begun, according to Chaney. Among the projects are remodels of operating rooms, updates to the emergency treatment areas and an ambulatory surgical center that should break ground sometime in April.

Chaney also addressed future expansion plans, saying Maury Regional was working to determine whether adding floors to its tower or building out elsewhere from the hospital was the best option from a cost standpoint.

New County Admin Center Discussed (MSM)

The Maury County Building Committee voted unanimously last Monday, April 1 to form a steering committee to move forward on talks surrounding the new administrative complex, including its location and whether the building will serve both the school system and county.

The county commission had approved $5 million to pursue the idea of the building, which would account for school and county functions up to the year 2034.

Three locations are currently being looked at for the building, including remaining on the Columbia square, the former McDowell Elementary School site and the Maury County Public School’s current administrative building.

Bart Kline with Kline, Sweeney and Associates said a formal program has been taking place for the last 3½ months.

“The program session that we’re in right now is basically all the information we need to design a building,” Kline said. “Our next phase we move into is schematic design. I’m sure you are all familiar with public square, the McDowell site and the school’s admin building. What we’re looking at is an administrative complex that is either a building for the county and the school or separate.”

In order to develop the building on the square, Kline said a structured parking garage would be needed, with approximately 408-478 parking spaces.

“That number will decrease in the schematic design phase once we do the parking analysis,” Kline said. “The big issue with developing on this site is you’re going to pay for a structured parking garage,” he said.

“If we look at the McDowell site, it’s 7.25 or 7.45 acres. It is large,” Kline said. “It can accommodate future expansions and separate buildings. It can accommodate the senior citizen center.”

Kline brought up two options for the administrative complex if it were to be built at the McDowell site, including two separate buildings and one combined building. Not combined, the total estimated cost would be roughly $50 million, or $2 million more if the buildings were combined.

The third option looks at combining the buildings on the square for $65 million.

“Option four looks at two separate buildings,” Kline said. “A building for the school here at McDowell with just what they need, and a building at Public Square for what you need for the county,” he said, adding that the total estimated cost would be $56 million.

District 4 Commissioner Connie Green brought up traffic concerns if the complex were to be brought to the square.

“We’re moving one area which is a traffic jam down a two-lane street with another traffic jam with all these departments,” Green said.

Commissioner Danny Grooms, who represents District 10, said he believed placing the complex at the McDowell site makes the most financial sense.

“At the end of the day we’re tasked to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s money,” Grooms said. “I do not believe for a minute if we move this stuff off the square, that it’s going to become a ghost town down here. If we build back here, it’s already a nightmare here. At the end of the day, a little common sense has got to prevail.

“The best place in my opinion is at McDowell combined with the school,” Grooms said.

County Commission Chairman Eric Previti reminded commissioners that the county and school board are two separate entities.

“I still have an issue with the possibility if we fund this, it’s going to become property of the school board and then we have to rent from them,” Previti said, adding his concerns over security issues. “The (computer) networks are going to have to be separate networks. If it’s a possibility, I would like to see the school board give us the land back.”

Kline said the schematic design for the building is set to be done in 90 days before going on to design development. The project will then be put out for bid.

Construction for the building is scheduled to begin in April 2025.

The Building Committee will approve members for the steering committee by next month’s meeting before being sent on to the full commission.

Sinise Foundation Gifts Boat (MSM)

The Gary Sinise Foundation has awarded the Maury County Fire Department with a grant of $104,295 for the purchase of a water rescue jet boat.

The announcement, which was made last Friday, April 5, states that the boat is manufactured to handle bodies of water with varying depths and shoals that other boats cannot handle. Manufactured in Orofino, Idaho, the boat features a 310-horsepower Indmar, 2.3L Ecoboost engine.

“The boat will be equipped with recessed lighting in the bow for nighttime operations and a reinforced hull composed of a UHMW Polyethylene Coating to withstand the impacts of shoals and trees on the Duck River and other waterways in Middle Tennessee,” a press release from Maury Fire reads.

“This boat will increase responder safety and decrease the regular damage realized on prop and jet prop driven boats that we currently utilize,” the department said.

“On behalf of the Maury County Fire Department and the citizens of Maury County, we are extremely grateful to Gary Sinise and his foundation for the generous donation of this life-saving rescue boat.”

The boat is expected to be delivered in 2025.


City and County Receive Grant (MauryCountySource)

The City of Columbia and Maury County have both been awarded $100,000 in Tourism Enhancement Grants from the Tennessee Department Of Tourist Development!

This grant supports cities and counties seeking to invest in their local tourism assets, lift visitation and increase economic impact.

The City will use these funds to create two Blueway access points on the Duck River at Riverwalk Park, while Maury County will allocate the funds for construction of a Blueway river access point along the Duck State Scenic River in Yanahli Park.

Cobb Contests Firing (MSM)

Former Columbia Fire Chief Ty Cobb is contesting a determination by the city that he is not entitled to a hearing before the city’s Civil Service Board.

Cobb was terminated by City Manager Tony Massey on March 12, 2024. The termination letter contained allegations that Cobb accused Columbia police officials of being involved in an attempted break-in of a civilian’s residence and offered to pay for favorable news coverage of himself and his department.

A letter sent by Cobb’s attorney, John Mark Windle of Livingston, states that under the city’s charter, Cobb is entitled to contest his termination before the city’s Civil Service Board.

“The City of Columbia Charter and City Code clearly state that the Fire Chief is not a department head and is entitled to a civil service hearing,” the letter, dated April 3, 2024, states in part.

In an email to Main Street Maury, Massey disagreed with that assessment, stating, “That position is not covered under Civil Service per the Columbia City Charter.”

A separate letter from Windle, dated March 15, 2024, states in part that “When John Cobb was hired he was given written notice he was a civil service employee. Mr Cobb (sic) status as such has never been rescinded or terminated nor has Mr. Cobb received any actual notice from the City of the termination of his status as a civil service employee.”

Chapter 2 of the City of Columbia’s charter states that the Department of Public Safety “shall have jurisdiction of the fire department” and that the director of public safety “may not suspend the chief of the police department or the chief of the fire department without the concurrence of the city manager.”

The City of Columbia’s website does not reference a Department of Public Safety but instead lists police and fire separately among the city’s various departments. The City also does not have a director of public safety listed among its employees.

Sewer Rate Increase to be Discussed (MSM)

The Columbia City Council will hold a public hearing Thursday on a proposal to raise the city sewer rates in order to service debt expected for the construction of a Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).

The city council’s next voting session is scheduled for Thursday, April 11, at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall. The public hearing is scheduled to be held prior to the start of the meeting.

According to documentation provided by city staff, the guaranteed maximum price for the new WWTP is just over $95 million, plus engineering costs.

It has been recommended that the city use existing funds to cover approximately $20 million of the cost. Those include $10 million in reserve funds and $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal assistance funds.

It is proposed that the city issue bonds for the remaining $77 million. The bond issuance would be for a term of 30 years at 4.12 percent interest. The sewer rate increase has been proposed to service that debt.

Using the proposed new rate, it is estimated that the average sewer bill, assuming a family of four using approximately 5,000 gallons of water per month, would increase the monthly bill from $39.49 to $53.74, or $14.25 per month.

City staff information indicates the last sewer fee increase was 2011.

Second reading of the ordinance change concerning the sewer rates is scheduled for consideration.

Having received a “Small Cities” Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for sidewalk improvement along South High Street, from West 8th Street to West 11th Street, and along East 8th Street from South Main Street to (west of) South Glade Street, the city council will consider awarding the contract. The city will be required to cover just over $200,000 of the cost of the $763,314 project.

Mayor Chaz Molder noted that it is believed to be the single biggest sidewalk investment at one time due to the scale, adding that it is a good opportunity to get the sidewalks improved at a good cost.

Chief of Police Jeremy Alsup told board members last week that the department has a new K9 officer, named Winston, paid for partially through the Tennessee Highway Safety Grant.

His handler is current Columbia PD Officer of the Year Austin Sanders.

The council will be asked to ratify the application and accept the grant funds for the grant, as well as another gran to continue the K9 program.

Other business on the agenda for the Columbia City Council’s Thursday meeting includes:

• A public hearing on the rezoning of a group of parcels off Morningside Lane from CD-3L (Neighborhood Large Lot Character District) to CD-3 (Neighborhood Character District). Second reading is also scheduled for consideration.

Mt. Pleasant Touch-A-Truck (Press Release)

Buckle up, young readers and families, for an exciting adventure awaits at the Mount Pleasant Touch-a-Truck event on June 1st. In celebration of the upcoming Mount Pleasant Library Summer Reading Program, this interactive and educational event will bring the community together for a day of hands-on exploration with a variety of vehicles.

Date: June 1st Time: 10 AM until 1 PM Location: Haylong Ave and the Square in Mount Pleasant, TN

Touch-a-Truck theme is community heroes and different trucks lined the street for kids to check out and learn about their community heroes that help us every day! This unique opportunity for children and families to get up close and personal with an array of vehicles, from fire trucks to construction equipment, police cars, and more. This free family-friendly event not only promises a day of fun and excitement but also serves as the perfect kickoff for the Library's Summer Reading Program.

The event is designed to inspire a love for reading and learning in children while offering a memorable experience that fosters a sense of community. Participants will have the chance to climb aboard and explore the various vehicles, interact with local community heroes, and even learn about the roles these vehicles play in our daily lives.

"We are thrilled to present the Touch-a-Truck event as a dynamic kickoff to the Mount Pleasant Library Summer Reading Program. It's an opportunity for families to engage with the community, spark curiosity in children, and promote a love for learning," said Haverly Pennington, Director of Main Street.

In addition to the vehicle displays, the event will feature entertainment, food trucks, and activities. Mount Pleasant Main Street, Mount Pleasant Library, Heritage Bank, First Farmer’s Bank, United Community Bank, Southside Baptist Church, Norman’s Body Shop, and Staggs Simple Shine have joined forces to make this day unforgettable, ensuring a festive atmosphere for all attendees. Families are encouraged to bring their children, explore the trucks, and discover the joy of reading. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information about the Touch-a-Truck event and the Mount Pleasant Library's Summer Reading Program, please contact Haverly Pennington, Main Street Director, with all Media inquiries at haverly@visitmoutpleasanttn.com


KDS Lunch and Learn (Press Release)

Join the King’s Daughters’ School for their “About Autism Lunch and Learn, called ‘See Beyond the Spectrum.’” The program will feature Anette Hatfield, the director of the Center for Autism to learn about Autism and how we can partner as a community to provide safe places and inclusion for everyone. The event will take place on April 16th at 11:30am at The King’s Daugheters’ School Craig Hall, located at 401 W. 9th Street in Columbia. You can RSP by emailing tiffany wright at tiffany.wright@tkds.org.

The Kings’ Daughters’ School promotes independence through educational, residential, and community services for individuals with developmental disabilities, continuing a 100-years legacy of service.


And now, news from around the state…

Legislature at Odds Over Franchise Tax (Tennessean)

The Tennessee General Assembly is at odds over a massive franchise tax refund after the House and Senate passed vastly different versions of a bill backed by Gov. Bill Lee.

The House on Monday passed their slimmed down version of the plan, which would allow businesses to seek a one-year refund of a franchise tax some state officials say must be handed out to avoid a costly lawsuit. The House's plan would also require the state to publicly list businesses who benefit from the refund.

With the one-year time period, the House version would cost around $800 million, a significant savings compared to the Senate's three-year lookback, which is expected to cost Tennessee $1.9 billion between a gargantuan refund and new tax break.

Under the House plan, companies who take a refund from the state would also have to waive their right to sue over the franchise tax in the future, as lawmakers have argued they're pushing this legislation under the specter of a potential lawsuit.

Senate Republicans have previously blocked an effort to carve out transparency

Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, sponsored HB 1893 and has argued the tax change is simply "good policy," while Senate Republican leaders down the hall have continually indicated their hand is being forced by a looming lawsuit threat, the origin of which state officials have refused to disclose The Tennessean.

"No court, period, no court anywhere has found that our law is unconstitutional," Lamberth said of Tennessee's longstanding franchise and excise tax calculation, though he said the state is now "out of step with the rest of the country."

Though House Democrats said they were pleased to see additional transparency measures in the lower chamber's version, the caucus was critical the legislature could find millions to refund corporations while declining to pass a grocery tax or other tax relief for “hardworking Tennesseans.”

House Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, called the bill "a voluntary codification of a corporate handout."

"We don’t owe those companies anything," Clemmons said. "They operated under the laws of Tennessee. They do not deserve a $700 million refund."

The House bill passed in a party line vote, though eight Republicans "blue lighted" the bill, recording themselves as present but not voting on the legislation.

With the two chambers at odds on such significant details, the legislation is expected to go to a conference committee in the coming days before a compromise is reached.

Arming Teachers Bill Passes Senate (Tennessean)

Tennessee Senate Republicans this week passed legislation that will allow some teachers to go armed in school classrooms over the objections of Democrats and parents of school shooting survivors during a contentious floor session.

But the measure isn't yet law.

The House companion bill, HB 1202, technically only needs a final vote in the lower chamber after passing through committees last year. However, the bill is currently being "held on the desk," a procedural term that means the bill is in a holding pattern unless someone moves to remove it from the table.

If that happens, it would likely quickly move to a full floor vote within days or, potentially, immediately if the House suspended its rules. House leadership last week indicated they're supportive of the bill, while opponents this week said they're engaging in a "Hail Mary" effort to dissuade the House from taking it back up.

Meanwhile, the General Assembly is reaching the tail end of its legislative session. Though there's no set final date, many lawmakers hope to adjourn within the next two to three weeks.


Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

John Fogerty just announced new dates for his Celebration Tour. It will honor the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

The tour will be stopping at FirstBank Amphitheater on Wednesday, August 7th. Special guests will be George Thorogood & The Destroyers along with Harty Har.

John Fogerty is a true American treasure. As the leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), Fogerty forged a distinctive, groundbreaking sound all his own, equal parts blues, country, pop, rockabilly, R&B, swamp boogie, and Southern fried rock ‘n’ roll, all united by his uniquely evocative lyrical perspective. Fogerty is a Grammy winner and has been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, as well as, the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is the only musician to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his song, “Centerfield,” a staple at baseball stadiums across the country. Among Fogerty’s many hit songs, which have sold over 100 million records, both as a solo artist and as leader of CCR, highlights include “Proud Mary,” “Susie Q,” “Fortunate Son,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Bad Moon Rising,” and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” among many others.

Tickets go on sale on Friday, April 12th at 10 am. Find tickets at www.firstbankamphitheater.com.


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