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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for March 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…

Mt. Pleasant City Manager Position Moves Forward (MSM)

The Mount Pleasant City Commission voted unanimously to move forward with applications for the new city manager position during a special called meeting held March 7.

Out of 12 applicants, four were approved to move on to be interviewed. The interviews will take place at a publicly noticed open meeting.

Mount Pleasant Mayor Bill White said the city received applicants from a vast array of locations including Texas, Michigan and Virginia.

“In my opinion, we have a wealth of information here and from my point of view we have the correct number of applicants and we can start now deciding who we would like to move forward with,” White said.

Nominees for the position include Mount Pleasant Fire Chief Phillip Grooms, Mount Pleasant Assistant Police Chief Jack Burgett, Steven Cross, Fire Management Consultant with the University of Tennessee Municipal Technical Advisory Service, and Spring Hill Assistant City Manager Dan Allen.

Commissioner Mike Davis, who nominated Allen, said he was his No. 1 pick.

“The reason I’m saying that is because of what he’s been involved in with the cities before him,” Davis said.

Vice-Mayor Jacqueline Grandberry nominated former Columbia attorney Rhonda Hooks, though she received no additional votes.

The interviews are set to be held on Tuesday, March 26. When a candidate is decided upon is yet to be determined.

Bear Creek Development (CDH)

A proposed project to build 800 homes, a day care and other amenities off Bear Creek Pike has drawn differing opinions, such as if it would embody smart growth within Columbia's urban growth boundary.

The proposed Columbia Bluffs planned unit development project, led by Florida-based real estate firm Kolter Group, which has been reviewed several times over the last couple of years, was ultimately deferred by the Columbia Planning Commission earlier this month.

While the item did not receive approval or denial, there was a lengthy discussion regarding the project's newest changes, as well as many citizens sharing their concerns.

The request, made by applicant Gamble Design, was to annex approximately 410 acres of land, seek approval of the preliminary plat and to rezone the property to allow a planned unit development. The land currently resides within Columbia's urban growth boundary in Maury County, but not the city limits of Columbia, hence the annexation request.

"It's my opinion that this newly proposed plan is vastly improved and is truly unique to this property," Greg Gamble of Gamble Design said. "It creates some economic diversity within this neighborhood. This is not to be a one size fits all, but to provide diversity and options to the residents of Columbia."

The Columbia Bluffs project aims to be one of the largest developments in recent history, and while it aims to provide housing options for Columbia's growing population, its location has drawn concerns.

Bear Creek Pike remains one of the most traveled roads in the city, with multiple roadway projects either underway or awaiting approval, such as the I-65 interchange enhancements and the long-awaited Bear Creek widening project, which did not receive Tennessee Department of Transportation approval last year.

The ongoing traffic woes with bringing 800 homes to the area raised many concerns from citizens, with no less than 10 signing up to speak during the March 13 meeting. While traffic was a common theme, other issues included the potential impact it would have on local utilities, such as water and sewer.

"I've lived on my road for 17 years now, and I have seen several fatalities literally across the street from my house," Scott Prince, a nearby Columbia resident said. "The unintended consequences of increased traffic up and down our road is just getting to be too much. Without further improvements and infrastructure, I'm afraid that we're just going to be another Baker Road before too long, with people cutting through towards Bear Creek Pike. It's a problem that's just not going to be able to be solved."

Maury County District 8 Commissioner Gabe Howard, also voiced his concerns, primarily speaking on behalf of the concerned citizens, property owners and others against the proposed annexation.

"This is something that the people don't want, and there's lots of great speakers who have spoken on the technical specifics of it. But I think this body did a great job of all the reasons why it doesn't fit," Howard said. "At the end of the day, you err on the side of the people, and the people spoke multiple times in this regard."

The residential portion of Columbia Bluffs would consist of a mix of townhomes, single-family homes, as well as a section for active senior adults. Amenities would include a 10-foot-wide multi-use trail, which would include a bike lane.

More than 50% of the property is also being dedicated for park space/civic gathering areas. The planned 10 park spaces would include a clubhouse with two swimming pools, pickle ball courts, five playgrounds, two dog parks, multi-purpose fields for youth sports and a community garden.

The townhomes would also be maintenance free, meaning residents would not be responsible for yardwork and outside upkeep.

Preservation of the existing land, as well as the nearby Duck River, local flood planes and other natural drainage areas was another key focus in the latest design, Gamble added.

"Open spaces should be identified and preserved with this specific goal in mind," Gamble said. "The property should be developed using conservation, design concepts where low impact is proposed, and where conservation is top priority around environmental features in order to protect them."

After the lengthy discussion, presentations and the many citizens who signed up to speak, the planning commission ultimately deferred the item.

Given the project's scope, the varying opinions and recent updates to its preliminary designs, planning chair Charlie Goatz recommended the deferral, and that it was "too soon" to make a final decision.

"There is a lot that's new here, and a lot to take in, and we've heard a lot from concerned citizens. So this is a lot for me to absorb," Goatz said. "I do have concerns ... and it sounds like there are going to be lots of open communication between now and the next month for what's being presented here tonight."

Mayor Chaz Molder commented on the project, the fact that it has been ongoing for a number of years and how it applies to the city's approach to "smart growth."

"I don't know what the definition of smart growth is, but I do know that what has been presented this evening ... the density has been reduced by 500, removed the multi-family and added the senior living, which is what we requested, added to the parks portfolio and [is] voluntarily agreeing to an impact fee," Molder said.

"Those are factors, if you take outside biases away on how you feel about the development and where it's located, that any reasonable person can agree are positive factors of a development of this nature."

Gamble agreed that a deferral would be appropriate at this time.

"We believe that this proposed development raises the bar in Columbia, and we want to be a part of that process in raising the bar in Columbia," Gamble said. "We're excited about it."

New Interim Fire Chief Appointed (Press Release)

The City of Columbia announces the appointment of Chris Cummins as the Columbia Fire & Rescue Interim Chief, effective March 20, 2024. With an extensive career at Columbia Fire & Rescue and background in emergency services and a commitment to public safety, Cummins brings invaluable experience and leadership.

Chief Cummins holds over three decades of experience with Columbia Fire & Rescue. Joining as a firefighter in 1990, he progressed through the ranks, serving as a Fire Engineer/Driver, Captain, Assistant Chief of Suppression, and ultimately as Deputy Chief before retiring in May 2021. After 31 years of exemplary service, his extensive knowledge led to his rehiring in August 2021, in a part-time capacity, where he now lends his wealth of experience to facilitate FEMA/TEMA transitions, conduct training, secure grants, and implement hazard mitigation strategies.

"I am honored to have the opportunity to lead the dedicated men and women of the Columbia Fire & Rescue Department," said Chief Cummins. "Together, we will continue to prioritize public safety, enhance emergency response capabilities, and strengthen partnerships within the community.”

As the interim chief, Cummins will oversee all aspects of Columbia Fire & Rescue, including emergency response operations, training programs, and community outreach initiatives. Chief Cummins will work closely with city officials and department personnel to ensure the safety and well-being of residents and visitors alike.

City Manager Tony Massey stated, “We are fortunate to have a man of Chris Cummins’ abilities and experience to take over the Columbia Fire & Rescue Department at this time. He will do a great job as we begin the process of hiring a new permanent fire and rescue chief for Columbia.”

Throughout Cummins’ career, he has demonstrated his ability to effectively manage crisis situations, implement strategic initiatives, and foster strong relationships. Chief Cummins will serve as the interim chief while the city conducts a comprehensive search for a permanent Columbia Fire & Rescue Chief.

Fifth Third Bank (WKOM Audio 3:51)

Yesterday, Fifth Third Bank in Spring Hill held their grand opening. Front Porch Radio’s Mary Susan Kennedy stopped by and spoke to David Briggs, Fifth Third President, and Branch Manager Brittany Dillard about the services the new bank offers…

Runyon Takes to the Field (MSM)

As a junior at Hampshire Unit School, if Adi Runyon wanted to hit the ball and touch ‘em all – as John Fogerty so famously sang in “Centerfield” – she had two options:

• Play softball at Mt. Pleasant on a co-op basis, since Hampshire does not have the sport among its athletic offerings; or

• Play baseball with the Hawks.

After doing the former for the previous two seasons, continuing a softball career that began when she was 4 years old, the multi-sport athlete opted for the latter this year – making her first start Tuesday night as she and her Hampshire schoolmates took on visiting Fayetteville.

And while the outcome wasn’t favorable, the experience was priceless.

“I wanted to try it, just to see how much I liked it,” Runyon said following her first start Tuesday night. “I like it a lot. I’m having a lot of fun.”

Batting eighth and playing second base, Runyon handled a couple of ground balls, gloved a line drive but made a throwing error trying to double a Tiger baserunner off first base, and struck out in each of her at-bats before being lifted in the fifth and final inning of a 22-4 loss.

“I thought she made the routine plays,” fourth-year coach Blake Rochelle said following the loss, which dropped the Hawks to 0-6. “That’s that we’re asking our guys to do. We’ve got to make a better throw on the lineout, but we’re making steps in the right direction.

“She’s still learning. It’s a lot different game, a lot more ground to cover. The bases are shorter and the field is smaller in softball. I thought she did a good job. We asked her to fill a big role, and she did a good job, I think.”

Despite all the change that comes with Runyon’s switch, she said she’s more comfortable – and her mom, Chessica, agreed.

“She’s best friends with a lot of these boys on the team and they talked her up about playing baseball with ‘em, and she decided to take a chance,” Chessica said. “We like to be at home. We know all these people. This is our community, our family.”

As a freshman and as a sophomore, Runyon – who plays volleyball and basketball as well – was the only player from Hampshire on the Mt. Pleasant softball team, adding to the isolation.

“I’m a lot closer to the people on this team than I was,” she said.

That support has been in place from the start.

“She’s not a boy, but she’s just one of the brothers,” Hampshire junior outfielder Cameron Marrisett said. “It takes a lot of courage for a girl to take the step from the softball field to the baseball field. Not many people do that. I think everyone’s proud and full of love for her.

“She’s athletic, she puts 100 percent into it. As long as anyone gives 100 percent, that’s all we can ask for. We all support it. She’s just like one of us.”

The transition has been a quick one for Runyon, who only decided to try out for the team in February.

“She talked to me before basketball was over about coming out here,” Rochelle said. “Once it was over, she came out here. We thought she’s got some skill and talent to fill a role, and I thought she did that (Tuesday).”

Gripping the smaller ball for throws and adjusting to the downward flight of overhand pitches from a mound at the plate has posed a challenge for Runyon, but she’s battling.

“I’ve had a lot of fun,” she said. “I was nervous at first, but I’ve had a lot of fun.”

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

Mr. Jack M. Westmoreland, 92, retired from Monsanto and a resident of Culleoka, died Tuesday at his residence. Funeral services for Mr. Westmoreland will be conducted Saturday at 10:00 AM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Friendship Cemetery. The family will visit with friends Friday from 4:00 PM until 8:00 PM at the funeral home.

Mrs. Nancy Hamilton Fitzgerald, 89, resident of Murfreesboro and the wife of Freddie Fitzgerald, died Monday, March 11th at Alive Hospice in Murfreesboro. A memorial service will be conducted Saturday, March 23rd at 2:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. The family will visit with friends Saturday from 12:00 noon until time of the services at the funeral home.

…And now, news from around the state…

Franchise Tax Moves Forward (Tennessean)

A bill that would create $1.9 billion in franchise tax breaks and refunds for businesses operating in Tennessee is headed to the Senate floor – despite the Lee administration not releasing information about the source of legal threats over existing law.

Republicans have pushed through the legislation in the Senate, while Democrats have questioned whether the governor’s private business could potentially benefit from the legislation and unsuccessfully sought a revenue-neutral fix.

If approved, the Senate Bill 2103 would change the method by which the state charges franchise taxes to businesses, eliminating the property tax calculation — a move that’s expected to cost the state $400 million in revenue beginning this year. 

The governor’s bill also includes $1.5 million for franchise tax refunds for businesses who have recently paid based on property tax, which could include the Lee Company, which the governor helped lead for decades and still owns in a blind trust.

Members of the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee approved the bill in a 9-1 party-line vote on Tuesday. It now moves to the full Senate for a vote. The bill has not yet moved in the House, but is scheduled in the House Finance Subcommittee next week, according to a House Republican Caucus spokesperson.

While presenting the bill Tuesday, Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, said the bill solves a pressing threat of legal action over the state’s existing franchise tax law that was “raised by a national law firm” and “serious enough to cause departments to confer” on the legislation. 

“We have come up with a solution to a serious constitutional challenge,” Yager said. “We have come up with a logical plan to address a serious challenge. There’s a front-end cost to this, of course, but as somebody once told me a long time ago, Mr. Chairman, the hardest thing to know what to do is to cut your losses and move on.”

Yager said the bill “does away with the uncertainty of litigation” which could “result in an adverse decision that would include millions of dollars in attorney’s fees, court expenses, among other things.” He also argued the bill aligns Tennessee’s franchise tax structure with neighboring states and provides “equitable tax relief to companies that have invested in Tennessee.” 

While the retroactive tax refunds were initially projected to cost the state $1.2 billion, fiscal analysts have since determined that if every one of the 100,000 businesses expected to be eligible for the refunds took advantage of them, it could cost up to $1.5 billion. 

The Lee administration has sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee pledging to include funding for the roughly $300 million difference in the governor’s budget amendment, funding the difference with interest earning growth that occurred since the budget was developed in November. 

“I consider that a funding letter that says it’s funded,” Senate Finance Committee Chair Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said. 

“The problem is, Mr. Chairman, that the funding letter is pretty deficient,” said Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, noting that the number was estimated two months ago. “I don’t know why would think that the fiscal year ‘24 interest is going to increase by $300 million dollars.” 

During the same meeting, Watson said that according to the Department of Revenue, the state has collected $437.6 million less than anticipated during the first seven months into the fiscal year, resulting in nearly a -1% growth rate. Watson warned that if things don’t change, the state will have to cover the funding gap, if it continues, when the legislature returns next January. 

Lee told reporters Friday that he does not know whether his family’s business, the Lee Company, will financially benefit from the franchise tax break. 

“I do not know whether they would or whether they would not,” Lee said Friday. “That's not available to me and it won’t be.” 

Welcome back to Southern Middle Tennessee Today!

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Celebrate Easter a little early this weekend with egg hunts in the park, Easter-themed parties downtown and more.

Destiny Church will host its Easter at The Park starting at 11 a.m. at Maury County Park, which is set to be a fun-filled family-friendly day. Activities will include an Easter egg hunt, bike giveaways, inflatables and more.

Columbia Parks and Recreation will host its annual Operation: EGG hunt at Woodland Park, 821 W. 9th St. starting at 9 a.m. Saturday. The hunt will feature two areas of exploration for novices and advanced gatherers.

To round out this weekend's Easter events, aMuse'Um Children's Museum, 123 W. 7th St., will host its Hoppening Easter Party starting at 1 p.m. Sunday. Activities will include story time, Easter treats, crafts and photos with the Easter Bunny.

Tickets are $15 for members and $20 for non-members. The aMuse'um event is currently sold out, but families can join the waitlist by emailing kids@amuseumcolumbia.com.


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