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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for February 21, 2024

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

We start with local news…

Missing Teen (MauryCountySource)

The Columbia Police Department is trying to locate a 15-year-old runaway juvenile, Fernando Membreno. Fernando was last seen on February 15th, 2024, in the area of Westover Drive.

Fernando is 5’05” tall and weighs 100 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.

Any person with additional information that may assist in this or any other investigation is encouraged to contact Columbia Police Department Dispatch (24 hours) at 931-388-2727, Maury County Crime stoppers at 931-381-4900, or Columbia Police SAFE Tip Email to SafeTips@ColumbiaTN.Com

Firestation #1 Groundbreaking (CDH)

The City of Columbia broke ground Monday on a long-awaited renovation project to upgrade and expand what has been Columbia Fire & Rescue's home base for nearly five decades.

The project to renovate Fire Station No. 1 dates back nearly 10 years as the current facility, which opened in 1979, began to show signs of age and deterioration. There were also opportunities to modernize the 1000 S. Garden St. fire hall in a number of ways, such as constructing separate dormitories for men and women.

Columbia City Council approved the $4.8 million project in December after nearly a year-and-a-half of preliminary design and engineering work, as well as budgeting and waiting for the opportune time to get underway.

"This is more than just a remodel. It's an expansion," Columbia Fire Chief Ty Cobb said.

The renovation project will be overseen by architect George Nuber and Brindley Construction.

In addition to the east and west dorms, the 13,675-square-foot facility is getting a new training center/community room, kitchen space, as well as having the building upgraded to modern energy code standards.

"It's a privilege to work alongside folks who have important needs in this community for a facility that needs to function well," Nuber said. "This really provides a good environment for firefighters to work in."

Fire Station No. 1 will also upgrade its use as an emergency shelter equipped to withstand winds up to an F3 tornado. This would also provide backup power for its command center and IT department to remain operational during severe weather events.

Additional parking will also be added to the rear of the building, as well as a new roof which is expanded to maintain a 30-year lifespan.

"I'm honored to be a part of a team of people to put this together, alongside our contractor Brindley Construction, which I've worked with for several years now," Nuber said. "I'm honored that this was a team effort ... to service this community to make sure you are getting a building that's going to last many decades to come."

City Manager Tony Massey said the project is expected to have a 12-month construction timeline, and that the city would have a "pretty solid" estimate around the holiday season.

"By Christmas time, if we're not finished hopefully we'll be close to finishing," Massey said. "This project dates back to when Tommy Hemphill was chief back in 2016-2017. So it's a very long time coming."

Monday's ceremony to kick off the renovation project took place at the fire hall, with attendance from many city officials, current and former firefighters, chiefs and supporters.

Vice Mayor Randy McBroom shared his appreciation for being part of the vote that moved the project forward, and that providing the best environment possible for Columbia's first responders is a top priority.

"I'm glad to see this place is getting a remodel," McBroom said. "And we wanted the city to show that we have y'all's back. We want this to be the best place to come and work."

Massey added the renovation was "a long time coming" and that Fire Station No. 1 has not only served as CFR's main headquarters, but as a symbol for the history and success the department has shown and will continue for decades to come.

"Many have lived here, worked here, protected this city with this building for past generations," Massey said. "The present generations and future generations of firefighters will continue to protect our community from this building."

Boyscout Luncheon (WKOM Audio 3:04)

Yesterday, the Middle Tennessee region of the Boy Scouts of America held their annual luncheon and honored Columbian Julius Johnson. WKOM/WKRM’s Delk Kennedy attended the event and spoke to honoree as well as Eagle Scout Jesse Hood…

Legislators Support Tax Cap (CDH)

Maury County legislators have voiced their support of a proposed bill that would cap property tax increases initiated by county governments across the state.

Some Maury County commissioners oppose the legislation, House Bill 0565, sponsored by Rep. Chris Todd, R-Jackson.

The bill proposes capping a property tax increase at 2% within one fiscal year. Any increase over 2% (plus inflation) each year or over a 6% increase within a three-year period would require a county-wide referendum to further raise the property tax.

Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, and Rep. Kip Capley, R-Summertown, agree that the bill would protect taxpayers and give them a voice on future increases.

"This is to protect the taxpayer, our citizens from high property tax increases at one time," Cepicky said. "People should have a say in raising taxes when it affects their bottom line. I also represent retired citizens, veterans and the elderly who live on a fixed income. Every time taxes are raised, it squeezes them more and more."

Todd says the bill originated to protect citizens from "dramatic property tax increases."

"Areas across the state county or municipalities sometimes pass an increase of 30-cents or more during one fiscal year, which is a huge increase," Todd said. "It's difficult for citizens to budget for that."

In 2022, the Maury County Commission voted to approve a 31-cent property tax increase, primarily spurred by rising school capital costs, an action that generated much debate before passing.

“Several local governing authorities in Tennessee have enacted crushing property tax hikes in recent years," Capley said. "It is unacceptable that residents and businesses are being taxed out of their homes and buildings, which is one of the reasons I support efforts to limit these increases. I was proud to support more than $400 million in tax cuts for families and businesses last year.

"I will continue working to ensure efficiency in government rather than raising taxes on hard-working Tennesseans.”

With growing infrastructure, county services and schools due to rapid population growth in Maury County, property tax increases have been an ongoing concern among commissioners.

Maury County Commission Board Chairman Eric Previti said he is against the bill, though the full commission has not formally opposed the bill.

"I am not in favor personally because it will hamstring counties," Previti said. "For example, when you have a $63 million new school to be built, you have to have the bonds and the income to pay for that. Many times, these are unfunded mandates that come from the state that counties are not prepared to implement.

"I don't think it's a wise decision."

Earlier in February, the Maury County school board passed $63 million to fund a new elementary school in north Columbia due to population growth in where Columbia and Spring Hill meet in Maury County.

Supporting the idea of a referendum, Hensley said discussions about a possible property tax increase should be left to the county and local commissions, not the state.

"They [county commissioners] are elected by the people and have to answer to the voters anytime they vote to raise property taxes," Hensley said. "They do not want to raise property taxes, but they are obligated to provide certain services and infrastructure for schools and growth."

The Tennessee General Assembly has also begun to pick up headway on other bills, ranging from school choice to growth solutions to public safety.

Gov. Bill Lee's recent State of the State address drew many polarizing opinions regarding his push to allow students access to vouchers to attend a private or home school.

Hensley said, while the bill would allow more opportunities to low-income families, there are more details to be discussed first.

"The bill is supposed to give parents a choice for education of their child and allow those parents whose child is trapped in a failing school and cannot afford to send their child anywhere else," Hensley said. "This bill would provide an option for them, but we still do not have all the details for the bill that the Governor is proposing. We should get those details in the next few days."

In 2019, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the ESA pilot program for eligible public school students at the poverty level enrolled in underperforming schools scoring in the bottom 10% in academic achievement in the state, targeting struggling districts like Memphis Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Cepicky has typically supported "school choice" in Maury County and across the state, emphasizing that he believes parents should have educational options for children who are struggling.

Cepicky recently supported the establishment of a charter school in Maury County, to be operated by American Classical Education group, though the proposal was struck down last summer by one vote by the Maury County school board.

"In theory, I support the governor's bill, but I have not seen the language yet," Cepicky said on Friday.

"It's beneficial for students whose needs aren't being met in the public education school system for whatever reason. It gives control back to the parents."

Hensley added that another education issue being discussed is the effectiveness of the 2021 third grade literacy and proficiency law, which determines whether a student has displayed "adequate growth" to move on to the fourth grade.

"The purpose of all the legislation is to just help make sure all students can read on grade level so they can achieve a good education moving forward in their school," Hensley said. 

"I also have legislation that is helping with teaching math so that our students are not being left behind in math scores.  We have improved our reading scores in this state, but the math scores have fallen behind what they need to be. This legislation will help us teach math in the best and most effective way, so we can achieve the growth that our students need."

Last week, the State House passed what some have deemed a controversial bill excluding the display of most flags in schools, including flags pertaining to a particular political party, religion or sexual identity.

The flag bill will continue to be heard by committees this week in the General Assembly where the bill already has support from Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, who says he will vote in favor of its passing.

"I believe that public schools should be free of any indoctrination of personal beliefs by teachers and faculty," Hensley said. "School should be for teaching the basics and not used to support any belief that should be taught by parents at home.  Any parent should be able to send their child to a public school in Tennessee without fear of their child being indoctrinated by beliefs that the parents oppose."

Cepicky also says he will vote in favor of the bill.

In his weekly Capitol Hill report, Rep. Kip Capley addressed several bill approvals, some of which pertained to firearm safety and students.

This included House Bill 2882, which provides students of appropriate ages instruction on firearm safety in public schools. The curriculum would include training on how to identify a firearm and safety risks.

It would prohibit the use of live firearms and ammunition, as well as remain neutral on political and gun-related issues. The bill is scheduled to be heard by the Education Instruction Committee on Tuesday.

There is also legislation to allow college students the right to protect themselves with non-lethal weapons on college campuses, including a pepper spray gun or gel, mace or stun gun.

Hensley, Cepicky and Capley are scheduled to attend the Maury County Chamber & Economic Alliance's annual State Eggs & Issues breakfast panel starting at 6:45 a.m. Friday at The Memorial Building, where many of these issues will be discussed and shared with Maury County citizens.

Habitat House to Open (MauryCountySource)

Habitat for Humanity Williamson-Maury invites the community on Saturday, March 2nd to welcome home the Bettis family, D’Angelo and Tierra and their four children; Gabriella (7), Arianna (5), Mar’riana (3), and Josiah (1).

This home is a dream come true for the Bettis family. Although becoming homeowners has been a lifelong goal, they were not able to qualify for traditional mortgage options. The family’s present living conditions are unsafe and overcrowded, resulting in their three daughters sharing a cramped bedroom. Through the Habitat Homeownership Program, the children will finally have bedrooms of their own and the Bettis family will have a safe space where they will make lasting memories together.

Funding and volunteer labor for the home has been a community effort from the Westhaven resident community. Since September 2023, more than 160 Westhaven volunteers have spent their weekends building the Bettis family home – totaling more than 1,000 volunteer hours. Through their generous donations and aid from local partners including, The Westhaven Foundation, Southern Land Company, and California Closets, they have donated $70,000 towards building the Bettis Family home.

Habitat for Humanity Williamson-Maury is also one of the affiliates statewide to receive grant funding from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) and Tennessee Housing Trust Fund (THTF). Since 2006, THDA has provided more than $117.3 million in THTF grants to housing initiatives across Tennessee.

This dedication ceremony marks the Bettis’ completion of the Homeownership Program, including 200 hours of sweat equity, budget coaching, and homebuyer education. At the ceremony, Habitat for Humanity Williamson-Maury will recognize their sponsors and volunteers, bless the home, and present the keys to the homebuyers.

Date: Saturday, March 2nd, 2024 | 11 AM – 12 PM

Address: 2004 Alexander St, Columbia, TN 38401

And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…  

Mrs. Ann Derryberry Wright, 102, former resident of Columbia, died Tuesday, February 13th at Claiborne & Hughes Nursing and Rehab in Franklin. A graveside service will be conducted Friday, February 23rd at 2:00 PM at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Franklin.

Mrs. Loretta Hensley Ballard, 79, died Friday, February 16th at Life Care Center of Columbia. A graveside service will be conducted Friday, February 23rd at 3:00 PM at Ridgecrest Cemetery in Jackson, TN. The family will visit with friends Thursday from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

Mr. William Porter King, 88, retired professor and longtime resident of Columbia, died Sunday at Poplar Estates. A memorial service will be conducted Saturday at 11:00 AM at West 7th Street Church of Christ. Burial will follow in Worley Cemetery in the Hampshire Community. The family will visit with friends Friday from 4:00 PM until 7:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home and Saturday from 10:00 AM until time of the services at the church.

…And now, news from around the state…

State House Ticketing Constitutional (Tennessean)

The Tennessee House's new ticketing policy for its public galleries are permissible under the state Constitution, Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti said in a new opinion.

Skrmetti issued the opinion at the request of Rep. Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville. It's the first opinion issued at the request of a Democrat in Skrmetti's term.

House Republican leadership began enforcing an unwritten, surprise rule in January requiring tickets to access the west gallery of the House chamber. The east gallery remains open on a first-come, first-serve basis.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, had defended the policy as fair and equal to a system used by the U.S. Congress, which has long been an established, written rule. Democrats decried the new policy as limiting public participation and public access, particularly in the wake of heated public protests of Republican policies.

The Tennessee Constitution requires House and Senate chamber and committee doors to “be kept open, unless when the business shall be such as ought to be kept secret.” 

Skrmetti's opinion states the ticketing policy would not technically close the doors to public access, but instead manage it.

"The galleries have a fixed seating capacity," Skrmetti wrote in the opinion. "So even though the doors 'shall be kept open,' public access to the proceedings is inherently limited to the seating capacity in the galleries. That space limitation necessitates a system for managing access and allocating the space available for the public in the galleries. A ticketing system is a common and reasonable way of allocating the available seating."

Democrats have decried what they call an increasing "politicization" of the attorney general's office, which has the statutory authority to publish legal opinions on behalf of the office's clients, such as the governor and elected state House and Senate members. Skrmetti's had produced no opinions for Democrats since he took office in September 2022, according to a Tennessean review, a shift from previous Attorney General's.

The AG's office published the ticketing opinion, dated Feb. 14, on Friday.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

GRAMMY Award-winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, James Taylor announces a Nashville date for his tour, An Evening with James Taylor and His All-Star Band.

Scheduled for Wednesday, June 12 at Bridgestone Arena, tickets go on sale on Friday, February 23rd at 10 am.

James Taylor has entertained audiences with his warm baritone voice and distinctive style of guitar-playing for more than 50 years. Some of his most recognized songs include: Fire and Rain, Country Road, Sweet Baby James, Carolina In My Mind, and in 1971 he scored his first number one single with You’ve Got A Friend, written by Carole King, earning him his first Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal.


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