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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for January 23, 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 County Schools Closed (Press Release)

With the freezing temperatures and the snow and ice accumulations from last week, many roads in Maury County are too dangerous to travel upon. Due to these conditions and to keep all students safe, there will be no school today, Tuesday, January 23rd. Tuesday’s closure includes all Boys & Girls Club locations; however, the Wayne Street BGC location will be open. Athletic practices and after-school activities will be at the principals' discretion, with no penalties if students cannot attend.

Maury County Schools will make a decision as early as possible regarding Wednesday. Please be patient and have backup plans regarding childcare. 

All surrounding county schools are also closed today.

Car on Precipice (MauryCountySource)

On Sunday at 12:25, Maury County Fire Department responded to a reported vehicle on the edge of a 200 foot cliff above the Duck River on Greenfield Bend Road in the Williamsport Community.

Detective Voss, with the Maury County Sheriff’s Office, had come upon the incident just after the elderly man ran off the road and was able to temporarily secure the vehicle with his own personal vehicle; however, every time the occupant let off the brake the vehicle began to slide further down the hill.

Units arrived and secured the truck with chain to a large tree and used a winch to pull the vehicle further onto the roadway so the occupant could safely exit.

D and D Towing was requested to assist with the rescue if needed at the time of dispatch. They arrived just as units were ready to pull the vehicle.

After the occupant exited, D and D was able to completely pull the vehicle back onto the roadway.

City Gets Clean Audit (CDH)

Data from the city's latest popular annual financial report shows not only a clean audit for 2023, but financial gains and budget increases compared to 2022.

The report was compiled by City Financial Officer Thad Jablonski, who also serves as assistant city manager and city recorder, as well as the city's finance team. The full report can be accessed via the City of Columbia website's archive center.

The city's government fund balance was estimated at $63.5 million, an increase of about $12 million compared to 2022's $52.5 million.

"Revenues are up and we've really held the line across the organization, our governmental funds, enterprise funds as well as our sewer funds," Jablonski said. "It was a good year."

A popular annual financial report, or PAFR, compiles the city's financial data over the last fiscal year ending June 30, 2023, and is presented in a more digestible, easy-to-read fashion. This includes major financial figures, budget numbers, as well as capital projects and a better transparency for citizens on how taxpayer money is spent.

The report also ensures the city maintains an Aa2 credit rating and an AA+ rating by Standard & Poor (S&P) first affirmed in 2020.

"It is our intent that the report provides Columbia citizens with better access and greater insight into the city's financial activities," Jablonski stated in the report. "It identifies revenue resources and describes how they are spent in a financially responsible manner. Although financial figures in the PAFR come from an audited source, they are presented in a condensed, unaudited format."

According to the report, all governmental funds increased approximately 11.7%, or $6.3 million, with the majority generated from taxes, which made up 61.3% of all revenues during the 2023 fiscal year.

This was partly due to the city's continued population increase, which fed into the city's ability to increase residential and commercial development.

For example, local sales tax revenue generated an 8.3% increase, or $1.4 million stemming from a growing retail climate.

"Our tax revenue showed very good signs in terms of year-over-year increases," Jablonski said.

The city's total debt also decreased by $2.3 million, including proprietary funds such as sewer, power and water systems.

"The increase is due primarily to increased revenues over expenditures across major and non-major governmental funds," the report states. "In addition to strong revenue growth during 2023, containment measures implemented to stay within the current revenues provided for decreased expenditures. The positive economic climate evidenced by increased residential and commercial development also drove record sales and business tax collections."

The report also compiles the city's annual employment rate, as well as data reflecting an increase in overall building permits.

Columbia's overall employment rate in September showed an approximate 0.1% increase compared to 2022, or 2.9% compared to the statewide average of 3.6%.

A few of Columbia's top employers include Maury Regional Medical Center (3,200), Maury County Public Schools (1,886) and Tennessee Farm Bureau (698), along with Maury County Government (510) and Columbia State Community College (512).

Since 2020, the data indicates an estimated 3,400 jobs have been created in Maury County, with $4.8 billion in capital investment.

Building permits in 2023 also increased at 2,588 compared to 2,309 in 2022. This also included a total valuation at approximated $290.5 million in 2023 compared to $205.3 million in 2022.

According to Smart Asset's 2022 rankings, Maury County ranks second in Tennessee and within the top 5% in the U.S. for counties receiving incoming investment.

Among the city's upcoming capital projects highlighted in 2023, the top items were the upcoming renovations to Fire Station No. 1, with an estimated cost of $4.882 million and is set to begin by the end of January.

Other top projects include a $1.2 million investment for a new Public Works storage and fuel facility, as well as the recently completed South Garden Street streetscape, which totaled $2.1 million. Funding for these projects came from the city's General Fund reserves.

Columbia is also continuing its largest project in the city's history to construct a new Wastewater Treatment Plant, a $95 million project, as well as a new $8.255 million pump station at Bear Creek Pike and $240,000 in various other Public Works projects.

"Everything is moving along. All of our projects are either under construction, or about to start," Jablonski said. "And we've got some other things in the cooker as well that we're excited about."

Coach Bassham Inducted into Hall of Fame (MSM)

Eddie Bassham wasn’t trying to get into any halls of fame when he embarked on his coaching career nearly 50 years ago.

He was just trying to get out of the box factory.

As of Saturday night, the 1968 Hay Long High School graduate accomplished both, as he and three of his peers were recognized by the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association as the latest inductees into its Hall of Fame during the organization’s annual weekend clinic in Cool Springs.

“I’m a blessed man,” Bassham said. “I graduated from (Middle Tennessee State) in 1976 and the coaching position at Mt. Pleasant opened up that very year. So you know I’m truly blessed.”

Upon his high school graduation, Bassham took a job making boxes at Ohio Valley, a local company.

“I came home one night and told my wife (Lynn), ‘I’m not doing this all my life. I’m going to coach ball,’” he recalled Saturday. “I started taking classes at Columbia State. I talked to Coach (Dave) Hall and Coach (John) Painter, and as I went out the door, Coach Hall said ‘he’ll never make it’.”

Working full-time at night and attending classes during the day, Bassham’s persistence paid off with a job that he ultimately held three different times. He won more than 600 games and led Mt. Pleasant to Class A state runner-up finishes in 1989, 1998 and 2004 along with stints at Middle Tennessee Christian and Columbia Academy before his “last, last” season with the Tigers during the COVID year of 2020.

Part of his lasting legacy is the baseball field on the Mt. Pleasant High School campus, which was named in his honor three years ago. Bassham was instrumental in building the facility, which opened with the 2001 season.

“I’m just a man with a love for the game,” he said Saturday.

Inducted into the TBCA Hall of Fame with Bassham were former Cookeville coach Butch Chaffin, Carson-Newman coach Tom Griffin and retired Forrest coach Wayne “Babe” Hardison.

Youth Council Takes On Duck River (MSM)

The Columbia Mayor’s Youth Council is working on a fun project. Kids On Stage of Maury County, aka KOS Connects, in partnership with the McEwen Group Real Estate, is proud to present a pioneering challenge featuring students from the Columbia Mayor’s Youth Council.

This initiative, “Policy and Public Engagement for the Duck River,” is designed to empower the brightest young minds of Columbia in addressing the urgent water conservation crisis impacting the Duck River, particularly in the face of rapid urban growth in Maury County.

This project will comprise of five groups of CMYC members who will craft different policies addressing water conservation and create a compelling video to present to the Columbia City Council.

SizeUpMaury (Press Release)

Maury Alliance is launching SizeUpMaury on its website on February 2nd making powerful market research and business intelligence available to all local businesses.

Businesses in Maury County can now access industry-specific and hyperlocal information to help them grow and make smarter decisions using Big Data analysis. The research is individually customized for each company. By using SizeUpMaury local businesses are able to:

 

Rank their business performance compared to industry competitors

Discover potential customers, suppliers, and better understand their competitive landscape

Optimize advertising to target ideal customer segments

SizeUpMaury helps to level the competitive business playing field by providing small businesses with market research that typically only large corporations could afford to access by contracting multinational management consulting companies or hiring internal research analysts.

“In today’s information economy, if you don’t have access to information your business is at a significant disadvantage. With the launch of SizeUpMaury on our website, we are empowering small businesses in Maury County to be able to make data-driven decisions,” said Wil Evans, President & CEO of Maury Alliance. 

SizeUp uses big data, cloud computing, and computer algorithms to deliver custom analysis for local businesses. The data comes from hundreds of public and proprietary data sources covering firmographic, demographic, geographic, labor, wage, cost, consumer spending, transportation, and more.

“Maury Alliance is committed to helping locally-owned businesses succeed. They are the foundation of our local economy, employ our residents, create new jobs, and make our community a more prosperous place. Launching SizeUpMaury on our website is just one more way we are supporting local businesses and hopefully setting them up for success,” said Wil Evans, President & CEO of Maury Alliance. 

This new service provided by Maury Alliance is completely free for local businesses to use and is available anytime through the Maury Alliance website at www.mauryalliance.com. For a demonstration of SizeUpMaury, you are invited to the official Launch Event on February 2nd at 8:30 am. Visit www.mauryalliance.com/sizeupmaury to register.

Justice Center Time Capsule (Press Release)

The Maury County Historical Society has been granted permission by the Maury County Commission to place a time capsule in the new Maury County Justice Center currently under construction. A selection committee has been created and is ready to receive items. If you have something small and Maury County related you would like to donate, contact Eric Previti at (931) 626-9878 or epreviti@icloud.com.

Cepicky to Introduce Teacher Childcare Bill (MSM)

A bill which would provide childcare to teachers is set to be introduced by Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) following the start of the 2024 legislative session, which began on Tuesday, Jan. 9.

House Bill 1709 would authorize local education agencies (LEAs) and public charter schools to reimburse teachers for childcare expenses paid by the teacher each month for the teacher’s child to receive services through a childcare program. The program would be certified by the Department of Education or a childcare agency licensed by the Department of Human Services.

The state would also be required to reimburse LEAs and public charter schools a portion of any such monthly reimbursement amount paid by the LEA or public charter school.

“The childcare bill is basically to try to incentivize more teachers to one, become teachers, and two, when they have a child, to be able to get back in the classroom as quickly as possible to help our students,” Cepicky said.

“What we find right now is because the cost of daycare is so expensive, when teachers have children they tend to just put their license on hold and they raise their children until they get to be around five to six years old, then they come back to the classroom.”

Cepicky said the childcare bill would also be an economic boon for counties.

“They don’t have to go out and find another teacher, they can get the ones they have back in the classroom and teachers who want to teach can go back and earn their living now,” he said.

The bill’s introduction is currently on hold as members await whether it will be added to Gov. Lee’s school choice bill.

Introduced last November, the Education Freedom Scholarship Act of 2024 would establish statewide universal school choice.

“This legislation aims to provide every Tennessee parent with the opportunity to choose the right education for their child, while prioritizing families with the greatest need,” according to last year’s press release.

Cepicky said he expects the bill to be the biggest hurdle during the legislative session.

“If parents feel like the public schools are not meeting the needs of their child, they should have recourse to it. They should not be stuck in a failing school just because of their zip code.”

In addition, Rep. Kip Capley (R-Summertown) has introduced legislation that would require written driver’s license exams to be administered in English.

Capley’s proposal, House Bill 1730, will apply to applicants for driver’s licenses and intermediate driver’s licenses. The legislation will prohibit the use of translation dictionaries, electronic devices and interpreters for assistance with the exam’s administration.

“All Tennesseans want to feel safe on the road,” Capley said in a press statement. “The ability to understand signs and warnings is important for the protection of other drivers. Not being able to do so can pose a real danger to public safety. If you have to take a written driver exam in a language other than English in order to pass, it’s my view that you shouldn’t receive a Tennessee driver’s license until you’re able to pass in the official and legal language of our state. The test will still be available for disabled Tennessee citizens who need modifications.”

Currently, applicants are able to take the written driver examinations online or in person in English, Spanish, Korean, German and Japanese, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Maury Alliance Annual Meeting (Press Release)

Join Maury Alliance on Tuesday, January 30th for their most anticipated event of the year as they celebrate their accomplishments for 2023 and recognize the transition of their volunteer leadership. 

This will be a lively night of entertainment and networking celebrating business and industry in Maury County with dinner and beverages by It's Chef Jess and live music featuring The Velvet Troubadours.

Purchase tickets to the Maury Alliance Annual Meeting now to guarantee a seat at their biggest event of the year!!

The event will take place from 5-8pm on January 30th at the Memorial Building, located at 308 W. 7th Street in Columbia.

For more information visit www.mauryalliance.com.

Spring Hill Census (CDH)

Spring Hill has launched a new special census for citizens with the goal of generating enough population numbers to receive up to $2 million in additional annual federal funding.

Residents can participate in the census by logging onto the city's website at www.SpringHillTN.org.

Earlier this month, Mayor Jim Hagaman commented on the importance of the census during the Board of Mayor and Aldermen's Jan. 2 work session meeting.

"I would ask that you citizens take it seriously and fill it out, which is incredibly simple. You go to our website and simply type in how many people live in your house, and your done, just like that," Hagaman said. "It's very important because it will translate into dollars that we get in our coffers to do projects we need to do and/or want to do."

Hagaman added that he looks forward to continuing his, as well as the rest of the BOMA's service to the city as it enters into the new year.

"It has been, and remains a high honor to serve you as your mayor," Hagaman said. "I take it very seriously, and my whole thing about my character is to be Christ-like, and that means it is synonymous with having integrity, with having fairness, having decency, being high minded and to have good ethics. As we continue into 2024, I will continue to be like that."

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

Mrs. Lynda June Coffey Briggs, 82, resident of Columbia, TN, and retired secretary for Highland Church of Christ, passed away Friday, January 19, 2024 at NHC Columbia.

Funeral services will be conducted Saturday, January 27, 2024 at 10:00 A.M.at Highland Church of Christ. Burial will follow at Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Friday, January 26, 2024 from 4:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

Mr. George Allen Clanton, 92, retired employee of Occidental Company and resident of Columbia, died January 12th at Meadowbrook Nursing Home in Pulaski. The family will visit with friends Saturday, January 27th at 11:00 A.M. followed by a memorial service at 11:30 A.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

…And now, news from around the state…

Dems Call for Ed Commissioner Resignation (Tennessean)

Tennessee House Democrats on Monday called for Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds to resign for failing to meet the job requirements as outlined in state law.

Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, said any attempt by Gov. Bill Lee to brush aside Reynolds' lack of qualifications would be an "embarrassing reflection of the rampant incompetence that plagues his entire administration."

"Commissioner Reynolds is legally unqualified and she must resign," Clemmons said.

Lee's office stood behind the commissioner in a Monday statement.

"Commissioner Reynolds' credentials and professional experience qualify her to serve as TDOE commissioner and we're proud of the work she's doing to accelerate academic achievement and support all Tennessee students," Lee spokesperson Elizabeth Johnson said. "Additionally, though not explicitly required by statute, Commissioner Reynolds is currently enrolled in the UT Martin Education Preparation Program (EPP) to expand upon her previous experience."

The Department of Education responded to a Tennessean request with an identical statement.

According to Tennessee state code, the education commissioner "shall" have experience in school administration and be qualified to teach at a high school level. Reynolds does not appear to meet those requirements, having not taught in a classroom as a teacher or served in local K-12 administration.

"Shall means shall. There is no ambiguity. These are the requirements, there is no optional language here," Clemmons said. "This is an old law. It was updated most recently in 1970. I know of no governor who has had a problem or an issue filling this role with someone qualified under the statute."

Rep. Sam McKenzie, D-Knoxville, joined Clemmons in calling for Reynolds to step down.

"We don't need folks that are career politicians and insiders to come and lead our K-12 children,' McKenzie said. "We're discussing some serious, serious issues here."

Lee appointed Reynolds to the position last year directly from a school choice advocacy organization, ExcelinEd, which was founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

The Nashville Sounds announced today more details on a free new off-season fan event, the Sound Check Fan Fest, scheduled to take place on Saturday, February 3, 2024 at First Horizon Park from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. The one-day event will get Sounds fans ready for baseball season and give them a chance to meet with current and former players and coaches, partake in a scavenger hunt throughout the ballpark, enter for raffle and giveaway prizes and enjoy other fan-favorite areas at First Horizon Park.

Sounds players, coaches and alumni will be onsite throughout the day for autograph sessions and Q-and-A session hosted by Sounds broadcaster Jeff Hem. Coach Ned Yost IV and Sounds alum Tim Dillard joins current players Ethan Small and Patrick Dorrian as confirmed guests. Further details, including additional players, alumni and times for appearances will be announced in the coming weeks.

Fans can RSVP for the event at https://www.milb.com/nashville/fans/fanfest


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