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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for April 6, 2023


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


We start with local news…

Maury County Budget Talks Begin (MainStreetMaury)

Maury County’s Budget Committee held a special called meeting last Thursday, March 30, to begin budget talks for the 2023-24 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The meeting largely focused on a proposed 6 percent raise for all county government employees. Though the Budget Committee voted in favor of the raise during its March 13 meeting, Maury County Finance Director Doug Lukonen said it will be a long process. However, the raises could be voted upon on as early as May.

With a proposed impact fee failing to pass the House Property & Planning Subcommittee last month, questions loom whether taxpayers will see further increases with the proposed raise, though Lukonen said the likelihood is very low.

“It just depends on how many capital projects are funded,” he said, listing new schools, renovation projects, and buildings.

Lukonen said the proposed raise will be paid for with a mixture of all governmental revenues, such as taxes, fees and grants.

“We have seen a natural growth in revenue due to growth, but we also have challenges of capital funding to support that growth,” he said. “As of right now, there is not a tax increase being discussed.”

The meeting also went over submissions made by department heads. Requests are being considered for the Sheriff’s Department, Maury County Jail, tourism and county buildings, among others. Sheriff Bucky Rowland, who submitted one of the requests for the Sheriff’s Department, stated the number of calls for service has increased, leading to more warrants issued by the courts.

“This trend will only increase with our overwhelming growth,” the justification read, citing the need for an additional dispatcher, deputies and correctional officers.

Thirty-two new positions are currently being requested across all departments with a total estimated amount of $2,057,012.13, including benefits.

Lukonen listed his three main goals as balancing the budget, no tax increase and funding the services needed for the community.

The next Budget Committee meeting is scheduled for April 10.


Mt. Pleasant Downtown Revitalization (MainStreetMaury)

Mount Pleasant announced that it received a Notice to Proceed with Construction from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) in late March, which moves the project to the bidding phase. The project is Phase I of a Downtown Revitalization Project that will include new accessible sidewalks, ADA compliant pedestrian ramps, new pedestrian lighting and amenities including benches, trash receptacles and bike racks.

TDOT awarded the city $1.25 million in Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant funds in 2018 for the pedestrian improvements. As part of the grant agreement, the city must provide a minimum match of 20 percent to receive those funds. In an effort to do a comprehensive project, the city has worked with the Water and Sewer Department to conduct water and sewer rehabilitation simultaneously.

Mount Pleasant Power is also assisting the city in funding the lighting and traffic signalization portion of the project. In total, the project construction is expected to cost about $2.5 million.

“This project has been in the making for many years. It started with a Downtown Master Plan, continued with a grant application to TDOT, then years of coordination and going through TDOT’s required processes. We are thrilled to finally put this project out to bid!” said City Manager Kate Collier.

The bidding process is expected to be initiated over the next several weeks, with a bid opening in early May. More approvals and coordination with TDOT will have to take place before a formal award is made. However, the city hopes to be able to begin construction later this summer and the project complete by the fall of 2024.

The schedule of implementation of the Phase I project is timely, given that the city was awarded approximately $1.85 million in a 2022 TAP grant for the pedestrian improvements in the Phase II project area. This is part of the city’s ongoing commitment to implement the master plan for revitalization of Mount Pleasant’s downtown.


Parkinson’s Group Formed (MainStreetMaury)

A new support group is forming to address the needs both of those suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and those who care for the ill.

The Parkinson’s Project, organized by Jannie van Deventer, will begin meeting on the second Wednesday of each month at the Maury County Senior Center, 1020 Maury County Park Dr., in Columbia from 2-4 p.m.

“We offer a safe and compassionate space for patients and caregivers to share their thoughts and feelings, learn coping strategies and receive counseling. We understand that Parkinson’s Disease can be a source of loneliness, depression and stress for both patients and caregivers. That’s why we are committed to providing comprehensive support that addresses the emotional as well as the physical aspects of the condition,” van Deventer said in an email to Main Street Maury.

The Parkinson’s Project is a nationwide movement which recognizes that both patients and caregivers sometimes feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to cope with the emotional and practical challenges of the condition. Studies have indicated that Parkinson’s patients are likely to report a higher quality of life if their caregivers are not strained.

To reserve a spot or to learn more about the project, please visit bit.ly/ParkinsonsProject, email jannie.coaching@email.com or call (615) 975-1673.

“We look forward to meeting you and providing the support you need,” van Deventer said.


TDEC Grant in Spring Hill (MainStreetMaury)

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) last week announced 43 grants totaling $203,244,525 from the state’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) fund, part of which TDEC is administering in the form of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure grants.

The City of Spring Hill will receive $2.37M, the department announced. The city will use ARP funds to address critical needs and significant non-compliance issues, as well as develop a comprehensive Asset Management Plan. Spring Hill will replace and modernize aging assets, develop an inventory and condition assessment plan and develop a planned Operations and Maintenance work order system. 

Of the 43 grants announced, 14 are collaborative grants and 29 are non-collaborative grants. Collaborative grants involve multiple entities (cities, counties, or water utilities) partnering on projects to work toward a shared purpose. All grants awarded represent 132 individual drinking water, wastewater, and/or stormwater infrastructure project(s).

These grants announced bring the total ARP funds awarded by TDEC to $401.7M since August.

Tennessee received $3.725 billion from the ARP, and the state’s Financial Stimulus Accountability Group dedicated $1.35 billion of those funds to TDEC to support water projects in communities throughout Tennessee. Of the $1.35 billion, approximately $1 billion was designated for non-competitive formula-based grants offered to counties and eligible cities. The grants announced today are part of the $1 billion non-competitive grant program. The remaining funds ($269 million) will go to state-initiated projects and competitive grants.

“These grants will address important water infrastructure needs across rural and urban Tennessee communities,” Gov. Bill Lee said. “We look forward to the improvements these projects will bring, and we commend the communities who have gone through the application process.”

“More than ever, infrastructure is critically important to our local communities,” said Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge. “This money will allow cities and towns to address deficiencies and make improvements that will pay dividends not just in the present but in the years to come as well. I greatly appreciate the work of the governor and my colleagues on the Fiscal Accountability Group for their work in making sure these funds were spent appropriately and efficiently.”

“We continue experiencing considerable growth across the state, and many of our communities require additional resources to address their evolving needs,” said Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville. “These grants will play a major role in ensuring cities and towns have access to infrastructure solutions that will enable them to continue thriving so Tennessee remains a preferred destination for both businesses and families.”

“We are grateful to the local applicants, and we anticipate excellent results from these grants,” said TDEC Commissioner David Salyers. “This shows that Tennessee recognizes the need for improved water infrastructure, and we are grateful for the leadership of Governor Lee and the General Assembly in seeing that communities get this assistance.”


Donate Blood on National Volunteer Month (MainStreetMaury)

Blood Assurance and Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder are calling on residents to donate the gift of life during National Volunteer Month.

Since 1991, the month of April has been dedicated to honoring all volunteers throughout the United States, as well as encouraging volunteerism, like giving blood.

In recognition of the occasion, Molder is featured in a new Public Service Announcement produced by Blood Assurance.

“This is an opportunity to answer the call and give back,” Molder said in the promotional video. “Knowing that it will go on to help someone who needs it, I can’t imagine a more important calling.”

Blood Assurance is the sole supplier of blood and blood products to the city’s only hospital, Maury Regional Medical Center. The nonprofit has a donation center at 1412 Trotwood Ave.

“It’s important that our blood supply levels remain at a point that doesn’t get crucial for our community,” noted Molder. “I’m grateful for Blood Assurance and what they mean for our community as far as giving back.”

Donors can schedule an appointment online at www.bloodassurance.org/schedule, call (800) 962-0628 or text BAGIVE to 999777. Walk-ins are also accepted.

All individuals who donate from April 1-30, will receive a commemorate Super Donor t-shirt.


Spring Hill Mixed Use Plan (MainStreetMaury)

Developers of a previously approved mixed-use project along Spring Hill’s Port Royal Road have requested a major modification to the project following an architectural design change, which would increase commercial space and allow more “synergy” among the project, developers told the Spring Hill Planning Commission last week.

Originally approved in October 2022 was 84,000 square feet of commercial space, but the modified plan would include 123,000 square feet. The residential prospect is 237 units or 12.92 units per acre. 

Project developer Andy Zhu of Pentagon Holdings said the change came after talking with a number of parties with a vested interest and realizing the approved plan may not be viable, specifically for commercial tenants. As approved, the storefronts would have been lined along Port Royal Road, but that wasn’t an option following those discussions, Zhu said. 

“Part of our intent was always that the corridor along Port Royal would be the active corridor. That’s where you want to see the energy,” he said. “We are kind of exploring how we can stay in line with the original intent of the site with the open space and improve the access and viability of the commercial space while also improving safety, pedestrian walkability and making sure we can break those parking lots up a little bit. 

“Maybe there’s a chance here to push the design in a different way.”

Aldermen Matt Fitterer and Trent Linville, along with commissioner Jonathan Duda commended Ken Babinchak of Smith Gee Studio for their work on the latest proposed development.

“This is obviously a more thoughtful design than what we saw previously; it’s unfortunate you weren’t here six months ago,” Fitterer said. 

Babinchak and Smith Gee Studio, who have worked on the Berry Farms project in Franklin, said his group wanted to build a sense of place with the new design.

“We really like this idea of a centralized amenity open space, but how can we embrace that and enhance it? We wanted to locate the place-making internal to the site,” he said. “By making it internal, it is not only more pedestrian-friendly, but it enhances the connectivity and enhances the synergy among those uses.”

With the changes comes new amenity options. The original plan included a central lawn, fire pit seating areas, dog park and a pond or water feature. In the proposed plan, there is a pocket park, a kid’s play area, a dog park, a central lawn and an event stage. 

“We located the open space and extended it out to Port Royal Road so it’s more visible and creates the front door,” Babinchak said. 

One of the major changes would be added height and length to the multi-use buildings. Babinchak said that in order to properly frame the open space to scale, the multi-use buildings would need to be taller than initially approved, but still within the approved levels of the commission. Building length, however, was a point of contention in the first design and Babinchak proposes adding 50 feet to each of the mixed-use buildings to 225 feet. 

Linville said he would like to hear feedback from the fire marshal before offering his thoughts on the request. 

The project is scheduled to come back before the board at its next meeting on April 10, but would not be up for a vote at the meeting.

“It’s been exciting working with the city on this project. Hopefully it can bring something exciting and impactful for the city and the residents and neighbors nearby,” Zhu said. 


School Safety a Top Priority in Maury (MainStreetMaury)

As conversations continue on the issue of gun safety across the state and country in the aftermath of the death of three students and three faculty members at a Nashville private school, student safety remains atop the priority list in Maury County.

While no additional measures have been introduced at Columbia Academy immediately, head of security, Ben Jones, said he and school administration are constantly finding ways to better secure their campus.

“Columbia Academy is unique in its campus design with multiple buildings, but we feel like we have a high standard of safety when it comes to our students,” Jones said. “We’re always trying to get a different perspective from parents, alumni and staff on what we have and if it’s enough.”

Since being named head of security, Jones said a lot has been improved upon in both policy and procedures, but also in physical protection.

“We have cameras and access control systems in place, and we have multiple armed security on campus,” he said. “We work with local law enforcement to host training sessions to make them familiar with our buildings and campus, and so their response times are reduced as much as it can be.”

Meanwhile, Maury County Public Schools serves over 13,000 students in the pre-K through 12th grade, with the number of students continuing to rise due to the county’s rapid growth rate.

Jonathan Barry, School Safety Coordinator for MCPS, said protocols have been in place as long as there has been a school district. Focus shifted in the late 1990s to include active shooter procedures, he said, following the school shooting in Giles County and Columbine.

In 1995, 17-year-old James Ellison Rouse opened fire at Richland High School in Lynnville in Giles County, killing one student and one teacher. The shooting is considered noteworthy for occurring before the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, which killed 12 students and one teacher.

Barry said MCPS security protocols are referred to as Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs) and are required by the state to be revised and updated yearly.

“My office is responsible for ensuring the completion of EOPs and submitting them to the state via our state approved school security software,” Barry said.

Updated EOPs are required to be submitted to the state prior to each new school year. Barry added that districtwide security assessments are also required to be completed each spring for each individual campus.

“These security assessments identify areas of weakness and allow us to focus our efforts on the identified weakness,” he said.

Barry also said School Resource Officers (SROs) are in each building, with two in each high school and two in one middle school. The funding for SROs was originally a joint effort by MCPS and Maury County Government at the inception of the program. Now, the division is completely funded by the county government. Jack Cobb, Communications Director for MCPS, stated in an email that the district has had SROs in place since 1999 and was the first district in Tennessee to have an officer in every school building.

Barry did not go into detail about the products used to secure buildings but did say that MCPS has protective measures for glass and windows, which have been in place for over five years. Cobb added that school doors have bullet-resistant laminate that would make it hard to gain access.

“Additionally, most entrance doors now have two-way mirror-protective vinyl graphics,” he said in an email to Main Street Maury.

In the most recent shooting in Nashville, the gunman was able to access the building by shooting through the glass doors, but Jones said there is a method in place at Columbia Academy’s campus to prevent such an entrance to their buildings.

“That was similar to the Sandy Hook shooting. It’s something that’s been done before and it’s something we’re prepared for,” Jones said.

Jones said he is confident that Columbia Academy has prepared itself the best it can for an active shooter situation.

“It’s an ongoing process, I always want to do more. We’re limited with time and funding, but it’s something (head of schools) Dr. James Thomas and our board have made a priority,” he said. “I’ll never feel like enough is enough, though. I’ll always try to do more any time I can.”

“Watching the dramatic footage from last Monday is a sobering reminder to the dangers we face in our school environment,” Barry added. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Covenant School Community in Nashville.”


…And now, news from around the state…


Gas Prices (MainStreetMaury)

Gas prices across the state became more expensive again last week, rising a total of eight cents, on average. The Tennessee Gas Price average is now $3.21 which is 16 cents more expensive than one month ago but 76 cents less than one year ago.  

“After a jump in pump prices early last week, the state gas price average has held steady for the last four days,” said Megan Cooper, spokeswoman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “However, drivers shouldn’t get too comfortable as crude oil prices moved higher over the weekend following a surprise announcement from Saudi Arabia and other OPEC+ countries of plans to cut oil production next month. Fluctuations at the pump are likely throughout the week as the market continues to digest this news.” 

Quick Facts

62% of Tennessee gas stations have prices below $3.25

The lowest 10% of pump prices are $2.96 for regular unleaded 

The highest 10% of pump prices are $3.49 for regular unleaded

Tennessee is the 11th least expensive market in the nation


MTSU Economy Poll (MainStreet Maury)

Tennessee consumers remain deeply concerned about their financial prospects as they take a “wait-and-see approach” to state and national economies, according to the latest statewide survey by Middle Tennessee State University.

The Tennessee Consumer Outlook Index registered a score of -192 in March, an improvement from the all-time low of -256 in December 2022, reports the Office of Consumer Research in the Jennings A. Jones College of Business at MTSU.

Yet after expressing pessimism over the last several quarters, Tennessee consumers are showing signs of a slightly more positive — yet still very cautious — outlook on their economic situations.

The Consumer Outlook’s Overall, Current Situation, Future Expectations, and Purchasing Indices rose to spring 2022 levels. Also this quarter, negative consumer sentiment declined from its peak of 40% to 34%. Meanwhile, positive sentiment remained unchanged.

“This reflects a belief that the current conditions are still relatively bad, and consumers are uncertain about future economic conditions,” noted Michael Peasley, new director of MTSU Office of Consumer Research and an assistant professor of marketing.

“While the current lows reflect poor views of the economy and pessimistic expectations for the future of the economy, the recent increases are likely signaling either the bottom of peak fear or temporary optimism as consumers wait for more economic news.”

With higher prices, a fluctuating stock market and recent banking failures, more respondents are worried (64.3%) about the economy than they are optimistic (19.3%).

Survey results also showed that over the past year, consumers’ willingness to spend money on large purchases has held relatively steady.

“Tennessee consumers appear to be in a wait-and-see pattern,” Peasley said. “Given that two-thirds of our national economy is from consumer spending, changes in consumers’ perceptions of the current economy, the future economy, and whether now is a good time to make large purchases can significantly affect future economic growth.”

Changes in consumer spending, savings and credit card debt are key indicators for predicting economic growth. With wages mostly stagnant, “consumers are increasing their spending (likely to keep up with inflation) and savings (likely to prepare for uncertain future economic conditions) at the expense of higher credit card debt,” Peasley noted in the survey summary.

Consumer ratings of political leaders handling of the economy remain relatively unchanged since our last survey.


Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Jurassic Quest is roaring into Franklin from April 14-16th at the Williamson County AG Expo Park. Don’t miss life-size dinosaurs, one-of-a-kind walking dinosaur rides, a life-size T. Rex Skull, and incredible fossils including real T. Rex teeth and a Triceratops horn.

Jurassic Quest is the largest and most realistic traveling dinosaur experience in North America. This go-at-you-own-pace family experience that takes between one and two hours to complete.

For more information and ticketing information, visit www.jurassicquest.com.


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