Roadwork heats up throughout Wilson County

Several new or ongoing Tennessee Department of Transportation road projects could cause drivers some delays in the coming days and weeks throughout Wilson County.

Lanes will be closed on Interstate 840 from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. from north of the Rutherford County line to east of Stewarts Ferry Pike to allow workers to repair bridge decks. There will also be lane closures nightly from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. to allow workers to clean bridge decks, repair them and apply epoxy in the same area of I-840.

State Route 141 widening work continues daily from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. from south of Spring Creek to north of Lovers Lane. Temporary lane closures will take place, but one lane will remain open in each direction.

Bridge repair will continue on Baddour Parkway over Sinking Creek in Lebanon. Baddour Parkway was reduced to one 10-foot lane in each direction at the bridge and will remain that way until the work is completed sometime in the fall.

Resurfacing on State Route 26 from U.S. 70 to the Smith County line will continue daily from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. There will be temporary lane closures in both directions to allow for paving. One lane will remain open.

Bridge repair on the Interstate 40 eastbound overpass at Sparta Pike will continue after an oversized tractor-trailer hit the bridge and damaged it recently. Permitted loads will detour onto South Hartmann Drive and Maddox-Simpson Parkway at exit 236 on I-40 eastbound until further notice. A detour sign is in place.

Paving daily from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on U.S. 231 from Market Street to near Forrest Ave. in Lebanon will cause temporary lane closures in both directions. One lane will remain open.

Paving daily from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. will cause temporary lane closures in both directions on State Route 141 from east of Stokes Street to Sugar Flat Road. One lane will remain open.

Widening work will continue on State Route 109 daily from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Rolling roadblocks will be used for rock blasting and excavation. Traffic will also be reduced to one lane in both directions at the intersection of State Route 109 and Callis Road to allow workers to put in a turn lane and crossover.

State Route 10 will be reduced to one lane daily from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. to allow workers to install a gas line from Vesta Road to Flat Woods Road.

TDOT officials said drivers are encouraged to use caution and obey reduced speed limits in all TDOT work zones, regardless of lane closure activity. Most work will be weather dependent and subject to change due to inclement weather.

State gas price average drops 5 cents in May

NASHVILLE – Tennessee’s state average gas price was $2.57 per gallon Monday for regular unleaded, which was 3 cents less than the average a week ago and 3 cents less than a month ago.

The national gas price average Monday was $2.86, 3 cents less than last week’s average, 4 cents less than one month ago and remained flat compared to the same time last year.

“For the first time in three months, gas prices are declining slowly but steadily across the country,” said Stephanie Milani, Tennessee public affairs director for AAA.

Sadie Ford Heritage Farm unveiled at Cedars of Lebanon State Park

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation officials cut the ribbon Saturday on the 73.3-acre Sadie Ford Heritage Farm and Art Center as a naturally and culturally significant addition to Cedars of Lebanon State Park.

The property is will be restored and incorporated into the state park as a complex of cedar glades and barrens ecosystems interspersed with woodlands, reflecting the state of the land prior to European settlement.

“We are excited to bring this site under the umbrella of Tennessee State Parks,” said Anne Marshall, acting deputy commissioner of TDEC. “It will encompass natural beauty, historical significance and will be a center for public programming that should attract many visitors. We believe Tennesseans will love having this gem be part of Cedars of Lebanon.”

The core of the property is about 8 acres that include a home, barn and outbuildings that will be set aside as a historic district. The site is opposite the entrance to the state park. The 1920s bungalow-style house was built for local schoolteachers, Delta and Sadie Ford, who lived there with their children until the mid-1940s. Museum displays will describe aspects of the area’s history.

Tennessee State Parks acquired the property in the fall. The tract corners existing state-owned land to the west and north, as well as adjacent land east of U.S. 231. Within the adjoining tracts are Cedars of Lebanon State Park, Cedars of Lebanon State Natural Area and Vesta Cedar Glade State Natural Area, all part of the 10,000-acre Cedars of Lebanon State Forest.

The property offers recreational significance, as well as the cornerstone for access to the western portion of Cedars of Lebanon State Forest and more opportunities for park visitors, including a multi-use hiking-biking trail. The homestead and WPA-era museum will be a center for educational events for families, students and history buffs regarding rural life in the 1920s and 1930s.

Whitman to visit Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage for 119th Spring Outing

HERMITAGE –Christine Todd Whitman, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush and former governor of New Jersey, will be the keynote speaker at the Andrew Jackson Foundation’s 119th annual Spring Outing on Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the Hermitage.

Whitman is president of the Whitman Strategy Group, a consulting firm that specializes in energy and environmental issues. She led the EPA from January 2001 until June 2003 and before that served as New Jersey’s first woman governor from 1994 to 2001. As governor, Whitman earned praise for her commitment to preserve a record amount of New Jersey land as permanent green space. She is the author of New York Times bestseller “It’s My Party Too.”

A Nashville tradition that began in the early days of the Ladies’ Hermitage Association as a picnic on the mansion’s lawn, Spring Outing has evolved into one of the major events held at the Hermitage and regularly features nationally known speakers who present on a variety of topics, including politics and history.

Past speakers include former first lady Laura Bush, NPR’s Mara Liasson, longtime White House correspondent Ann Compton, former Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam and former Tennessee House speaker Beth Harwell.

“More than any other event, Spring Outing celebrates the legacy of the Ladies’ Hermitage Association, the determination of its founders and their collective foresight in preserving the home of Andrew Jackson for future generations, including ours,” said Spring Outing co-chair Nancy Deaton.

“We are their daughters in many ways, and I think the connection becomes clear when you listen to Christine speak. We’re thrilled she is joining us,” said Spring Outing co-chair Mimi DeCamp.

The Ladies’ Hermitage Association, currently known as the Andrew Jackson Foundation, is one of the oldest women’s organizations and historic preservation organizations in the country, established 130 years ago, in 1889, after the passing of Andrew Jackson’s daughter-in-law, Sarah Yorke Jackson.

The 119th Spring Outing will be Wednesday at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage with a patrons party at 10:30 a.m. in the mansion, followed by the main program at 11 a.m. on the lawn. More than 500 guests are expected to attend the event, with thanks to the volunteer leadership of DeCamp and Deaton. All proceeds will benefit the Andrew Jackson Foundation’s many projects, programs and events, designed to elevate national awareness of the seventh president and his home at the Hermitage. Spring Outing is an invitation-only event. To receive an invitation, call 615-889-2941, ext. 213.

Deaton is a native of Nashville and a graduate of Hollins University. She and her husband, Mark, moved to Nashville 28 years ago after they lived in Charlottesville, Virginia and Indianapolis. They have three children and enjoy outdoor activities together. Deaton has been an active volunteer, serving on the Antiques and Garden Show of Nashville board and advisory committee since chairing the event. She is an active member of the Garden Club of Nashville, West End United Methodist Church and the Junior League of Nashville and has enjoyed involvement with the Family Center, Ensworth School and Cheekwood.

DeCamp is a native Nashvillian. After graduating from Sweet Briar College in Lynchburg, Virginia, she married her husband, Bill, and returned to Nashville, where she joined her mother in the real estate business and has enjoyed a 30-year career as a realtor. She is an active member of St. George’s Episcopal Church, and her volunteer opportunities have included the St. George’s Kindergarten Board, Cheekwood, the Antiques and Garden Show, the Family Center and Ensworth School. She and Bill have two sons, Will and Rob.

Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage: Home of the People’s President is one of the largest, most well-preserved and most visited presidential homes in the United States. Opened to the public in 1889, the Hermitage is one of America’s first presidential museums. The Hermitage is currently a 1,120-acre National Historic Landmark with more than 20 historic buildings, including Jackson’s mansion and tomb, restored slave cabins, a church and gardens. In recent years, new interpretive initiatives and educational programs such as the history of slavery have enhanced the experience of nearly 230,000 annual visitors. For more information, visit thehermitage.com.

Former Wilson County Mayor Bob Dedman dies

Lifelong Lebanon resident and former Wilson County Mayor Robert Dedman died Thursday at home. He was 85.

Dedman served as Wilson County mayor for 12 years, from 1998 until he retired and current Mayor Randall Hutto became mayor in 2012. Before he was sworn in as mayor, Dedman served on the Lebanon City Council and as property assessor for three terms.

Dedman’s accomplishments are many, and those in the community remember him fondly.

“When I think of Bob Dedman, I think of a true champion and leader, whether it be in sports, politics or in life. He was always someone who listened to the people and wasn’t afraid to stand up for what was right. My thoughts and prayers are with his family,” former Wilson County Property Assessor Jack Pratt said.

Before Dedman was a politician, he was an athlete. He played on several championship football teams, including for Paul “Bear” Bryant at the University of Kentucky. When Dedman played for Lebanon High School from 1951-53, the Blue Devils football team was undefeated.

“Mayor Dedman was a great statesman in my mind in that he never lost an election. He really ran the county with ease. He got things done, not only as property assessor but also as county mayor for 12 years. He was a great man and a great mentor for me when I first thought about becoming a mayor,” said Hutto.

Statton Bone, who met Dedman at Lebanon High School in 1952, said he always made time for everyone. Dedman graduated from Lebanon in 1953.

“He did many, many good things for Lebanon and Wilson County over the years. He served in several different areas. He was very supportive of the Nashville Superspeedway back in its day and the development along I-840. He was a good public servant,” Bone said.

Dedman began his political career in 1972. He served as Lebanon’s first purchasing agent, worked for the secretary of state in 1978 and was then elected to the Lebanon City Council. During his time on the council, Pratt said he was influential to bring ward districts to Lebanon. He served as Senate sergeant-at-arms for the 100th Tennessee General Assembly.

“Bob was a great man. He was awfully good to me. I served as ag director when he was the county mayor. He was a good guy, a good leader. The county lost a good man. My sympathy goes out to his family,” Larry Tomlinson said.

Funeral services for Dedman were Monday at 1 p.m. at Sellars Funeral Home in Lebanon. Visitation was Sunday from 4-8 p.m. and Monday from 11 a.m. until the service at the funeral home. 

Central Tennessee Soccer seeks new place to play

By Angie Mayes

Mt. Juliet News Correspondent

The Central Tennessee Soccer league seeks for new fields, so league play cannot be interrupted when it starts in August.

Its last game of the season will be Saturday on its current fields at 700 Sullivan Bend Road in Mt. Juliet. As soon as the games are done, team members and leaders will pack their items and take them to storage.

The league was at the Sullivan Bend property for eight years, according to Johnny Davis, director of coaches for Central Tennessee Soccer.

“We always knew [the property] was going to be sold at some point, but just didn’t know when,” Davis said. “We were notified right before Easter that we had 30 days to vacate the property.”

About 700 players are in the league each year, which has two seasons, one in the spring and one in the fall. The one in the spring runs March through May, and the fall league runs from August through October. There are about 350 players during each season, Davis said. Currently, there are 30 teams in the league. Players range from 4-18 years old.

“We would love to stay in Mt. Juliet, but we also want to keep our league alive, so we would be open to other options,” he said. “Most of us live in Mt. Juliet and most of our kids live in Mt. Juliet.

“I’m confident we will find land, even though it might not be as much as we would like. We have asked our current families to reach out to everyone they know. We have done some door knocking. We have posted on Facebook. We did a news story on [a Nashville television station] last week. I personally met with Kenny Martin, the Mt. Juliet city manager, and he is trying to help me find some options for fields. 

The league can make 8 acres “work, but would prefer around 15 acres,” Davis said. “On 15 acres, we could put about 12 different size soccer fields. With 8 acres, we would be able to do around six to eight fields.”  

In 2018, the league started what they called the Foundation Program, which allows all the kids in U6 and U8 to play for free or for a donation. 

“We did this, because we wanted every child to have the chance to be introduced to the great game of soccer without having to worry about financial obligations that might limit them from playing,” he said. “For a lot of us involved with the league, these kids have become like family. For me, my son is almost 8 and has been playing in the league for four years now. I have several kids who have played with me for three-plus years. We have several people who have been volunteering with our league for years without having kids involved in the league anymore, because they love these kids and the game of soccer.

“After Saturday’s games, we will start at 2 p.m., packing up the goals to transport them to a storage location. Any help with that would be appreciated.”

To contact Davis, call him at 615-354-3957.

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.”

New Leash on Life sells land to continue expansion

Thanks to a recent land sale on State Route 109, New Leash on Life looks to use the proceeds can be used to improve and expand the programs provided for the community to help pets and their owners.

Capital Real Estate Services owner DeAnna Dodd and broker Claude Maynard handled the sale of the property on State Route 109.

“One of the reasons New Leash on Life chose to work with Capital Realty is because they have a give back goal as a part of their business model,” said New Leash on Life executive director Angela Chapman. “True to their mission with the land sale, Capital Real Estate gave our program expansion dream a head start by donating $4,500 to our programs.”

The first phase of the expansion was the Joy Clinic, a low-cost spay and neuter clinic, which was made possible by Joy Bishop and an equipment grant from the ASPCA. 

The spay and neuter program currently fixes more than 3,000 dogs and cats annually.

Chapman said the next phase of the expansion will be to add indoor and outdoor runs for the dogs and a visiting area for potential adopters to spend time with available dogs. The build phase would be behind the current shelter, along with an enrichment space for the dogs.

“Once that phase is done, we can look at reworking the current shelter space to better accommodate the needs of animals in our care,” Chapman said. “The land sale is a great start toward this expansion, and with continued community support, we look forward to making this dream a reality.”

Wilson County recognizes May as ALS Awareness Month

By Matt Masters

mmasters@lebanondemocrat.com

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto signed a proclamation last Wednesday that designated May as ALS Awareness Month in Wilson County.

Several citizens, community leaders and family members who were affected by ALS, including Bryan Galentine and Ashley Vickers, joined Hutto at a ceremonial proclamation signing at the Wilson County Courthouse.

The proclamation calls for county residents to help raise awareness about ALS, raise funds for research and reach out to those suffering. Blue is the ALS awareness color, and residents are encouraged to wear blue throughout the month to show their support.

“If we don’t recognize it, and if we don’t continue to raise funds to defeat it, then we’re going backwards. So that is our motive here today, to do this and to get other people involved. I had a chance to be a part of the ice bucket challenge back during the summer [to help the Vickers family raise money for ALS awareness], and we want to do more of these things to kind of help support and to also raise funds to find a cure for this disease,” said Hutto, before he ended the event with a group prayer.

ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease and affects at least 16,000 people in the United States at any time, with about 5,000 new cases diagnosed each year, according to the ALS Association. More information about ALS, its symptoms and research for a cure may be found at alsa.org.

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.

Lee to allow online sports betting bill to become law

By Andy Sher

Chattanooga Times Free Press

NASHVILLE (TNS) – Gov. Bill Lee plans to allow a recently passed Tennessee online sports betting measure become law without his signature, his spokeswoman said Tuesday.

“The governor has said he does not believe that the expansion is best, but he recognizes that many in the legislature found this to be an issue they want to explore further,” Lee spokeswoman Laine Arnold said in a statement. “He plans to let this become law without his signature.”

Earlier Tuesday, the House narrowly approved Senate amendments to the bill on a 51-40 vote. A bill requires a minimum of 50 votes to pass the House.

Earlier, House Bill 1 passed the Senate on a 19-12 vote.

Sponsored by Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, and Rep. Rick Staples, D-Knoxville, the measure would allow and regulate statewide mobile and interactive sports gambling for people 21 and older.

Tennessee Education Lottery officials would be in charge of implementing and overseeing the program, which would impose a 20-percent privilege tax on online gambling, estimated to bring in $41 million for the lottery, $7.6 million for local governments and $2.5 million for the Department of Mental Health to fund gambling-addiction programs.

Dickerson said sports gambling is already widespread in Tennessee, and his legislation will bring it “off the street corners” and put it under regulation.

Critics say odds are that legalizing sports betting will boost addiction problems. Bill opponent Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, told colleagues during debate that it turns the current “black market” into a government-sanctioned “gray” market.

The original bill, which would have permitted brick-and-mortar betting shops, was eliminated from the measure due to Lee’s opposition.

Following the House’s final action, bill sponsor Staples said the money going to city and county governments is intended for road and other infrastructure needs. The local governments will get a 15-percent share of proceeds, he said.

New report outlines teachers’ raises across Tennessee

By Angie Mayes

Mt. Juliet News Correspondent

Between 2014-15 and 2017-18, Wilson County teacher salaries increased 6.3 percent, from $44,988 to $46,816, according to a new report from the Office of Research and Education Accountability.

The Lebanon Special School District raised salaries 9.8 percent, from $49,582 to $54,433, according to the report.

Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright said, “Teacher salaries have been increased in an effort to attract responsible, dedicated and highly qualified employees while retaining employees through longevity to build an experienced staff.”

She said an increase in teacher pay “is our top priority.” She said it’s one way to retain the teachers they have. 

The numbers issued this week by the Office of Research and Education Accountability are average salaries among the school’s instructors.

“We do not work on a pay scale,” Wright said. “We offer a differentiated pay plan that allows teachers to receive yearly increases based on their level of effectiveness without reaching a salary cap. In 2014-15, teachers could receive a yearly increase of up to $750, and by 2017-18, that amount had increased to $900.”

Lebanon Director of Schools Scott Benson said compensating teachers is vitally important to the district.

“It is absolutely important that we retain the teachers. One way of doing that is by appropriate compensation of teachers,” Benson said. “Even though we rank No. 14 [on the state’s list of highest-paid districts] out of 145 school districts, we don’t pay enough to what they’re worth and what they contribute. One of the reasons we rank so high is our board has a longstanding commitment to appropriately compensating our teachers.”

The report said, “More than $300 million in new, recurring state dollars were appropriated by the General Assembly through the instructional salaries and wages category of the Basic Education Program, the state’s education funding formula, between 2016 and 2018.

The legislative intent for the appropriations was to increase teacher salaries across the state, according to the report.

“Some legislators have expressed concerns that state dollars have had less effect in improving teachers’ salaries than expected, however,” the report said.

The purpose of the report was to address questions raised by former Speaker Beth Harwell, Senate Education Committee chair Delores Gresham and Sen. Brian Kelsey regarding “how much new state funding was used to raise teacher salaries; to what degree districts concurrently increased local funding for teachers or relied on the influx of new state money to provide teacher raises, and how much new state and local funding was used for purposes other than raising teacher salaries such as hiring new teachers; enhancing benefits for teachers already employed; or funding teacher aides, assistants or similar support positions, and whether districts used state funding for teacher salaries for unallowable purposes.”

Districts were most likely to give raises by increasing the district salary schedule, which, in most districts, sets base pay for all teachers at specified education and experience levels, the report said.

“One-time bonuses and across-the-board raises outside of the salary schedule were also used by districts to increase teacher pay,” according to the report. “Because of the variation within and across districts in how they awarded raises in different years and which staff received raises in different years, the survey did not collect data on the number of raises awarded.”

Neither Wilson County nor LSSD offer bonuses to their teachers. Wilson County’s increases are performance driven, Wright said. The LSSD increases are based on years of experience and degrees and the percentage raise on an annual basis, Benson said.

The BEP formula allocates staff positions based on a ratio of enrolled students. For example, for every 25 fourth-grade students, the formula allocates one classroom teacher position. More students will result in more positions. More positions, generated by more students, results in a larger funding allocation, the report said.

The Office of Research and Education Accountability’s fall 2018 survey reported awarding salary increases to teachers for three consecutive years in 2016, 2017 and 2018, which resulted in a 6-percent increase in average classroom salaries statewide.

Wilson County Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall said teachers have received an increase every year since his employment in 1993, according to Wright. Last year, the Wilson County Board of Education asked for a 12.5-percent increase, but the Wilson County Commission voted it down because of the tax increase that would have been needed to fund it.

LSSD has increased its salaries, as well.

“Steve Jones, our board chair, has been on the LSSD board since 1988,” Benson said. “Our teachers have had a raise every single year he’s been on the board. When I was assistant director and did our budget, it was ingrained in me to give raises. That’s what we look at first, to give the employees and teachers a raise.”

Districts used increased state salary funding to add instructional positions, in addition to provide pay raises, as allowed by the state statutes concerning the BEP, the report said. “The share of new state salary funding spent on adding instructional staff versus increasing salaries for staff already employed could not be determined.

“Total local revenue budgeted for school districts increased at about the same rate as BEP state revenue, but salary expenditures – whether for new hires or raises – could not be linked back to their revenue source, either state or local,” the report said.

The Tennessee Department of Education found for the past three years, all districts have complied with a 2016 state law that requires districts to maintain their budgeted level of local funding for salaries and wages from the prior year, and to not use increases in state BEP instructional salaries and wages funding to offset local expenditures in the categories.

‘The majority of districts reported giving a raise to teachers for three consecutive years, from 2016 through 2018,” according to the report. “In each of the three years, from 2016 through 2018, 88 districts reported giving a raise to teachers, representing 68 percent of the 140 districts surveyed. In 2015, when the state did not provide new state instructional salaries funding, 68 districts reported giving raises to teachers. Following the first year of additional state funding in 2016, the number of districts that reported giving raises increased to 98.

“In the two years following increased state funding for instructional salaries, 2017 and 2018, the number of districts that reported giving raises held steady, at around 96 districts. One district reported giving no raises over the four-year period,” the report said.

The percentage of raises for both Wilson County and LSSD for the upcoming school year will be known during the respective budget processes this year.

Districts reported their teacher raises in a fall 2018 survey conducted by the Office of Research and Education Accountability. A total of 103 districts or 74 percent responded. Districts that did not respond to the survey may have also given raises. The Office of Research and Education Accountability’s survey asked districts about raises they gave to instructional employees, most of which were classroom teachers, but it also included other licensed school staff such as principals and guidance counselors.

Both LSSD and Wilson County responded to the survey. In fact, Hall had many discussions and clarifications with the Office of Research and Education Accountability last fall, Wright said.

Between 2015 and 2018, Tennessee’s average classroom salary increased 6.2 percent, or about $2,979, from $47,979 to $50,958. The growth made Tennessee the third fastest-growing state in the Southeast for instructional teacher salaries, behind North Carolina and Georgia.

State Rep. Clark Boyd guided a bill designed to improve transparency in the state’s education system through the state House, and it also passed the Senate.

The measure – which was part of Gov. Bill Lee’s legislative package this year – requires local education agencies to report to the Department of Education how additional funds are used each year a Local Education Agency receives increased funding from the state for salaries and wages.

“Our teachers work tirelessly to solidify the academic foundations of Tennessee’s current and future leaders,” said Boyd, R-Lebanon. “We must ensure they are receiving the salaries and pay increases they have earned. I am proud to have carried this bill, which will increase transparency on the subject of teacher pay.”

House Bill 946 ensures taxpayer funding allocated to schools is used responsibly and to support educators, according to Boyd.

The bill went to Lee’s desk to be signed into law.

Local legislators vote for ESAs

By Angie Mayes

Mt. Juliet News Correspondent

The Tennessee Senate on Wednesday followed the House and approved a modified Education Savings Accounts bill, also referred to as vouchers.

The Tennessee Education Savings Account Act went to the governor’s desk to likely be signed into law. It would give parents in two of the state’s highest-population districts up to $7,300 a year for private-school tuition and expenses.

While the Wilson County Board of Education and the Wilson County Commission passed resolutions against school vouchers, the Wilson County legislative delegation voted for the measure.

“When the notice came in from our local officials that they were against the ESA bill, I had to agree, Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, said in an email. “The ESA bill had some flaws. It was unclear what effect it would have on Wilson County and the school districts in our county. I was concerned, as well, and was very appreciative of their input.

“Once this bill was amended, and it was clear that no public school would lose any funding for three years, it would not affect Wilson County or Wilson County schools, and in some of the worst-performing schools in the state, this bill will finally give parents some real choices about where they believe their children have the best opportunity to get a quality education. Once this was established, in my mind, this vote for me was clear.”

“We have a great public education system in Wilson County but not in every county. Public schools are a choice for parents, but it is not their only choice. My vote was to help these students where public schools have failed them.”

Pody said the resolutions he received weighed “heavy in my decisions until it no longer affected Wilson County. At that point, helping those students in failing schools across our state was paramount. Whenever possible, it is best to let each local school board, city and county commission handle their own business. I believe the state should stay out of their business and just focus on state issues like this one.”

Pody also said, “Some folks had a concern that this program may be expanded in the future. Right now, the goal is to give an opportunity to less than 2 percent of our students who are in failing schools a real chance of a better education. If in a few of years data-based evidence, if these students are not preforming better, a future General Assembly should shut this down. If, however, this program does have solid evidence that it is working and these students are doing better, I hope we all would agree it should be expanded.”

Rep Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon, also voted to approve the bill, he said in an email.

He said he voted on it because it did not include Wilson County or Wilson County Schools.

“It was specifically directed at the failing schools of Memphis and Nashville,” Boyd said. “We have and continue to try to find ways to help those failing schools and, thus far, have seen little-to-no improvement.

“I’m willing to try something new and think outside the box if it gives the kids trapped in those failing schools a chance at a better education and future. As far as the schools and teachers in Wilson County, they are doing an incredible job, and I will continue to advocate for them and to make sure that they have the funding and resources they need to do their job.”

Boyd said the bill only affects Davidson and Shelby counties, “where the majority of the state’s failing schools are located.

“Initially many of us had some concerns with the ESA proposal due to some potential issues educators voiced at that time. I made it clear that I could not support the legislation unless we first addressed the valid concerns that I and my public-school partners had. Ultimately, our concerns were addressed during the amendment process correcting all of the issues that many of us had identified.

“Initially, there were some concerns that the bill would negatively impact the funding of public education. This concern was addressed by the fact that we are now making the largest ever investment in public education in Tennessee’s history. This budget increased K-12 funding to $6.5 billion, an increase of nearly $200 million from last year. Seventy-one million dollars of this is specifically for teacher pay raises, and a separate $40 million is for school resource officers.  

Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, also said in an email ESAs are “the same as a Pell Grant. Most don’t oppose Pell Grant, which allows the money to follow the student as do ESAs. The final bill is not unlike the legislation that has failed in the past. The bill only applies to failing schools in two counties, and there is an income verification to apply for the ESA. 

“The money for the program is outside of the BEP funds the program is [$25 million] of extra money that would not have otherwise been used for education. Any school that loses a child to an ESA is kept whole, meaning that they still receive full BEP funding just as of the child still attended the school.”

In Tennessee, nearly 70,000 grandparents are raising their grandchildren, Lynn said.

“Thankfully, most of these children attend really good schools, but some do attend failing schools. The adverse childhood experiences [ACES] suffered by these children, which led to placement with their grandparents is compounded by their failing school due to where they live. This bill provides 3,500 children in Shelby and Davidson County with a way to break the cycle and build hope.”

Wilson County Commissioner Lauren Breeze took issue with Lynn’s comments that compared ESAs to a Pell Grant.

“Pell Grants do not take money away from other students, but ESAs do,” Breeze said in an email. “Pell Grants are awarded to anyone who qualifies, and if a student chooses to use the grant at a private college, money is not taken away from a public college. ESAs are funded with dollars that could be used on public education. The new Tennessee law not only allocates state BEP dollars to ESAs, it also allocates local tax dollars to fund the program, removing both funding streams from local school districts.”

Breeze, who is on the legislative and education committees of the Tennessee County Commissioner’s Association, explained the bill and how it would affect Wilson County and LSSD schools, if expanded to all school districts.

“While the new educational savings account bill doesn’t directly affect Wilson County, the door has been opened to ESAs in the state,” she said. “Additionally, the dollars that are being used for ESAs could have provided additional funding through the BEP for our students here in Wilson County Schools.

“A recipient of an educational savings account will receive both the state and local portion of BEP that is allocated to that student. Currently, the state portion is approximately 70 percent, meaning that local tax dollars are used for the remaining 30 percent. For the first three years, the BEP dollars that are given to ESA recipients will be given back to local school districts by the state. These dollars can only be spent on school improvements. 

Breeze said after three years, “the reimbursement from the state will stop, and the school district will lose the dollars from the state for that student and have to use local dollars to fund the ESA accounts for students in the local district. So, not only will the school district lose funding from the state, the local government will have to find additional dollars to pay for ESAs plus provide additional funding to local school districts to make up for the lost state and local funding to keep school district funding at status quo levels.

“If Wilson County, at some point, has to offer ESAs, local government would have to pay $3,393 per year per student – this number is for WCS, if a student goes to LSSD, the county would have to pay $3,932 per student – on top of funding the district itself.

“If the county had 1,000 ESA students, we would have to come up with an additional $3.393 million annually, in addition to our current local portion of the BEP, plus any additional money needed to pay for additional students as the county grows.”

When a child graduates, if there’s money left in their ESA, the money can be used for post-secondary education, Breeze said.

“This means that local tax dollars will start funding college educations for ESA students,” Breeze said. “If a student decides to return to public education, moves out of state or if the ESA is closed for another reason, the funds in the ESA will be returned to the state BEP fund. This includes local tax dollars that are contributed. So, local tax dollars will be used to fund the BEP instead of returning to local school districts.”

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.

Derby Day to return to Circle P Ranch

Kentucky Derby Day at Circle P Ranch will return May 4 for its second event.

Derby Day will be a family friendly event and with food, shopping, games, a car show, derby viewing, live entertainment and more.

Visitors will be able to enjoy whole-hog barbecue, local food trucks, or they can bring a tent and cooler to tailgate. People can set up tents at 10 a.m. The event will run from 2-8 p.m. Admission to the event is free, but a canned food item donation is suggested for a food drive.

Live music will also be featured during the event. Circle P Ranch will showcase a headliner performance from American Idol contestant and Wilson County native Kason Lester. Matt Kinman, Luke Bell and the Matt Farley Project will accompany Lester.

For more information on the event, visit facebook.com/events/820567564959984.

Bloodhounds find need in Wilson County, pioneer rescue database

By Matt Masters

mmasters@lebanondemocrat.com

About four years ago, the search for a missing Alzheimer’s patient spurred Wilson County Emergency Management Agency firefighter and paramedic Anthony Nettles to turn to a tried-and-tested asset to find missing people, bloodhounds.

Nettles started an all-volunteer organization called Wilson County K-9 Search and Rescue, which is dedicated to assist first responders in search and rescue throughout the county.

Otis the hound was the first of Nettles’ pack soon after he realized the need and chance to help save lives. He started his training with experienced dog trainers from the Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal detector Guidelines.

The team has two full-grown bloodhounds named Otis and Dossi, one German Shepard named Harley and recently welcomed bloodhound puppies, Penny and Gumbo.

“My wife and I started training with them, and it took about two years to get Otis certified and comfortable to where we knew that if it was my kid that we were looking for, that I had no doubt that this dog was going to go out and find them,” Nettles said. “After that, we picked up Dossi from a shelter in Alabama, and we started training her. She’s our human-remains dog. She does cadaver work on land and water.”

The dogs are trained in “man-trailing,” which means the dog follows someone’s scent, while tracking is following footstep to footstep in thunderstorms, snow, across asphalt and rivers, wherever the scent leads them.

“We train at least 24 hours a month and four or five hours each weekend, but that’s just the big training,” Nettles said. “We also do little trainings at home. We have someone go hide in the woods, things like that, so we’ve probably got about 6,000 hours in Otis right now, and Dossi has about 2,000.”

Nettles said the bloodhounds have the ability to smell 1,000 times that of humans, something that makes them especially good at tracking.

“When you walk into a house, and you smell beef stew, he walks into the house and he smells the oregano; he smells the salt; he smells the carrot, all different, and he processes it down. And that’s what makes them great scent-discrimination dogs,” Nettles said. “They’re amazing animals.”

Nettles also said each dog has their own unique command to start, which for Otis is, “Find ‘em,” and for Gumbo is “rougarou,” a reference to Nettles’ Louisiana upbringing.

Wilson County K-9 Search and Rescue’s newest member to the four-person team is Barron Grant, who also works for WEMA.

“I’ve been wanting to get on the team for a while,” Grant said. “Search and rescue has always been a passion for me, always had a love for dogs and animals, and I also work as a firefighter and paramedic for the county, as well, and being able do both is just icing on the cake. I get to do my two loves in this life, and it’s awesome.”

It’s clear for Nettles and Grant, the bond goes beyond owner and pet to the level of an almost spiritual connection. It’s a professionalism that transcends species and requires an understanding their work can help save lives or facilitate healing in the toughest of times.

“We work out heart out. We don’t charge anything for the service. It’s free, and we’re all volunteers. You could blindfold me, and I’d trust Otis with my life, like he trusts me,” Nettles said. “Just working out there, knowing that we’re fixing to go to work, he starts singing and jumping up and down. He loves to do this. Most dogs are driven by food, like Penny here. She’s a hungry little girl, so we treat her. But Otis, he’s gotten such a love for what he does that all he wants is daddy to tell him that he’s a good boy, and we have a little party at the end.”

That party includes lots of pets and a high-pitched praise of the dog’s efforts, something Nettles insists helps to communicate the good work to the copper hound.

Nettles said, while the dogs are able to track people long into their lives, they plan to keep the dogs working for about 10 years before passing the baton – or in this case the dog bone – onto the next generation of hounds.

“Our average is about nine to 10 years, and then we start training the next group and, like I said, we lucked up with Gumbo and Penny, so this will put Otis at right about five or six years. That way, Gumbo and Penny will be about 2 when we get ready to certify them. That way, they’re ready to go, and we can start looking for the next ones,” Nettles said. “You always want to keep enough ammunition to fight the war.”

Nettles said securing a total of six members would be optimal for their group who looks toward an organized future of working in Wilson County, which would include zoning off the county for faster response times. But what he’s most excited about is his development of Wilson County K-9 Search and Rescue’s newest effort, a voluntary database of people with autism and Alzheimer’s who may be most at risk of becoming a missing person.

The program, called Project Safe Autistic Alzheimers Return Assistance, is the first of its kind in Wilson County and as far as Nettles knows, may be the first of its kind in the world to help save precious time and lives in a missing persons case.

“We’ve got 35, 45, maybe even 50 questions that we have to ask to get adequate information so that we can do a search,” Nettles said. “It’s very time consuming and, if you can imagine, if you had a son with autism that walked off, you’re going to be frantic. You’re not going to understand why I’m standing there asking you so many questions when I’ve got a dog right there that could be at work. So I got with [WEMA] director Joey Cooper and [Wilson County] Mayor Hutto, and we’ve developed a link on Wilson County’s website, which should be operational soon, and it has all the questions there, and in your leisure time, you can answer the questions, so that if your child wanders off, you call 911 as usual and tell the dispatcher that you enrolled in Project SAARA, and this is the number that they gave me.”

Nettles said the dispatchers would then send the identification number to the search-and-rescue group, which would save about two hours of vital search time to find someone who may be missing.

“It also tells you how to develop a scent article that you can keep at home. That way, we won’t have to come in and take your toothbrush, your hairbrush, your clothes or pillowcase and shove it up a dog’s nose,” Nettles said. 

Nettles said developing a scent article is as simple as having a person wipe themselves with a gauze pad, and have them place that in a sealed reusable plastic bag, double bag the gauze in another plastic bag and place those in a sealed manila envelope with a recent photo of the person who might go missing. Nettles said the Project SAARA identification number should be written on the envelope, and the envelope can be stored in the freezer without the scent expiring.

More information about Wilson County K-9 Search and Rescue may be found at facebook.com/Wilson-County-K9-Search-and-Rescue.

Music and Memories celebrates seniors

By Matt Masters

mmasters@lebanondemocrat.com

Music and Memories at Tucker’s Gap Event Center brought music and fun for Wilson County’s seniors last Tuesday and more significantly raised $18,500 for the Senior Citizen’s Awareness Network.

SCAN, a volunteer-staffed nonprofit organization, assists Wilson County’s senior citizens with visits, heaters, air conditioners, walkers and emergency alert buttons.

Leadership Wilson, a nonprofit community leadership organization that provides a comprehensive leadership training opportunity through experiential learning, daylong seminars, group discussions, field trips and retreats with community and business leaders, organized Tuesday’s event.

Organizer Scott McRae said the event attracted nearly 200 community members and exceeded expectations, but it was the stories of seniors who connected with their community that stuck out to McRae as the most important accomplishment.

“It started with a small seed and it grew,” McRae said. “The initial concept was to provide an event for the seniors in our area and let them have some fun to enjoy.

“Our goal was to raise a little bit of money, and it just kept growing and growing with these wonderful surprises, and we’ve raised over $18,000.

“My relationship with SCAN started probably eight, nine years ago when my son was in scouts. We went out and collected a truckload of food and took it to their food pantries. So I’ve known SCAN for many years, and it’s come full circle to be able to give back to them as our team with this wonderful event and to not only raise awareness, but also to put a little joy into our community.”

Peggie Culpepper, 83, said she fell in love with the SCAN volunteers who take their time to form relationships with her and even built her a wheelchair ramp at her Mt. Juliet home. She said the music and atmosphere of the event really illustrated the kindness of SCAN and the community as a whole she watched grow from a little country town to the current busy city.

“I think it’s the most wonderful thing they could do for the elderly people,” Culpepper said. “SCAN has done so much for me. They built my [wheelchair] ramp for me years ago, and I think they’re wonderful people. They do so much for everybody. They’re so loving, and they just make you feel good.”

SCAN volunteer Jacque Dillard has worked with the organization for three years and said it’s the ability to give back that makes the work worth it.

“I enjoy meeting with the people, and it makes me realize how fortunate I am, how blessed I am, and they’re always so glad to see us. It’s just so good to be able to give back to people,” Dillard said.

Andy May and his Band of Friends provided the music, and WANT radio personality M.J. Lucas served as emcee.

Tennova Healthcare-Lebanon provided health screenings, and the event featured an appearance by Tom the mini horse.

Sponsors included Leadership Wilson, Music and Memories Team, Jim and Sharon Putejovsky, Tucker’s Gap Event Center, Andy May and His Band of Friends, M.J. Lucas, Hawk Specialty Services, David Hale, UPS Store Mt. Juliet, Gary Whitaker, Dorie Mitchell, Bonnie Ryan with Zaxby’s, CedarStone Bank, Chad and Betty Williams with Smile Gallery, Christopher and Emily Gann, Kevin and Tina Winfree, The Leadership Wilson Softball Tournament Team, Lanee Young, Silver Springs Baptist Church, Lynn Odum, the Jewelers of Lebanon, WANT FM, U.S. Community Credit Union, Beckwith Missionary Baptist Church, Sammy B’s, the city of Lebanon, Mayor Bernie Ash, John and Kathleen Reaney, The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet, Robinson Properties, Karen Moore, Dave and Martha VanHoven, Sen. Mark Pody, Lisia Tucker, Aqua Bella Day Spa, T.A. Bryan, Hickory Hill Farm, Tennova Healthcare-Lebanon, Demos’ Restaurant, 615 Powerhouse Cleaning, Farm Bureau Insurance, Jeff and Deniece Stonebraker, Cheryl and Jenell Herbert, West Wilson Exchange Club, Cracker Barrel and Judy Cox and Medana Hemontolor with Exit Rocky Top Realty.

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.”

TWRA biologist from MJ flexes muscles

By Larry Woody

Mt. Juliet’s Jason Wisniewski, who recently joined the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency along with wife Jenifer, is noted for his muscles.

He’s not a body-builder. He’s a malacologist – a biologist who specializes in the study and management of freshwater mollusks, commonly known in Tennessee as muscles.

“Lots of people don’t realize they are one of our most imperiled species,” says Wisniewski, who works at the TWRA’s aquatic species hatchery at the Cumberland River Aquatic Center in Gallatin.

Why do muscles matter?

“They filter impurities from the water and are good ecological ‘early warning systems’ because they are so sensitive to pollutants,” Wisniewski says. “However, by the time we discover a pollutant is adversely impacting muscles, it’s probably too late to prevent the damage in that particular water.”

He adds: “It’s possible muscles have uses we haven’t discovered yet. That’s part of our research. But we never want to lose any species. We have to assume it has some purpose and function.”

Muscles have long been an important part of life in the Southeast.

They provided food, tools and ornaments for Native Americans. The oyster-like muscle was eaten, and the sharp shell was used for cutting and scraping. The iridescent shell was also fashioned into pendants, beads and earrings.

More modernly, muscles are harvested by divers for sale to the button industry, including foreign markets. Muscles are commercially farmed to produce fresh-water pearls. One such farm is located at Birdsong Marina on Kentucky Lake.

Wisniewski earlier this year joined the TWRA with his wife, who serves as the Agency’s Chief of Communications and Outreach. They settled in Mt. Juliet because of the quality of life and split proximity to their new jobs – Jenifer’s at TWRA headquarters in Nashville and Jason’s at the TWRA’s Aquatic Center in Gallatin.

Both previously held similar positions with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Wisniewski, a native of Pennsylvania, moved to Tennessee in 2001 to attend Tennessee Tech where he earned a Masters degree. He joined the Georgia DNR and quickly gained a reputation as an authority in his field, authoring 15 technical papers, assisting with a Supreme Court lawsuit, and most recently spending time at the Smithsonian to assist a mollusk research project.

Wisniewski says he “stumbled into” his mollusk career.

“I was interested in fisheries management, and the only openings at the time were in mollusk studies,” he says. “I took what was available, and the more I got into it, the more fascinating it became.”

The Aquatic Center was built decades ago by TVA, and in 2006 the TWRA opened an aquatic species hatchery program. Today the TWRA manages and operates the Center in partnership with TVA, Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

“It’s a great facility and we’re fortunate to have it,” Wisniewski says.

During his free time Wisniewski likes to hunt, fish and trap. He is a member of the Fur Takers of America Grant Committee. He was a licensed “nuisance trapper” in Georgia and plans to eventually resume trapping nuisance animals here, in addition to his TWRA duties.

Larry Woody is The Democrat’s outdoors writer. Email him at larrywoody@gmail.com.

Wilson becomes fastest-growing county in state

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Wilson County may well be the fastest-growing county in the state, according to new data estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The data, which was released this month, showed Wilson County was the fastest growing county in 2018. It added 4,085 residents during the year. That is a 3.4 percent increase in population and propelled the county to be the 57th fastest growing in the country.

Other Tennessee counties that showed quick growth included Montgomery County, which grew by 3 percent; Rutherford County, which grew by 2.6 percent; and Williamson County, which also grew by 2.6 percent.

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto didn’t dispute the numbers.

“There are three things concentrate on from our office, education, public safety and quality of life,” Hutto said. “Two of those reasons were why we are at the top. They are education and quality of life. I do feel good about that. That’s been our concentration on what we’ve been trying to do.

“Quality of people who live here is the No. 1 asset why people move here. There’s no question that the centrality of our location is important to people. We’re a rock’s throw away from Nashville. Our motto is miles from ordinary. We have the best of all worlds here. You can live in a fast-paced city or the county. They can do it here.”

All four counties were also among the fastest-growing counties in the country in the last eight years. Compared to 2010 census data, Williamson ranked 25th in the nation with 26.4 percent growth, Rutherford ranked 38th with 23.7 percent, Wilson at 39th with 23.3 percent and Montgomery at 68th with 19.5 percent, the report said.

Since the last federal census in 2010, Wilson County was estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau to have grown by 26,552 people through 2018. The latest estimate showed Wilson County had 140,625 residents in the county.

Mt. Juliet remained the largest city in the county with 34,726 estimated people living in the city limits. The city is the 22nd largest in Tennessee.

The Census Bureau estimated Lebanon had 32,226 residents in it, which made it it the 24th largest city in Tennessee.

Watertown was estimated by the Census Bureau to claim 1,530 residents. It was the 194th city in the state.

Tennessee has 95 counties and 346 municipalities, known as “cities” or “towns.” According to the 2010 census bureau, just more than 56 percent of the state’s population lives in municipalities.

Counties with the largest numeric growth were all in the South and West, with counties in Texas taking four out of the top 10 spots, according to new U.S. Census Bureau population estimates.

FBI stats show Mt. Juliet, Lebanon crime rates rise

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

The crime statistics for Lebanon and Mt. Juliet rose in 2017, according to SafeWise, a professional review and comparison website that recently announced its list of the 20 safest cities in Tennessee for 2019.

Mt. Juliet dropped five points from the 2018 report, where it placed 14th. In 2019, the city ranked 19th on the list. Violent crimes consisted of 1.75 incidents per every 1,000 residents. The property crime rate was 17.75 per 1,000 residents. SafeWise based its statistics on the city’s 34,888 residents.

Lebanon was 85th, just below East Ridge and just above Dunlap. The violent crime rate in Lebanon was 7.07 per 1,000 residents, and the property crime rate was 29.12, per 1,000 residents.

The top 10 cities were Belle Meade, Pleasant View, Collegedale, Brentwood, Church Hill, Germantown, Loudon, Coopertown, Signal Mountain and Oakland.

Rounding out the top 20 were Nolensville, Bean Station, Collierville, Atoka, Sparta, Jonesboro, Maryville, Spring Hill, Mt. Juliet and Hendersonville.

“The Volunteer State’s safest cities seem to be full of citizens stepping up to keep their communities safe,” said report writer Rebecca Edwards. “Each of Tennessee’s safest cities had fewer than two incidents of violent crime per 1,000 people, but the state doesn’t do as well overall. Tennessee’s statewide violent crime rate of 9.07 is double the national rate of 4.49 crimes per 1,000.

“It doesn’t get much better when you add property crime to the mix. The state’s rate of 39.88 incidents per 1,000 isn’t double the national rate of 27.11, but it’s still remarkably high.”

To gather the information, SafeWise writers looked at the most up-to-date FBI crime data.

“This means we rely on information that cities across the country report through the FBI uniform crime reporting program, according to the SafeWise website. “We also use population thresholds for each state. We identify the median city population in each state and only report on cities with populations above the median. This reduces the risk of outliers and lowers the likelihood of an extreme outlier skewing the data.”

FBI UCR data is just one way cities report crime statistics, and “we know that it may differ from other reports a city submits. But, to make sure that we’re comparing apples to apples, we’ve chosen to use this data as the basis of our safest cities reporting. Plus, this is the most consistent report available for most cities across the nation,” the site said.
To identify the safest cities of 2019, SafeWise reviewed 2017 FBI crime report statistics – the most recent complete report available at the time of ranking – and population data. Cities that fell below identified populations thresholds – or that failed to submit a complete crime report to the FBI – were excluded from the report.

“Our rankings are based on the number of reported violent crimes – aggravated assault, murder, rape and robbery – in each city,” the site said. “If there was a tie, we also factored in the number of property crimes – burglary, arson, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft. We give precedence to violent crime because it typically results in physical harm or injury, whereas property crime usually has an economic impact. While both are concerning, people are usually more afraid of violent crime, which directly impacts their feeling of safety.”

To level the playing field, SafeWise calculated the rate of crimes per 1,000 people in each city.

“This makes it easier to directly compare the likelihood of these crimes occurring in cities with vastly different populations,” the site said.

Among all 20 safest cities, one city had a property crime rate above the national average – Sparta, with 60 property crimes per 1,000, Edwards said. Every other city on the list had 22 or fewer incidents.

Seventy percent of the 2019 safest cities made the list for the second time, and the top two held their rankings year over year.

Eighty percent of the cities had no killings, 45 percent had no robberies, and 60 percent had no counts of arson.

Tennessee’s biggest concern was property crime, and 72 percent of State of Safety participants cited it as a top worry, versus 59 percent nationwide. Violent crime comes in second, with 65 percent naming it a primary concern.

Sixteen percent reported experiencing a property crime in the past year, which matched the national average.

Having someone break into their home is the highest concern among property crime offenses – 73 percent vs. 63 percent nationally. But it was relatively rare when actual reported crimes in the safest cities – three cities reported more than 60 burglaries – were considered, Edwards said. And burglary made up 11 percent of the total property crimes reported among the safest cities.