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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for February 22, 2024

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


We start with local news…

County Powers Relief Act Gaining (MSM)

Maury County’s efforts to enact an impact fee on new construction may be gaining a more receptive audience on Capitol Hill during 2024, according to Rep. Scott Cepicky.

The County Powers Relief Act enacted in 2006 limits the ability of counties or municipalities to increase impact fees via private acts of the legislature.

Currently Maury County’s rates are 50 cents per square foot for residential construction and 30 cents for non-residential. County officials have said Maury County, which has enjoyed record growth in recent years, is losing out on millions of dollars in revenue and that county infrastructure, including schools, is suffering as a result.

Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) proposed a bill last year to address the situation, but that bill failed by a 5-3 vote in a House subcommittee. A similar bill passed the Tennessee Senate in 2022 but failed in the House.

In a conversation with Main Street Maury, Cepicky indicated that a potential compromise with builders and realtors, both of whom vehemently opposed Cepicky’s bill in 2023, might be in the works.

Cepicky referenced two bills that, if passed, could bring as much as $12 million annually into Maury County’s coffers. The first, HB 1629, would require half of the unencumbered revenue from the recordation tax to be distributed to counties for school debt and school capital projects.

“I presented a bill on the real estate transfer tax; half of that money coming back to Maury County which would be roughly between $6 million and $7 million to be used for our schools, our school maintenance and our school debt,” Cepicky said. “We are looking for funding right now… it’s a tough budget year but everyone agreed that this is probably a worthwhile effort to help out our districts and the upkeep of our schools.”

Cepicky also referenced a bill being carried by Tim Hicks (R-Gray) that would, he said, allow for an increase in local impact fees by letting high-growth counties opt into the County Powers Relief Act.

“It’s a compromise we have worked on with the builders,” Cepicky said. “It’s $1.50 for residential, so Maury County would go from 50 cents to $1.50, and $1.50 on commercial, which means Maury County would go from 30 cents to $1.50.

Cepicky estimated the second bill would generate “as much as $5 million for Maury County.” Again, the increase would be required to be used for school capital projects or for school debt.

“We’re trying to create multiple tools and multiple revenue sources, because you can’t rely on one revenue source long term,” Cepicky said. “We’re trying to do things we think are fair for everyone.”

In addition, a county commission would be able to raise those rates every four years by 10 percent, subject to a two-thirds vote, to allow for inflation. A planned amendment would also allow Maury County to return to the original rates if growth slows, Cepicky said.

Cepicky acknowledged the work done so far but noted there is a long way to go.

“The builders have really come a long way in support of this program; we are still hoping to get the realtors on board,” Cepicky said.

The House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee is set to hear the Hicks bill at its Feb. 21 meeting, Cepicky said.

Maury County commissioners authorized up to $100,000 in funding for lobbyists to promote its efforts for an impact fee during the 2024 legislative session.

During the January Commission meeting and a meeting of the Ad Hoc Growth Committee on Feb. 5, commissioners heard on the legislative efforts to allow Maury County to increase its current adequate facilities tax.

“If you feel like you’re alone, just know that Williamson County, Hamilton County, Rutherford County, Davidson County, have hired lobbyists,” lobbyist James Dunn said at the January meeting. “The state is coming up short on some revenues. Revenues are a little bit short too, so it’s going to be a challenge to increase revenues at a time when the state may be looking at making some cuts itself or at least revenues falling flat.”

Commissioners noted their lobbying dollars seemed to be making a difference in Nashville.

“A couple years ago if you would have asked me if I would have supported anything that had anything to do with lobbyists, I would have told you no,” said Commissioner Gabe Howard. “After the last legislative session last year, I saw the value of what lobbyists really do bring to the table. The things we’re going after are not partisan conversations, it’s legislation that really matters for growing communities like ours.”

“We see economic development coming through Spring Hill, Columbia, Maury County as a whole and Williamson County,” added then-Commissioner Vincent Fuqua, who has since resigned his seat. “If this community continues to grow at the pace that it is without somehow supplementing our needs financially, this county and others will go under in terms of economic growth.”

County Mayor Sheila Butt said she looked forward to the possibility of relief for Maury County as well, saying in an email to Main Street Maury, “”One of the most important things that needs to happen for property taxpayers in Maury County is for development to have skin in the game and help the County pay for schools, as well as fire protection, ambulance services and other things mandated by the state for the County to provide… For property owners who have lived here many years and have been paying for those services, it is absurd for them to pay for all of the new services required by development because the only tool we have to pay for growth is property taxes…

“I also sincerely believe that we have to ask developers willingly to invest more in our community. Also, we need to begin thinking ‘outside the box’ when it comes to building schools. I will continue working with legislators and our County Commission to find multiple ways to grow responsibly so that we can maintain the great quality of life we have in Maury County.”

Courthouse Plan Begins to Take Shape (CDH)

The Maury County Commission took its first steps in planning to use the county's historic courthouse as a partial museum once the new Maury County Judicial Center on North Main Street is completed.

A request to approve a concept for the courthouse's future use received unanimous approval Tuesday.

"I want to thank everybody on this commission, because we are preserving history at this point," Commission Chair Eric Previti said. "This is something that for a long time has been discussed, and here we are taking those first baby steps. We are all making this happen."

According to the resolution, the concept includes repurposing the courthouse's first floor to serve as a county museum.

The second floor would serve as the county mayor's office, as well as a meeting room for the county commission and Grand Jury room.

The third floor would be used as a secured area for Circuit Court judges and their staff.

Previti added that cost estimates would come at a later time, and that the resolution is merely a concept to discuss.

"We're not spending any money right now. This is just us saying, 'Hey, this is the idea, what we want to look at,'" Previti said. "So there are no expenditures at this point."

The resolution also includes publishing a request for qualifications (RFQ) for individuals or groups to provide guidance on potential costs, building codes and ensuring the project is in compliance with all applicable laws.

"There are going to be lots of talks, lots of meetings to be made afterwards, lots of decisions to be made, but we are going to tell Maury County's story," Previti said.

Mt. Pleasant Approves Downtown Project Bid (MSM)

On its third try, the Mount Pleasant Commission accepted a bid for its Downtown Revitalization Project during a special called meeting on Monday, Feb. 12.

In July and again in October 2023, commissioners had previously rejected bids for the project after deeming the cost as too high. The city received two bids this time, from Floyd & Floyd & Nickell Brothers for roughly $6.567 million and from Adams Contracting, LLC for roughly $6.760 million.

Commissioners unanimously approved the bid from Adams, noting that Floyd had been unresponsive to parts of the bid requirements, meaning the state likely would not sign off on their bid. .

“The mind-set on this third go-around was to remove the light poles from the bid so that we could purchase them directly and save about a 30 percent markup,” City Manager Kate Collier told the board. “It did come down some, not as much as we would like it to.”

The approval also authorizes the mayor to execute a contract with Adams Contracting.

In 2018, the city was awarded $1.25 million in grant monies from TDOT (Tennessee Department of Transportation). Last year, the city was awarded an additional $1.825 million in funds from the state to complete Phase 2 of the project.

The commissioners’ packet, which is available via the city’s website, calls for an additional $1.5 million in bonds, $500,000 from State Street Aid fund balance, a pledged $569,000 from Mount Pleasant Power System and an additional receipt of $800,000 in state TAP (Transportation Alternative Programs) funding.

In addition, Collier said the city expected to receive approximately $85,000 in State Street Aid funds for the current fiscal year that could go toward the project, and a similar amount for the 2024-25 fiscal year sometime after Oct. 1.

Mayor Bill White said he was pleased to see the project finally able to proceed.

“If we hadn’t been working on this for 12 to 14 years already, and if we didn’t have $300,000 to $400,000 tied up in this, I’d punt this,” the mayor said. “But we’ve got that kind of time and investment right now in money. For us to walk away from this knowing that kind of money is available, it’s a no-brainer.”

The project will include improvements spanning from the front of the Mount Pleasant Grille to Church Street on both sides of the street including the square in front of City Hall. Further changes will include upgrades to sidewalks, which would be added from 3rd Avenue to Gray Lane along North Main Street.

When construction might begin or a timeline for completion was not immediately available.

“We feel like we’re ready to move forward with this,” Collier said.

Early Voting (CDH)

There are still a few days left for Maury County voters to cast their ballots in the upcoming March 5 Presidential Preference Primary and County Primary Election.

Early voting began last Wednesday, Feb. 14 and will continue through next Tuesday, Feb. 27.

Voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon Saturday. All early voting must also be made at the Maury County Election Commission's main office at 1207 Tradewinds Drive.

Offices on the ballot include U.S. president; Maury County Public School Board Districts even seats 2, 4, 6, 8, 10; Republican delegates, Constable District 7 and 11.

Voters will be given the option of casting their votes via a paper ballot, which was approved by the Election Commission in 2022. Voters can fill out a ballot before entering it into a tabulator machine, where it will be counted and processed.

The process is not much different from a typical voting machine, just filled out on paper and fed through a separate counting device.

Maury Administrator of Election Chris Mackinlay said the first few days' turnout are "as to be expected" and in the lower numbers, which are typical especially for a primary election.

"It's been kind of as expected, and we have the capacity for a lot more," Mackinlay said. "If there are a significant number of people who want to come down and vote, that would be great. We could accommodate them easily."

However, Mackinlay said this is just the start of what will hopefully be an exciting election year, which includes a presidential election in November, and that it draws a large voter turnout for Maury County.

"We are looking forward to this year's election, and just seeing how we can watch Maury County do it with excellence," Mackinlay said. "We are going to do a great job and are prepared and ready for it. There is a lot of great experience in our office."

Visit the Maury County Election Commission's website at www.MauryCounty-TN.gov for early voting information, a sample ballot, or call (931) 375-6001.

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."

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.

Mrs. Matilda Couch Beaird, 84, died Monday at Maury Regional Medical Center. A memorial service will be conducted Sunday, February 25th at 2:30 PM at Mt. Pleasant First United Methodist Church. The family will visit with friends one hour prior to the services at the church. Burial will follow at Zion Presbyterian Church Cemetery. Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.

…And now, news from around the state…

School Voucher Bill Up For Vote (Tennessean)

Tennessee lawmakers are days away from a first vote on Gov. Bill Lee’s proposed statewide school choice program.

According to an advance copy of the legislation obtained by The Tennessean, Lee’s final Education Freedom Scholarships proposal would offer taxpayer-funded grants to 20,000 students to attend private schools of their choice without any annual TCAP testing or other state-monitored accountability measures for participating students.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, will file the final text of the governor’s on Wednesday, according to Senate Republican Caucus spokesperson Molly Gormley.

The bill will be up for consideration in the Senate Education Committee next week, she said.  

“I think it's important that we give parents an opportunity to choose another alternative for their kids,” Johnson told reporters during a recent news conference. 

Little has changed in the weeks since a early draft of the bill was obtained by The Tennessean. As finalized for introduction, the governor’s proposal does not include any testing or accountability requirements for participating students. Students in public schools are required to complete testing each year, as our students who participate in the existing Education Savings Account program, a school voucher plan for Davidson, Shelby and Hamilton counties.

“This is a parental rights bill. This is giving choice to parents to pick an educational alternative that is best for their child,” Johnson said. “It may be that their child has unique learning needs – so I'm very cautious about imposing everything that we impose on our public education system on these other alternatives.”

“Ultimately, parents will make the decision about final accountability, in my view,” Johnson added.

In the first year, 10,000 slots would be reserved for students whose families fall under 300% of the federal poverty level – about $90,000 per year for a family of four. The remaining 10,000 scholarships would be open in 2024-25 to any student who qualifies, regardless of family income.

While participation would be capped at roughly 2% of Tennessee’s school aged children during the first year, universal eligibility for any Tennessee K-12 student – regardless of family income – would open beginning in 2025. Certain homeschoolers would be eligible to participate.

Students would not be allowed participate in both the state’s existing Education Savings Accounts program and the new Education Freedom Scholarship program at the same time.

A fiscal analysis for the proposed amendment is not yet available. Lee has earmarked $141.5 million in his $52.6 billion proposed annual budget to kickstart the statewide program. Funding for Education Freedom Scholarships would be entirely from the state General Fund: no local dollars would fund the program, nor would money come directly from the state's existing K-12 funding formula. Lee's budget also includes $261.3 million in new funding for public schools and public school teacher salary increases.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

A Columbia Academy senior recently performed at the WorldStrides Honors Instrumental and Choral Performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City, the first CA student to be selected for the program.

Seventeen-year-old Emma Walker was one of 600 performers selected out of over 5,000 auditions. The performers were from 44 states, New Zealand, the Virgin Islands, Guam and Korea. The Honors Performance Series was established to feature young musicians on stage with the goal of distinguishing talented student musicians in a once-in-a-lifetime performance, according to the Honors Performance Series website.

Walker, who was part of the treble choir, said she was nominated for the program by her teacher. She then submitted an audio recording to the conductors of the program before being selected.

“We rehearsed for a couple of days,” she said. “It was a total of 20 hours over three days.”

Walker’s choir, which performed for 40 minutes, included songs in both English, Latin and French.

“I was so happy to be there,” Walker said of the opportunity. “After our last song I just burst into tears. My teacher told me to take it all in, and every time I did I would start crying.”

In addition to singing, Walker also plays clarinet, which she started in the fifth grade.

Walker plans on attending Western Kentucky University in the fall, where she will study music education and theater.

“I would like to end up on Broadway, but if that doesn’t happen, I’ll be a music teacher.”


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