Education Committee hears tax options

By Angie Mayes

Mt. Juliet News Correspondent

Wilson County Commissioner Lauren Breeze brought information about educational impact fees to the Wilson County Education Committee meeting Thursday night.

“I talked about educational impact fees at the last meeting,” Breeze said. “This is a summary from the County Powers Relief Act, which we’re not under because we are under a private act for the [adequate facilities tax].”

The County Powers Relief Act said, “a county that levied a development tax or impact fee with a private act under previous law cannot levy a school facilities tax authorized by the act, so long as they are levying and collecting a development tax or impact fee under the authority of the private act.”

Breeze said if Wilson County tried to create an educational impact fee like Williamson County did, “that would take us out under our private act and put us under the County Powers Relief Act, which would restructure how we do [adequate facilities tax] in general.”

She said if the commissioners “wanted to explore the idea of an impact fee, we could increase the [adequate facilities tax]” and designate [the extra tax money] for schools.

“We could use money that way for building improvements and to work on facility improvements that was given to us by schools.”

If the adequate facilities tax was raised from its current level, the extra amount of money would go into the educational fund balance, Breeze said.

Youth Links will no longer be a part of Wilson County Schools, according to Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright.

The program will now be a part of the Tennessee Workforce Development System, she said.

“They’ve consolidated programs,” she said. “If you remember several years ago, they did that with the adult high schools and several other programs. They collapse them around the state in different regions. That’s what we’re seeing right now with Youth Links.”

She asked for approval for other lines of the account. Listed on the sheet was a $66,382 increase, which included $750 for unemployment and $65,632 for other supplies.

The expenditures included $9,000 for clerical; $53,500 for other salaries; $2,879 for Social Security; $94 for state retirement; and $909 for Medicare. The items were reclassified per the grant guidelines by the granting agency, according to the report.

Also included in Wright’s requests was a capital outlay transfer of $400,000 to the school system’s fund balance.

The money will be used for small wares for Gladeville Middle School. That will include pots, pans, utensils and other small items to be used in the kitchen.

Also included was the repainting and refreshing of some school kitchens, to install a card-entry system for school cafeterias, which is part of the Wilson County Schools safety program. A state safety grant was used to buy keyless entries at all of the schools that did not have them, Wright said.

The final project that would be paid for out of the transfer is the renovation of the serving and eating areas at Wilson Central High School. Included in that will be the replacement of aging tables and chairs.

“The serving and eating areas are nearly 20 years old and are in need of these improvements,” Wright said. “Wilson Central is our oldest high school.”

Justice offers city funding options

By Angie Mayes

Mt. Juliet News Correspondent

Mt. Juliet Commissioner Ray Justice gave an optional city funding presentation to a proposed property tax increase Friday at a Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce meeting.

Justice told the crowd of various options to fund the fire department and help fund infrastructure needs.

The original proposal from city staff was a property tax increase to a total of 59 cents, which would be broken down to 39 cents specifically given to fire department needs and 20 cents directed to infrastructure projects.

“In 2011, Wilson County passed a resolution that stated Wilson County would not cover the fire services for the city of Mt. Juliet above what they were currently providing,” Justice said in his presentation. “Any enhancement to the city of Mt. Juliet’s fire coverage by the city itself would result in the city having to take over all fire services. The funding of this project would fall to the city taxpayers to fund. Our taxpayers had to have fire service. It had to be funded.”

He said the tax rate for the city of Mt. Juliet was not lowered, although the service was no longer provided.

It was lowered from 20 cents to 16 cents in the past due to reappraisal of properties, according to Mayor Bill Hagerty in a Mt. Juliet City Commission meeting a few months ago.

“The current property tax funds the Mt. Juliet Fire Department,” Justice said in the presentation. “[We have the] lowest city property tax rate in Wilson County. [The] proposed city property tax rate increases to 59 cents or 39 cents would still be lowest city tax in Wilson County.”

The current property tax on a $150,000 home is $62 per year. On a $300,000 home, it is $125. On a $500,000 home, it is $208.

“The current budget deficit for [the fire department for] fiscal year 2018-2019 is $450,000,” he said. “[For the] 2019-2020 projected [fire department] budget deficit at the .1664-cent property tax rate is $565,000. [The] majority of property tax revenue is received between December and February. Depleting reserves creates cash flow problems from July to November. [The] current plan for construction and operational cost of additional fire station is why we are having these discussions.”

To build a proposed fire hall on the north side of the city near the new Green Hill High School, the cost is estimated to be $4.138 million, while operating costs would be just less than $2 million.

Justice said there are additional needs for the fire department. An increase of funding would help the department “close existing budget deficit [of $565,000], add staffing for at least one ladder company [at 12 personnel with four per shift]; critical need based on increasing number of multi-story facilities, including assisted living complexes; staffing could be phased in over time.”

Also, the city would need to replace self-contained breathing apparatus and turnout gear, replace the Center City fire station behind city hall and replace squad 103 and engine 104 in 2023. The need to add staffing for a dedicated shift commander of three personnel with one per shift, and replace compressor and radios, Justice said in the presentation.

Justice said under the first option, which was previously proposed, the city would raise taxes. To fully fund the current operation, it would levy a 23.5-cent tax increase. To fund the operations of the north station, the cost would be an additional 11 cents. To cover the additional needs for the north station, and then the City Center station would cost 4.25 cents, for a total of 39 cents.

The increase for a $150,000 home would be $84, which would bring the total to $146. For a 300,000 home, the cost would be an additional $168, which would bring the total to $293 and for a $500,000 home, the increase would be an additional $280 to $488.

A second option would be to increase the tax rate to 59 cents. That would increase the tax rate for $150,000 from $159 to $221. For a $300,000 home, the increase would be $318 to $443. For a $500,000 home, the increase would be $530 to $738.

Other options include a sales tax increase from 9.25 percent to 9.75 percent, which would generate an estimated $555,000 annually. That would require a public referendum to pass or fail the measure. Last year, Wilson County proposed an increase by referendum, but voters rejected it by about 2,000 votes.

There could be general fund transfers to cover deficit. The general fund supports all other city departments and includes current transfers to state street aid fund, debt service fund, and capital projects fund, Justice said.

Impact fees are also an option, Justice said.

“Impact fees for infrastructure are very common for cities and counties,” he said. “Justification studies are underway to determine actual cost of growth. [We can use] per-capita costs of growth. Williamson County recently was allowed to implement and take advantage of [an] impact fee by the courts.”

The newest option is to use half of the hotel-motel tax that guests pay in their bill and is collected by the hotel or motel. The funds were originally dedicated to parks capital improvements, Justice said.

“[It is] now bringing in about $800,000 per year,” Justice said in his presentation. “A cap of $400,000 would continue to be dedicated to capital parks projects. The remaining $400,000 would be directed to the fire department to help offset the current deficit.”

Fees for infrastructure are about $1.8 million.

“TDOT has announced four projects being placed in the three-year plan for Mt. Juliet-west Wilson County, all as a result of the IMPROVE Act,” he said.

That includes an interchange at Central Pike, right-of-way acquisition on Lebanon Road and right-of-way acquisition on South Mt. Juliet Road, from Central Pike to Providence Drive, according to the presentation.

“The total cost for road and greenway projects between 2020 and 2024 is estimated to be $37,841,438,” Justice said.

The city projects nearly $17.1 million would come from state and federal grants, the presentation said. City funds for the projects are estimated to be nearly $19 million that would be spent in the next four years, according to the presentation.

For a project, the estimated costs, which would affect road projects are $75,000 for turn lanes, $180,000 for a red-light addition, $300,000 for a road widening and $70,000 for sidewalks along peripheral roadways, for a total of $625,000, Justice said. The per-home impact fee would be $2,500 and with the increase, would be used to help pay for infrastructure projects.

Boyd gives update on process to end emissions testing

State Rep. Clark Boyd gave an update on the ongoing process to end vehicle emissions testing in Wilson County and Middle Tennessee.

“One of the most common questions that I get from constituents in Wilson County is about the timeline for ending the vehicle emissions testing,” said Boyd, R-Lebanon. “Although we moved quickly last year to pass legislation at the state level, we are now discovering that the wheels of bureaucracy move somewhat slower as we wait on the various stages before going to the federal government for final approval.”

In 2018, Boyd co-sponsored House Bill 1782 – which received unanimous support from the General Assembly – to begin the process to end vehicle emissions testing with approval from the Environmental Protection Agency. Then-Gov. Bill Haslam signed the bill into law May 15, 2018.

Although all 95 counties have reached attainment status related to ozone, the state must maintain air quality and demonstrate to the EPA that elimination of the testing program will not interfere with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Currently, the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation is finalizing its analysis of whether the elimination of testing will interfere with NAAQS.

Once the phase is complete, the next phase will include briefing and receipt of approval from the state Air Pollution Control Board, a public hearing and comment required by federal law and the rulemaking process under state law, as well as a review by the attorney general and General Assembly. It is estimated the phase would be completed by spring 2020 and will then be submitted to the EPA for final approval. Once submitted, the EPA has up to 18 months to make its final approval.

“Although the steps involved in bringing emissions testing to an end are taking longer than we thought, it will be worth it when we can finally bring this time-consuming process of vehicle testing to an end,” Boyd said. “My hope is that the federal government will move as quickly as possible in approving our request.”

Boyd serves as chair of the House Consumer and Human Resources Committee and as a member of the Calendar and Rules, Commerce and Select Committees on Rules. He is also a member of the House Employee Affairs and House Utilities subcommittees. He represents House District 46, which includes Cannon and parts of Wilson and DeKalb counties.

Abston announces his resignation

By Angie Mayes

Mt. Juliet News Correspondent

Mt. Juliet Commissioner Brian Abston submitted his resignation Monday, effective May 24.

Abston, who represents District 4 in the city, said in a prepared statement he plans to move outside of the district.

“I have enjoyed working for the citizens of my district and all of Mt Juliet over the last six-and-a-half years,” he said. “It has also been my pleasure to work with the mayor and the other commissioners and the entire staff of the city of Mt. Juliet.

“Mt Juliet is a great place to be and where everyone should be proud to say they live. I hope to have left at least a small positive impact on this area.”

He said he and his family are, “moving to our dream home, but we will still be proud residents of Wilson County. I look forward to continuing serving alongside you all in a different capacity in the future.”

Abston started his second term on the commission after he defeated challenger Jim Bradshaw in the November municipal election. Abston served as commissioner since 2014 after he unseated Bradshaw that year.

County discusses sales tax increase

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

The idea of a sales tax increase referendum to help pay for county budget items was brought up again at the Wilson County Finance Committee meeting Thursday night.

Finance director Aaron Maynard presented some of the budget lines at the meeting when the idea of the referendum was again discussed.

“I guess the bottom line is, if we need more money, then we’re going to have to get more money,” said committee chair John Gentry. “So, it depends on how to get that money. When we need a new elementary school or middle school or jail or court system, it doesn’t grow on trees.”

Maynard agreed and said, “Don’t you guys wish, that with every step you’ve taken in life. Don’t you wish you can see it from a perspective of 10 years later. When the real estate market was in the dumps, and construction people were begging for work, that would have been a great time to be building like crazy. But that’s hindsight.”

Gentry said, “In my opinion, we started too late [on the sales tax education] to do the sell job. If we want to have a policy that says we want the sales tax, we have to do it early. To start it early, so we have a concerted effort.”

Maynard said the county commission chose to put the issue on the general election ballot, rather than have a special election. If county funds are spent, they can’t be spent in an advocacy way. They have to be spent in an education manner. I know people have complaints about that.

“We did the best we could under the circumstances that were presented, and I wish, before those 10,000 voters had voted [early], those educational pieces had been out there. Do I think it would have made a difference? Yea, I do.”

The measure failed to pass, with 27,424 people voting against the measure and 25,199 voting for it.

“[The failure] wasn’t from lack of effort on the part of the school system, on my part, on the mayor’s part,” Maynard said. “I worked as hard on that as I have for anything in my life.”

Gentry said, “The decision was made a little too late to get anything done. If we’re going to do it again, we’re going to have to get ahead of the game. We need to get ahead of the game and get it done. We need to make the decision early, whether it be from the budget committee, the finance committee, or someone has to bring the motion up.”

Gentry said he didn’t think a special election was the proper form for the referendum because, “we spend too much money [paying for election costs].”

Maynard said he understands the commissioners not wanting to hold a special election, but a special election could offer a “strategic” measure for the issue.

“We sat around for a while saying, ‘how will we fund a $110 million high school?” As we got down to the time where we didn’t have to have a tax increase, [Commissioner] Kenny Reich said, ‘We’re going to have future debt. How are we going to pay for that?’ That’s when he stood up in the commission meeting and said, ‘Hey, let’s put the sales tax on the next election,’” said Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto

Hutto said by the time the wording was approved for the ballot, the county had 54 days to educate the citizens.

“Williamson County did it in a general election, but they spent a year ahead of time, walking around and going to every city and asked every city there, ‘Hey, you give me your first three years’ of that 50 percent you get so we can help take care of these schools,” Hutto said. “That way, he sold it in each city, and those city people knew that ‘our money is going on the line for this, but we’re going to reap the benefits after year four, five, six and on down the line.’”

He said he talked to the Wilson County cities early on, but never received a commitment from them.

“I think in the time we had, 54 days, I think the people here were giving you a little message, saying ‘Hey, don’t raise my property tax, and maybe not the adequate facilities tax, but raise my sales tax,’” Hutto said. “You can choose to do that in 2020, if you want to do that. If you want to do that then this budget season is the time for somebody to say, ‘This is the way we want to go,’ and give us a year to educate the folks and say ‘Hey, I’ve got debt coming. Is this the way you want to pay for it?’ And we’ll go to work on that.”

City leaders present tax increase plan

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

About 25 citizens and 10 city leaders met Thursday night at the Mt. Juliet Police Department to present a proposed tax increase plan.

The proposed increase, which would bring the tax to 59 cents for every $100 of assessed property. The increase, like others, would be on all land, homes and businesses in the Mt. Juliet city limits.

Thirty-nine cents of the proposed rate would be earmarked and specifically used for the Fire Department of Mt. Juliet. Among the items it would pay for would be a fully equipped and manned fire station on the north side of the city.

Currently, the station in the center of the city behind City Hall, responds to the north side. The response time is more than nine minutes versus the response times for the central and south districts, which have stations in the area.

The other 20 cents would be used for infrastructure improvements and other costs.

After a 25-minute presentation, members of the public, as well as the city commission, talked about their ideas of an increase. No citizen in the room appeared to be for the increase, but some spoke to just get more information.

The current property tax rate is 16.64 cents. When the property tax was first levied, it was 20 cents, but due to reassessment of property two years ago, it was lowered so residents and business owners would not have to pay more.

On a $150,000 home, residents pay $62 per year. For a $300,000 home, the owners pay $125 per year. For a $500,000 home, they pay $208 per year.

Within the presentation, city finance director Dana Swinea laid out the proposal in a multi-page PowerPoint program. Mt. Juliet fire Chief Jamie Luffman and assistant public works director Andy Barlow also spoke about fire and transportation needs, respectively.

According to the presentation, the fire department’s budget is in a deficit of $450,000. Next year’s projected budget at the current tax rate, the deficit would increase to $565,000. The tax bills are mailed Oct. 1, and the majority of tax revenues come in between December and February.

The deficits are paid by the general fund, but Swinea said when that happens, there is less money for other departments. The current general fund balance is about $1.8 million, she said.

The location for a new fire hall scheduled for the north side isn’t finalized. There is a building pad that was created next to the new Green Hill High School, but it isn’t platted yet, so there is no option for the city to build the station on that land, according to City Manager Kenny Martin. He is also looking for other land, specifically a parcel, which could be donated to the city, he said.

Estimated costs for the new station are nearly $4.14 million, which would include construction, equipment and furnishings, fire apparatus equipment, radios, turnout gear and uniforms. That would be a one-time cost. The annual expenses, which would include payroll, maintenance, fuel, tires and other items come to nearly $1.2 million, Swinea said.

The recommended property tax rate to fund the fire department only would be 39 cents. Included in that number is 23.75 cents to fully fund the current operation, 11 cents to fund the operations of the north station, and then the center station itself would be 4.25 cents.

If the proposed 39-cent property tax increase is approved, owners of a $150,000 home would pay $84 more for a total of $146. For a $300,000 home, the payment would be $168 more for a total of $293. For a $500,000 home, the tax rate would be $280 more for a total of $488.

The Insurance Services Office rates fire departments by response times, hydrants, etc. Currently the city’s rating is a public protection rating of 5. Luffman said currently, the cost of insurance for a $150,000 home is $732. With a new station, insurance premiums could go from the $732 for a ISO of 5, to $600 for a ISO of 4 and $468 for the department’s goal of a ISO of 3. The rates depend on the age of the home and other factor, he said.

Mayor Ed Hagerty said he hasn’t seen a decrease in his rates when the ISO went from 6-7 to 5. He said he doubts there would be a decrease in insurance rates.

The additional 20 cents would be allocated for infrastructure projects. The city has a number of projects underway, including Lebanon Road widening, Old Lebanon Dirt Road widening, the Mt. Juliet Road bridge widening over Interstate 40, the new Central Pike interchange and Central Pike widening.

Some of the projects are mostly covered by grants, but the city will still have to pay its share of the project, based on grant rules. Although the presentation said the projects would cost $194 million with the city to pay $40 million, Barlow said he believed the cost would be much more.

With the full 59 cents approved, property tax rates for a $150,000 home would be an additional $159 for a total of $221 per year. For a $300,000 home, the rate would be an additional $318 a year for a total of $443. For a $500,000 home, the rate would be $530 more for a total of $738.

There are other potential funding sources such as holding a referendum for the citizens to vote on a sales tax increase from 9.25 percent to 9.75 percent. Wilson County recently held a referendum to do just that, and it was defeated.

The city could transfer money from the general fund. That fund supports all of the other city departments and includes current transfers to the state street aid fund, debt service fund and capital projects fund.

During the town hall meeting, there was heated discussion between Hagerty and Vice Mayor James Maness, Commissioner Ray Justice and Commissioner Brian Abston.

Justice said in 2011, the Wilson County Commission voted to basically force Mt. Juliet to start its own department, eliminating the use of the Wilson Emergency Management Agency covering fire protection within the city.

However, Justice said, the citizens still pay a tax within the county property tax rate for WEMA.

Hagerty said it’s is the same with other departments such as the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office.

“But the sheriff’s office has a jail and gives us the school resource officers,” Justice said.

Maness created a spreadsheet seven years ago that outlined estimated costs for the fire department during a five-year period.

Hagerty said many of the estimates were not accurate, and the revenues and expenses were higher than anticipated.

Abston said Hagerty shouldn’t blame Maness for his plan.

“He referenced equipment that was bought used, not leased like we do,” Abston said. “[Hagerty] voted for it, and we agreed to lease them at $300,000 a year.”

Abston said it was “not right to keep the level of service to the city. If we do nothing and the city has to lay off firefighters, [that would be a problem] if something were to catch on fire.”

Hagerty said, if the 39 cents rate were to go into effect, “you would be overtaxing the people, because we don’t even own the land for a future station. I’m not ready to put that burden on the people.”

After the meeting, Hagerty handed out a single-page flyer.

“This is not a revenue problem. There is a spending problem,” Hagerty’s flyer said. “The proposed property tax increase is from 16 cents to 59 cents, a proposed increase of almost four times. When created, it was promised that the new fire department would be a group of firefighters, that it would not become a bureaucracy like so many other government agencies.”

Hagerty said the spreadsheet prepared by Maness seven years ago, gave estimates of the revenue and expenses of the new department for the next five years.

“On the revenue side, we received tax revenue for the first year of $1.3 million, as predicted,” Hagerty said. “This year, it was nearly $2 million, an increase in funding of 42 percent in only five years. This was actually far above, far better than, the vice mayor’s projections. On the expense side, the department spent $2.6 million last year, rather than the projected $1.3 million as predicted by the vice mayor.”

Hagerty also said the department spent $1.9 million on payroll alone.

“If you take $1.9 million divided by 24 paid positions it equals $80,000 per person,” he said in the flyer. “That includes benefits, workman’s comp and more, which factors in a 41 percent add-on to salaries.”

He said the differences in firefighter ratings gave way to the various salaries throughout the department. Not everyone received $80,000. A firefighter 1’s salary tops out at $37,509, not including benefits. An engineer tops out at $51,813, not including benefits.

He also said the fire department bought four brand new fire trucks, “one at $800,000 is largely unused.” They also bought two “fully outfitted pickup trucks for part-time employees. The department has 11 vehicles and only eight people on duty at a time. [There is also] expensive equipment unused in a closet and now out of date.”

Hagerty’s solutions were to reduce spending and increase the sales tax that is paid by everyone, through a referendum.

A second town hall meeting will take place May 6 at 6:30 p.m. at Mt. Juliet City Hall, and Martin hopes more of the public will give their opinions.

Commissioners will vote on the 2019-20 budget in two meetings scheduled for May 13 and June 10.

Carafem weighs options after Mt. Juliet OKs zoning ordinance

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Carafem, a women’s health care clinic in Mt. Juliet, is weighing its options after the city approved a zoning change to move surgical abortion clinics from commercial activities zoning to industrial zones in March and April.

Carafem moved to Mt. Juliet to be close to Nashville and serve Middle Tennessee patients who needed health care or wanted an abortion. At the time, carafem planned to provide surgical and medicated abortions. After the city’s vote, it only provided the abortion pill, which could be given to patients up to 10 weeks pregnant.

“We are obviously disappointed that the city has decided to exercise its zoning authority for the political purpose of targeting abortion providers and specifically carafem, said Melissa Grant, chief operating officer with carafem. “We are considering a variety of options in moving forward and remain committed to our serving our mission in Tennessee.”

In March, Grant said, “carafem opened a reproductive health care and family planning center in [Mt. Juliet] to provide safe, convenient and affordable health care options with a licensed, quality health provider to serve women in Tennessee. The health center offers early abortion care up to 10 weeks with the medical abortion pill, STI testing, a wide selection of birth control options – such as IUDs, birth control implants, Depo Provera shots, birth control pills and emergency contraception.”

Among other things, the ordinance, which passed on first reading in March, said, “[surgical abortion clinics] shall be located within 1,000 feet [measured property line to property line] of any church, public or private school ground, college campus, public park or recreation facility, public library, child care facilities or a lot zoned residentially or devoted primarily to residential use.”

Also allowed in the industrial zone are scrap operations; warehousing goods, transport and storage; wholesale sales; waste disposal services, manufacturing and automotive parking.

The clinic moved to Mt. Juliet and opened without securing the appropriate permits to become an actual business, according to Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty.

After the March meeting, Hagerty said, “What we did tonight is we amended the zoning ordinance. That’s something that municipal governments do from time to time. We amended the zoning ordinance to what you heard me read into the record with all of the changes being proposed to be changed in our zoning ordinance and we did that by unanimous vote.”

Hagerty said the business that prompted the zoning change, carafem, opened without the city’s knowledge.

“They’ve made no application to the city of any sort, so I don’t know [about the clinic],” he said at the time. “I have read that stuff in different media publications, but I have no first-hand knowledge because they have made not application to the city, so I don’t even know what business you’re referring to, nor what zone class they apply that they would like to apply to be in. They have not applied for any inspection or any application of any sort.”

Hagerty said not applying for permits was “not normal. They would do that in advance. For example, just so you know what zoning means, if you live in a subdivision and one of your neighbors wants to open up a gas station, they can’t do that. That would infringe on your rights as a property owner. We have zoning in our city and every city, so that uses are proper. All we did tonight is what we do time to time, is change and modify the zoning ordinance.”

Before the March vote, District 4 Commissioner Brian Abston said, “I was disgusted to hear they plan to open in my district and my town. I realize they have rights, but my constituents and I don’t want it here. I am pro-life so I will take any action possible within the law to make sure it’s not here.”

Carafem chief operating officer Melissa Grant said the Nashville area, specifically Mt. Juliet, was selected as the location for the nonprofit’s fourth abortion clinic after an increase in the number of women who traveled to its Atlanta clinic for services. Grant said about 5 percent of the women who seek abortions at the Atlanta clinic come from the Nashville area.

When asked about local opposition to the clinic, Grant said carafem is concerned with support of women’s rights over their own health.

“Carafem health supports a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her personal health care. Studies of abortion services worldwide found that abortion-related deaths are rare in countries where the procedure is legal, accessible and performed early in pregnancy by skilled providers. Carafem encourages women to make health decisions together with their family and their physician that are based on medically accurate information. Carafem staff is available 24-7 to answer questions and provide information about the safety and availability of abortion care with carafem. Carafem provides safe, quality medical care that follows all applicable state and local laws,” Grant said.

As abortion is a politically charged topic that has a history of violence against clinics and doctors, Mt. Juliet police stepped up security in the area in March. It was an effort Capt. Tyler Chandler said would ensure safety for everyone.

“Once we were made aware of the heightened activity surrounding the clinic’s location in our city, which we learned from a news article, we educated our staff, placed a surveillance camera tower nearby and instructed officers to provide extra patrol. Our department has a duty to remain neutral and ensure everyone is safe,” Chandler said at the time.

Ministers and others have protested outside of the building that houses the clinic. They have used bullhorns to protest, but city officials asked them to turn them down so they wouldn’t disturb hotel guests and business employees nearby, according to Mt. Juliet City Manager Kenny Martin.

In March, Hagerty said he does not know if the clinic will sue the city regarding the rezoning ordinance.

“I have no idea,” Hagerty said. “That’s an issue they’ll have to take up.”

Fireworks show a go in Mt. Juliet after all

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

A fireworks show will take place in Mt. Juliet this year after all, but the issue didn’t come without controversy.

Needam’s Nursey owner Tom Needham said his business hold a private fireworks show near Providence. He made the announcement at the Mt. Juliet City Commission meeting last Monday night.

“A couple of weeks ago, [City Manager Kenny Martin] canceled the fireworks show with no explanation,” Needham said. “Then, I started hearing Kenny’s explanation. No parking. No fall-out zone. No safety zone. I got to looking at my newspapers from last year and saw [the fireworks show] took place down at the south end of Providence.”

Last year, Martin said the event took place at the current AtHome property next to Academy Sports.

Needham said, “[It has] the very best parking. On June 22, 2018, [Martin] said, ‘I’m positive, we’ll have this great place for next year.’ When I started hearing that, I thought maybe these people who owned this private property canceled it and want’s nothing to do with us.”

Needham said he called Dale McCullough, a representative from Jones Brothers who owns land in the area who said he’d be glad to offer his property for the show. McCullough also said Martin did not call McCullough to ask if the city could use his property for the show.

“The next area was owned by the Boyle Group,” Needham said. “Now, the Boyle Group has been a very important part of our community. They have been good to our community.”

He said the person he called with the Boyle Group said they would agree to play host to the show on their land and added Martin didn’t call to ask about using the land this year.

“Me and my wife have put up our $10,000 in a GoFundMe account,” Needham said. “Anyone else who wants to contribute can go to my Facebook page and contribute.”

Needham said he called Commissioner Ray Justice last year, but Justice didn’t call him back.

Needham said the show, which will begin at 9 p.m., will take place on the Boyle Group property at the south end of Providence.

During commissioner’s comments, Justice said, “Kenny is my friend, and I’m extremely loyal to him. For Mr. Needham to come out here and then walk out afterwards, shows what kind of class he has. His comments were unfortunate. They were reckless, and he was completely misinforming the public when he got up there and spoke.

“This is something [Needham is] well known for. He has, over the years, claimed that he has provided the fireworks to the city when, in fact, we have voted for [them]. It has been in our budget, and we have paid $30,000 for the fireworks. If Mr. Needham has paid for those fireworks, I haven’t seen a receipt. He may very well have. I’m not saying he hasn’t.

“I just think his comments, his remarks and his attitude is a direct reflection on another reason why we do not need to be involved with Mr. Needham and his fireworks event. I think his comments and attitude cast a bad light on the city of Mt. Juliet. I’m extremely disappointed.”

Justice then praised Martin and said, “I really don’t appreciate somebody coming in here and jumping him like this.”

In other business, Commissioner Art Giles announced the fifth-annual Ride Mt. Juliet will be May 5 at the Music City Star train station at the corner of Division Street and North Mt. Juliet Road.

“This has been a fun thing for the last few years,” Giles said. “Kids chase a fire truck. The police are riding in it. Families ride. We go from the park to the police department, and we go down Woodridge and Golden Bear Parkway to Clemmons and Division and back [to the train station].”

The path is about 5.8 miles, Giles said, and the event “is a lot of fun. There are a lot of giveaways.”

Among those is a children’s Trek bicycle donated by Biker’s Choice. Children 12 and younger can register for a chance to win the bike, Giles said. This year, there will also be 50 helmets for the first 50 children who arrive, he said.

Budget panel OKs medical examiner’s rate hike

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

An increase in salary for the Wilson County medical examiner was a controversial issue for years, but the Wilson County Budget Committee brought it up again Thursday night.

State law mandates each county have at least one medical examiner, according to county finance director Aaron Maynard. The medical examiner is required to be a medical doctor.

“In 2017, we had 277 [fatalities,] and last year, we had 236,” said medical examiner Dr. Scott Giles. “It’s becoming harder and harder for myself and [co-worker Jacob Cook], who are the primary investigators at this time, to have time to set aside.”

He said he has a couple of investigators who are interested in helping, but they have jobs. Giles requested the amount per day for an investigator to be on a 24-hour call be raised to $200 a day. For a call that involved a death, they would not be paid extra, Giles said.

“[The $200 a day] comes out less than $10 an hour,” Giles said. “If the investigator gets one call or five, they’re paid the same. I think this is the most equitable way to go about it.”

The total additional funding was $50,000, Maynard said.

“We basically had a salary line for the county coroner which was incorrect because he’s really not on our payroll. We basically shuffled the other line items around to contracted services,” said Maynard.

The medical examiner’s office has not had an increase in budget in years, Maynard said.

“We’ve debated this three times,” he said. “Dr. Giles has brought three different proposals.

Autopsies have increased in cost, but there has been no increase in salary.”

Commissioner William Glover said the budget was increased each year.

“Unless we computed one-and-a-half percent when we did the budget, they haven’t had a budget increase,” Maynard said.

Giles said the amount hasn’t increased, but because the number of deaths has increased, the funding was increased.

“I just saw that three years ago. It went up quite a bit,” Glover said. “Two years ago and last year, it was adjusted.”

Maynard said the autopsy budget line item was increased because “We never had enough money for autopsies.

“I don’t recall us raising any of the lines when it comes to actual cost of the medical examiner,” Maynard said.

Giles said the funding started out at “$75 a body, and as the volume increased, we asked for $125 a body. It’s been that way for at least 10 or more years.”

Commissioner Kenny Reich said, “I know people who work at the hospital that don’t get that kind of money.”

The total cost would be $73,000, which would be $200 a day,for 365 days a year. If they were paid per death, they would get $125 per body.

“If we go to a four-fatality wreck on the interstate, that’s $500,” Giles said. “I have investigators who are interested, but they say, ‘I’m sitting at home and not getting paid. Why am I doing this?’ I want to add two more investigators.”

Glover said he believes, “We ought to look at the numbers and see what other counties are doing. We need you, but that’s a lot of money to add on.”

Giles said he does not charge to sign death certificates or cremation permits. Other medical examiners in other counties charge for that, he said.

The commissioners approved the request, but Glover voted against it.

Education Committee talks impact fees

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Wilson County Commissioner Lauren Breeze brought up educational impact fees to the Wilson County Education Committee on Thursday night at its meeting.

An educational impact fee is imposed on new buildings built to help pay for increased educational costs due to the impacts new residents make on the county’s school system.

She referenced an attempt Williamson County made to put educational impact fees into place and the lawsuit from builders that ensued. The suit ended last week with the court offering a summary judgement that said Williamson County had the right to impose the fees on new structures.

“As I understand it, [Williamson County] is going to wait, because it could potentially go to appeal,” she said. “But that opens the door to the idea of educational impact fees, which would, if we looked at this for Wilson County, allow growth to pay for growth.”

She said Williamson County hired an external firm to do a study on the issue. With the study, it allowed the county to set up the fee structure scale.

The money would allow Wilson County to pay for expenses it incurs due to growth-based new building. The school board approved a capital outlay plan for future projects of $678 million, according to Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall.

“This would be a revenue stream, so we could start doing some of that work,” she said. “And making sure we would stay on top of the population growth and be proactive, rather than reactive. I would like to be able to at least take a look at what our options are.”

Breeze said there are questions that need to be answered before the county attempts to impose an educational impact fee.

“We need to know whether Williamson County has an [adequate facilities tax], or just an educational impact fee,” she said. “We need to look at whether we can have an [adequate facilities tax] and an educational impact fee. If we could, then you could use the [adequate facilities tax] to fund other projects like fire stations, jails, court buildings and so on. The educational impact fee would just pay for schools.”

Commissioner Annette Stafford said, “It sounds great, but anytime you’re talking about adding an additional tax, you’re barking up the wrong tree. You can definitely throw it out there, and we can all talk about it, but the adequate facilities tax was supposed to be for part of that. When you start talking about adding another tax to the Wilson County people, you’ll have a different breed of folks coming out.”

Breeze said she understood, but the county needs to find a way to pay for growth.

“This would be a way,” she said. “It would be a one-time fee. It would be exactly like [the adequate facilities tax] when you build a new home, but it would be specifically for schools and deal with the school growth. We need to do some more study, but I’d at least like to investigate the idea.”

Stafford referred to the “drama and things we had with the [adequate facilities tax]. You don’t know the teeth we had to pull. It took a long time.”

Commissioner Bobby Franklin said Williamson County was raising impact fees “from the hot areas and devoting it to the whole school system. The law in Tennessee has always, in reference to adequate facilities taxes and impact fees, required that the impact fee be close to the actual impact. In other words, you can’t take impact fees out of Mt. Juliet and build a school in Watertown or Lebanon.”

County fixes two items in audit report

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

The state comptroller of the treasury recently conducted an audit of Wilson County’s finances and budget for the prior fiscal year and found two minor accounting issues.

The state office performs the audit each year, according to Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto.

“There were two findings this year,” Hutto said. “They have to do with the finance department. The first one was the finance department didn’t file a report on debt obligation with the comptroller’s office. Anytime you have debt, you have to let them know.”

The issue stems from a lease-purchase of school-related items. The total was $66,840, and the contract started in September 2017.

“After 45 days, the county must provide the information with the comptroller’s office,” Hutto said. “We didn’t consider it since we were paying it over three years. We didn’t consider it debt obligation. Once it was pointed out, we went back to the county commission, presented the information, and we took care of it.”

The second finding was that the finance department had accounting deficiencies, which stemmed from the prior year’s balances that were not cleared from the budgeting ledger.

“It looked like another payment,” Hutto said. “There was rural debt service that was $7,885, general fund that was $5,229 and highway public funds in the amount of $35,000. Those should have been cleared out. It looked like we had more money than we actually had.”

Hutto said the next step is to have the state auditors go before the Wilson County Audit Committee and explain the audit.

“We’ve already filed our letter of intent to correct,” Hutto said. “We have so many days to correct it, and we have to state how we corrected the findings. We’ve already briefed the commission at the last commission meeting. We’ll talk to them at a committee meeting after the audit committee hears the explanation.”

Hutto said with a $300 million budget, “the findings were small increments. But we don’t want any findings, and we’ll always continue to work toward that. The findings have been noted and corrected. We’ll do our best to not have any next year. [Finance director] Aaron Maynard and assistant finance director Sharon Lackey do a tremendous job of juggling the finances when we work day to day and live off tax receipts. They don’t always come in on time.”

Hutto said the county improved its bond rating to an AA+ and strive for an AAA bond rating.

“We passed a resolution to make sure the county’s fund balance does not go before $8 million unless there’s a two-thirds majority vote of the county commission,” he said. “That’s a good thing. We’ve made lots of strides in the different areas of the finance department. Our department heads and elected officials turn money back to the general fund each year. It’s about $2 million they turn back. We work hard at saving money and not spending everything we get.”

Liquor tax hearing scheduled

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Attorneys for Wilson County Schools and Mt. Juliet will face off in a hearing Nov. 14 in Wilson County chancery court regarding a lawsuit that involves liquor taxes the county said Mt. Juliet owes the school system.

Attorneys were scheduled to meet in court to set a date Wednesday but decided to forego that meeting and agreed to a hearing date themselves.

The issue goes back to 2014, when Wilson County Schools sued Mt. Juliet for a portion of the back-tax revenue to Wilson County Schools.

According to court filings from 2014, Wilson County Schools said it should receive the back funds and would then pay a portion of the money to Lebanon Special School District. The amount paid to both school systems is based on the daily average attendance, as recognized by the Tennessee Board of Education, according to court records.

When the school board sued Mt. Juliet in 2014 for the back taxes, Mt. Juliet cited state court rulings that went back to 1883 that said cities didn’t have to pay the taxes to county schools. The city alleged the school board had no authority to sue the city, but the Wilson County Commission, which is the governing body in the county, could sue for the funds.

The filing paperwork said the city is required by state law to collect 15 percent of all liquor-by-the-drink revenues. That money is supposed to be divided by 50 percent, according to suit paperwork. Fifty percent goes to the city and the other half goes to the schools.

Lebanon also didn’t pay its fair share to Wilson County Schools but eventually agreed to pay the back taxes during a 10-year period, according to court records.

The school board discovered the lack of payments in 2013, according to court records. Mt. Juliet paid part of what it owed, nearly $31,000, but still owed the school board nearly $450,000, court records said.

The payment amount was determined by the daily average attendance percentage of tax revenue collected, and the court said Mt. Juliet should pay the amount from the inception of the liquor-by-the-drink tax until June 30, 2013.

In a filing from 2014, Mt. Juliet attorneys said the county was not eligible to collect a portion of the tax revenues because liquor-by-the-drink statutes were not passed in the county, but rather in the cities. They said the liquor-by-the-drink taxes were not passed in the unincorporated county areas, therefore, the school board was not entitled to a portion of the tax revenues.

Mt. Juliet filed a motion to dismiss in 2015, but it was denied. In the motion, the city offered other lawsuits in the state it considered precedent where judges ruled in the defendant’s favor.

A 2018 judgment by Chancellor C.K. Smith denied Mt. Juliet’s motion for summary judgment, and Wilson County Schools was eligible to receive the money.

The amount of unremitted revenue was to be determined in a future evidentiary hearing, the order said.

In October, the Mt. Juliet City Commission agreed to offer a $325,000 settlement to the school board. The school board denied the offer at its November meeting.

City Manager Kenny Martin said the city is currently paying the necessary liquor-by-the-drink tax revenue to the school system.

County honors former Judge John Gwin

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

A highlight of Monday night’s Wilson County Commission meeting was a proclamation to honor former Wilson County Judge John T. Gwin, who retired at the end of 2018.

In the proclamation, sponsored by commissioners Bobby Franklin and Justin Smith, Gwin’s background as a private family law attorney and position as Wilson County’s first family court judge was highlighted.

“For the past 10 years, he has capably and compassionately presided over Wilson County general sessions court Division III with domestic relations, probate, juvenile and mental health jurisdiction,” the proclamation said. “He also served with distinction as Mt. Juliet municipal judge for 15 years prior to being elected to the general sessions court.

“Firmly committed to giving back to his community, Judge Gwin embodies and personifies the term ‘public servant.’”

The full commission endorsed the proclamation, and a copy was given to Gwin and his wife, Pat.

The commission held a 30-minute meeting Monday. The meeting was short due to a lack of resolutions, as well as no old or new business to discuss.

In other business, commissioners voted to set the speed limit on Crossroads Drive from Saundersville Ferry Road to the dead end at 25 mph.

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said he reappointed Larry Bowers to the LaGuardo Utility District board of commissioners. The appointment did not need to be voted on by the commission, but it was announced because the appointment needed to be noted in the meeting minutes, Hutto said.

Various committee reports were approved during the meeting, including the sheriff’s office report given by Deputy Chief Mike Owen; the schools report given by Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright; and the Wilson Emergency Management Agency report given by WEMA director Joey Cooper.

Carafem clinic gets permits to operate

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

The carafem clinic, which is described as a women’s health clinic, received the necessary permits from the city of Mt. Juliet to operate at 5002 Crossings Circle in Mt. Juliet.

However, it will not be able to perform surgical abortions as it originally intended to do, according to Mt. Juliet planner Jennifer Hamblen.

The clinic opened March 1 and originally didn’t get the proper permits to open. The Mt. Juliet City Commission met in a special session March 4 and voted to restrict commercial zoning to not include surgical abortions. A surgical abortion clinic would have to be in an area zoned industrial, if it chose to operate in the city.

By state law, the proposed rezoning has to go before the Mt. Juliet Planning Commission, which it will do Thursday night. Then, the city commission would again have to approve the rezoning.

In the meantime, the clinic is open for women’s health procedures, excluding surgical abortions. Even though surgical abortions are not permitted in the zoning, abortions with a medical abortion pill can still be performed, according to state law.

“Mifeprex is the brand name for the drug referred to, and it is FDA approved for use in clinics but not dispensed in pharmacy. It’s been in use in the U.S. since 2000 with updated guidelines in 2016,” said Tennessee Department of Health spokesperson Elizabeth Hart.

The day of the city commission’s special-called meeting to rezone the clinic, a carafem spokesman said, “carafem opened a reproductive health care and family planning center in the Nashville metro area to provide safe, convenient and affordable health care options with a licensed, quality health provider to serve women in Tennessee. The health center offers early abortion care up to 10 weeks with the medical abortion pill, STI testing, a wide selection of birth control options such as IUDs, birth control implants, Depo Provera shots, birth control pills and emergency contraception.”

“With one-in-four women in the U.S. who will choose to have an abortion before the age of 45, carafem remains committed to ensuring that she has access to a safe, affordable medical care. We are proud to continue our mission to allow a woman to decide when and if she is ready to become a parent. Our doors remain open to serve clients in Mt. Juliet.”

Citizens and others opposed to abortion plan to peacefully protest this weekend, according to social media posts.

Protests are planned for Friday at 10 a.m. and Saturday at 10 a.m. The information is on the Hip Mt. Juliet Against Abortion Facebook page. There are posts on the page from pro-life and pro-choice Wilson County residents, as well as people from other areas.

The protests will take place in the public areas in front of the Providence Pavilion building that houses carafem at 5002 Crossings Circle in Mt. Juliet.

Mt. Juliet planners vote to rezone surgical abortion clinics

The Mt. Juliet Planning Commission on Thursday night approved a recommendation to the Mt. Juliet City Commission to rezone surgical abortion clinics from commercial to industrial.

The matter was placed on consent agenda at the planning meeting because that’s what happens with rezoning issues, according to city planner Jennifer Hamblen. The consent agenda is a grouping of various measures that are voted on in a single vote, rather than each item individually.

That matter pleased the sparse crowd, especially resident Bill Houston.

“At a clinic like that, two people go in and only one comes out,” he said. “This should not be in Mt. Juliet. It should be in Nashville, where most people would go to it.”

No one spoke for or against any item on the consent agenda when the time came for citizen comment.

By state law, the rezoning had to go before the city’s planning commission. Now that the planners approved it, the matter must once again go before the city commission.

In the meantime, the clinic is open for women’s health procedures, excluding surgical abortions. Even though surgical abortions are not permitted in the zoning, abortions with a medical abortion pill can still be performed, according to state law as found in Tennessee Code Annotated 39-15-201 and 39-15-202.

“Mifeprex is the brand name for the drug referred to and it is FDA approved for use in clinics but not dispensed in pharmacy. It’s been in use in the U.S. since 2000 with updated guidelines in 2016,” said Tennessee Department of Health spokesperson Elizabeth Hart.

A carafem spokesperson previously said, “[carafem] offers early abortion care up to 10 weeks with the medical abortion pill, STI testing, a wide selection of birth control options such as IUDs, birth control implants, Depo Provera shots, birth control pills and emergency contraception.”

Citizens and others opposed to abortions plan to peacefully protest this weekend, according to social media posts.

Protests are planned for Friday at 10 a.m. and Saturday at 10 a.m. The information is on the Hip Mt. Juliet Against Abortion Facebook page. There are posts on the page from pro-life and pro-choice Wilson County residents and people from other areas.

The protest will take place in the public areas in front of the Providence Pavilion offices where the clinic opened in early March at 5002 Crossings Circle in Mt. Juliet.

City votes on road, land measures

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

The Mt. Juliet City Commission met in a special session Friday night to discuss annexation of property at 430 Clemmons Road into the city.

The commissioners had little discussion about the rezoning, which was done because the city previously made an offer for the property in question. If the city buys the property, the land will house a public works annex, which will allow for a variety of public works vehicles and utility structures, according to city public works director Jessica Gore. Among the structures will be sheds to house salt to be used on roads during winter months.

“Several years ago, we built some salt sheds on Industrial Drive, and those will be going away real soon,” said City Manager Kenny Martin. “Those serve our public works department with salt and other equipment. We’re making an offer on a piece of property, and time is of the essence. We moved it to today. We didn’t want to take a risk of not having a quorum on Monday and having to bump that out would actually mess me up with our planning commission.”

The measure was approved unanimously on first reading.

The commission also voted to annex 2.370 linear feet of Clemmons Road, and the right-of-way along the road. The annexation brought the land, which was an island in the county, into the city. The land was on the city’s urban growth boundary. The measure was approved unanimously on first reading.

Commissioner Ray Justice asked if all of Clemmons Road was included in the annexation.

Gore said it was not but would allow the city to “clean up from the city’s property back to Division [Street]. It keeps us from going in the city, out of the city, in the city, out of the city. This will also help with emergency services.”

Also, land, which is known as the Shevel property at 9846 Lebanon Road, was annexed into the city and rezoned from highway commercial to commercial town center. This will allow the property owner to open a real estate office on the property. A single structure will exist on the property. This rezoning was unanimously approved on first reading.

Commissioners voted to annex and create a plan of services for part of South Rutland Road and its right-of-way near 487 South Rutland Road into the city. They also voted to annex and create a plan of services for the intersection of Lebanon Road and North Green Hill Road, along with its right-of-way, into the city. The roads are both in the city’s urban growth boundary, and the measures both passed unanimously on final reading.

In addition, the commission voted to amend the current budget to increase paving costs. This will allow the city to built speed tables in various subdivisions, where speeding is a problem. Asphalt plants open this month, and the extra funding will allow the city to begin to install the speed tables in the current fiscal year, Martin said.

“This is another thing that we felt like was important,” Martin said. “Another reason for having a special meeting tonight. We’ve been meeting with [Gore] and [Andy Barlow, city engineer] about safety concerns. A lot of people are speeding motorists or folks going through people’s subdivisions. We decided to move up our timetable for installing what you’d call speed tables. Speed tables are elongated speed bumps.”

He said instead of stop signs, the city would install the speed tables to calm the traffic in the communities.

“We’re trying to expedite the process, which would have come in July. We’d be doing them at a much later time,” Martin said. “If we get those done sooner, we get ready for spring and summer. Those things are already in place and makes things safer for our community.”

Mt. Juliet breaks ground on new greenway

By Matt Masters

mmasters@lebanondemocrat.com

Mt. Juliet city and community leaders gathered Monday at Eagle Park to break ground on the Town Center Trail, Mt. Juliet’s new greenway project that will eventually connect Fourth Avenue to South Greenhill Road.

Mt. Juliet City Manager Kenny Martin said the project was a high priority for both the city and its citizens. It’s something Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty said will work as a transportation network between subdivisions.

“What we’re excited about is the citizens,” Martin said. “We’ve been listening to our citizens and what we’ve learned is they want things like this, they want places to teach their kids how to ride a bike, so we appreciate people for being patient with us and the hope is that eventually these greenways will connect not only throughout our city but also with Nashville and our surrounding cities like Lebanon and the county.”

The project is expected to be complete in summer 2020 and will feature a 1.67-mile-long trail from Fourth Avenue to South Greenhill Road. The 10-foot-wide asphalt and concrete trail will also have a new parking lot built near South Greenhill Road.

The project began in 2012 and will cost about $2.2 million. It will be funded, in part, through a grant with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which included some federal aid.

District 3 Commissioner Art Giles said resident have asked for a project like this for several years, and city officials are excited to be able to fulfill those wishes.

“From the first time that I took office, this has been one of the projects that people have asked me about continuously, and I get emails about, and we’ve done the best we could to help it come to fruition,” Giles said. “It’s a very exciting day when you think about what the future holds for people in Mt. Juliet, for kids and my grandkids, and it’s just real exciting to be able to get on a greenway and to go the way south and, hopefully, eventually, it will connect to the Cedar Creek Greenway, and people can go from Charlie Daniels Park all the way down here. It’s very, very exciting.”

Also in attendance were Mt. Juliet public works employees, who will lead the project, representatives from Adam’s Contracting, who will build the greenway, and members of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Motion filed in city’s liquor tax lawsuit

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Wilson County Schools attorney Mike Jennings told the school board last Monday night he filed a motion to set a hearing regarding the liquor tax money the city of Mt. Juliet owes the school system.

The school board and a court ruling say Mt. Juliet has to pay a portion of the back-tax revenue to Wilson County Schools.

According to court filings from 2014, Wilson County Schools said it should receive the back funds and would then pay a portion of that money to Lebanon Special School District. The amount paid to both school systems is based on the daily average attendance, as recognized by the Tennessee Board of Education, according to court records.

When the school board sued Mt. Juliet in 2014 for the back taxes, Mt. Juliet cited state court rulings that went back to 1883 that said cities didn’t have to pay the taxes to county schools. Mt. Juliet attorneys argued the school board had no authority to sue the city, but the Wilson County Commission, which is the governing body in the county, could sue for the funds.

The filing paperwork said the city is required by state law to collect 15 percent of all liquor-by-the-drink revenues. The money is supposed to be divided by 50 percent, according to suit paperwork. Fifty percent goes to the city and the other half goes to the schools.

Lebanon also didn’t pay its fair share to Wilson County Schools but eventually agreed to pay the back taxes during a 10-year period, according to court records.

The school board discovered the lack of payments in 2013, court records said. Mt. Juliet paid part of what it owed, nearly $31,000, but still owed Wilson County Schools nearly $450,000, court records said.

The payment amount was determined by the daily average attendance percentage of tax revenue collected, and the court said Mt. Juliet should pay the amount, from the inception of the liquor-by-the-drink tax until June 30, 2013.

In a filing from 2014, Mt. Juliet attorneys said the county was not eligible to collect a portion of the tax revenues because liquor-by-the-drink statutes were not passed in the county, but rather only in the cities. They said the liquor-by-the-drink were not passed in the unincorporated county areas, therefore the school board was not entitled to a portion of the tax revenue.

Mt. Juliet filed a motion to dismiss in 2015, but it was denied. In the motion, the city offered other lawsuits in the state it considered precedent that found in defendants’ favor.

A 2018 judgment by Chancellor C.K. Smith denied Mt. Juliet’s motion for summary judgment, and Wilson County Schools was eligible to receive the money.

The amount of unremitted revenue was to be determined in a future evidentiary hearing, the order said.

In October, the Mt. Juliet City Commission voted to offer a $325,000 settlement to the school board. The school board denied the offer at its November meeting.

Mt. Juliet City Manager Kenny Martin said the city is currently paying the necessary liquor-by-the-drink tax revenue to the school systems.

Unless a date is named or an agreement reached before the hearing, the issue will be discussed March 27 at 9 a.m. in Wilson County chancery court.

Planners talk plats, annexations

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

The Mt. Juliet Planning Commission met in 15-minute meeting Feb. 21 that touched on a number of projects, including work on a main roadway brought up by plans reviewer Neal Hall.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation will soon begin a “safety project” on Old Lebanon Dirt Road between the Davidson-Wilson counties line and Mt. Juliet Road, said Hall. The project will include striping, signage and guardrail, and TDOT will completely fund and complete it.

The planning commission passed a consent agenda unanimously. It included two letters of credit to be reduced and six letters of credit to be released. Also, the consent agenda included the final plat review for Phase 18 of Tuscan Gardens on Pisano Street; Phase 3 of Heritage Hills on Oak Leaf Drive; Phase 5A of Kelsey Glen on Oxford Drive, and Phase 2A of Baird Farms on Providence Trail.

The planners also unanimously recommended to the Mt. Juliet City Commission an annexation of land known as the Shevel property at 9468 Lebanon Road; an approval of a plan of services for the property and a rezoning of the land from neighborhood commercial to commercial town center.

“This [property] is an island, located on Lebanon Road, near West Elementary [School],” said planning director Jennifer Hamblen. “The land use for this property is neighborhood commercial, and the request for rezoning is CTC, commercial town center, which falls within that land-use category. The applicant wishes to open a real estate office on that property.”

The planning commissioners also unanimously recommended to the city commission an annexation of land known as the Woodfuff property at 225 Clemmons Road; an approval of a plan of services for the property and a rezoning of the land to agriculture-residential district city zoning from Wilson County zoning, which is industrial zoning.

The city made an offer to buy the property, but there is another contract on the land, as well, Hamblen said.

“There is a condition listed within the actual ordinance that would make this annexation and rezone null and void should we not acquire the property,” she said. “So, I’m not sure if, after tonight, it will ever be heard again. But we wanted to keep it on the agenda, just in case the other contract backs out. I’m hoping we can acquire this property, because the intended use for the other contract is for mini-storage. Hopefully, we will acquire this piece of property and move our salt sheds over there.”

School board discusses how it follows policies

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Mt. Juliet parent Kristi Dunn accused the Wilson County Board of Education of not following its policies and procedures at its January meeting Thursday night.

“Per the [Tennessee School Board Association] website, policies are guidelines adopted by the board to chart a course of action,” she said in a prepared statement. “They indicate what the board expects and may include why and how much. School board policies are official and legally binding only when approved in an official meeting of the board and written on the minutes.”

She gave the local school board examples of how she believed the board didn’t follow its own policies.

“On Oct. 23, 2018, we had a special-called board meeting requested by our high school principals to solidify a class ranking system and to adopt a grading system to put us in compliance with the state, according to Monty Wilson per The Lebanon Democrat,” she said. “This was not published on our school website in its usual place per board policy 1.402.

“It has come to my attention and others that the exam exemption policy was stricken from the record at the meeting. It also violated policy 1.402 in which the purpose of all special-called board meetings are to be stated. No longer is the exam exemption policy in the written student agenda, handbook or board policy 4.6 that we can find, or central office staff can find. It doesn’t exist.

“In the past few months, we have also ignored policy 1.8 pertaining to the school calendar. The board is to appoint a calendar committee, policy 3.210 the naming of a school. The board is to vote on the name of a school and did not vote on the name of the new middle school. Policy 1.108 ethics: We have an ethics committee that has yet to meet or name a chair or secretary.”

Concerning the exam exemption policy, Dunn said, “We say we are honoring the exam exemption policy, but with these policies having been ignored and no written record, how are parents to trust the board or the district? It is the job of the board to set policy and enforce policies, and if there is a policy you don’t like, then you vote to change it. You don’t ignore it or just don’t follow it or let others ignore it or not follow it. You have your students and parents sign a contract in the handbook at the beginning of the year that we will abide by your policies you have created. But, yet, you yourself don’t. Shouldn’t we expect the same from you?”

According to the Tennessee School Board Association, “When a policy is violated, the board must insist on consequences for the violator. The board can never turn its head and allow its policy to be violated. Certainly, the board must never violate its own policy. It may change or abolish the policy, but never violate it.”

It continues, “Like the law, it is mandatory, not optional that the school board policy be followed. Also like the law, school board policy does not enforce itself. It is imperative that the school board insist that the policies be followed and failure to follow policy results in consequences.”

Wilson County Schools is a member of the TSBA, according to Wilson County Schools spokesperson Jennifer Johnson Currently, 126 of 141 school districts in Tennessee are members of the TSBA.

Board member Wayne McNeese brought up the issue at the end of the meeting.

He said the board has never appointed a school calendar committee to make up the official calendar for the 2019-2020 school year. However, a calendar for that year was presented to and approved by the board. In addition, the board also approved a calendar for the 2020-2021 school year, which McNeese said was against board policy.

“There are several things that we should have done on that policy that we did not,” he said, adding the calendar committee members are recommended by the director. “The first line says that, ‘no later than the end of each school year.’ That means we have to do this every year. We cannot, by board policy, do a two-year, three-year or four-year [calendar] in advance, as we have in the past.”

He said the board, “ought to go by policy or we do not, because we did not follow this policy, as far as a calendar committee. Some of the other things that we should have done in here, I want to make a motion that we abolish our current calendar for the 2019-2020 year, because we did not do it per board policy.”

The motion failed 5-2. Board members Linda Armistead, Chad Karl, Tom Sottek, Bill Robinson and Larry Tomlinson voted against it, and Kimberly McGee and McNeese voted for it.

Sottek said the ethics committee should meet to appoint a chair, vice chair and secretary. After discussion, the board decided to meet Feb. 4 at 5:30 p.m. before the next board meeting. He asked county attorney Mike Jennings what would constitute an ethics complaint that the board would discuss.

“The ethics committee is for someone who has committed an unethical act,” Jennings said, [such as], accepting a gift that is improper.”

Sottek said he wondered about how to examine the board not following policy.

“I guess I’m confused as the purpose of an ethics committee,” Sottek said, asking about following board policy. “I’m wondering if not following policy is something that we should discuss and then bring before the school board.

Jennings said, “You have no choice. You have to follow board policy. But that’s not typically what [is discussed by the ethics committee]. Typically, you think of something illegal or immoral. A difference of opinion is not something that you’ll discuss. It’s not something you use as a political tool.”

McNeese said he agreed with part of that.

“A difference of opinion has nothing to do with this,” McNeese said. “It’s pretty black and white as far as the calendar committee.”

Director of Schools Donna Wright admitted there was no calendar committee, but she said, “We had input from different [people] and had a public information meeting that was not well attended.”

Board chairman Larry Tomlinson said in the past, people on the calendar committee were asked why there is a committee “when [board members] don’t follow it anyway. I’ve always said, ‘I’m going to vote for the calendar the committee recommended,’ and I’ve always done it.

“If it says in the policy that it needs to be a one-year [policy], then that’s what we need to do. If we need to go back and change some policies, then that’s what we need to do.”

Jennings said as far as policy, “It’s got to be followed, and it’s up to the board members to call that out if the board is not following policy.”

McNeese agreed.

“That is correct, and I think it’s time we follow board policy,” he said. “I don’t mean to bring this before the ethics committee. If somebody stole some money, that’s what the ethics committee is for.”

He said he brought up the fact that the board didn’t follow policy when positions were filled.

“It’s up to the board to create positions,” McNeese said. “There is a financial implication to that.  We did nothing when I brought it up before, and I think it’s time that we abide by board policy or make a motion that we do away with all of these policies and start from scratch – one or the other. We’ve got to abide by board policy.”

Lynn named state House finance chair

NASHVILLE – Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada named state Rep. Susan Lynn chair of the House Finance Committee. 

Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, is the first woman in Tennessee history to lead the powerful committee comprised of 19 House members.

The committee is tasked with all measures that deal with the appropriation of state funds; the general appropriations bill; the deposit of public money; all measures that relate to taxes and the raising of revenue, bonds and bonding revenue, the issuance, payment or retirement of bonds, the evidences of indebtedness; congressional relations; and assessment and collection of property taxes.   

“Rep. Lynn is an incredibly talented legislator within our General Assembly, and I am grateful to her for her willingness to serve in this important leadership capacity,” said Casada, R-Thompson’s Station. “I believe her knowledge and experience will benefit the House Finance Committee and our entire legislative body.”

In her new role, Lynn also becomes a member of the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, Council on Pensions and Insurance and the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission. Additionally, Gov. Bill Haslam appointed her to the boards of Launch Tennessee and the state Workforce Development Board, and her peers appointed her to the Greater Nashville Regional Council. In December, then-House Speaker Beth Harwell also appointed Lynn to the Information Systems Council.

“I am incredibly honored that Speaker Casada has appointed me to serve as chairman of the distinguished House Finance Committee and has placed his faith in me in this way,” said Lynn. “Tennessee has been a national model for fiscal responsibility under conservative leadership. Because of our strategic investments and thoughtful financial decisions, cities and towns across our state are thriving. Together, we are committed to ensuring these successful trends in Tennessee continue.”

Lynn previously served as chair of the House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee during the 110th General Assembly. She lives in Mt. Juliet and represents most of Wilson County in the state House.