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Legislators debate seat belts on school buses

A proposal to require seat belts on school buses in Tennessee drew criticism last week from District 40 Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver.

In remarks to the House Education Administration and Planning Committee, Weaver called the proposed bill “emotionally driven” and “bad policy.”

The bill is sponsored by Chattanooga-area Rep. JoAnne Favors. A Chattanooga school bus crash last November killed six students. Police say the driver was speeding and he now faces vehicular homicide charges.

Photo by Metro Creative Connection
Adding seat belts to school buses and hiring monitors could cost Trousdale County $220,000 annually, according to school estimates.

Weaver said she believes seat belts could potentially endanger students who might not be able to remove the restraints if a bus were to catch fire or wind up in water.

“Since 20009, we have had 11 deaths, children or adult, (on buses),” Weaver said. “A bus can be in flames in two minutes. Going off a bridge into water, we can have 50 to 80 children in one bus. In one accident, that could be extremely tragic.”

Weaver added that she had received letters from bus drivers throughout her district opposing such a measure.

The bill calls for buses purchased starting in July 2019 to have seat belts, and for all buses in use to have such systems by July 2023.

Director of Schools Clint Satterfield said he wanted to see more studying of the proposal before deciding whether he would support it.

“On the surface, it seems like the right thing to do in light of the tragedy in Chattanooga,” Satterfield said. “However, there is a lot of information coming from various sources that seat belts would not have saved a single life in Chattanooga. I just want legislators to ensure that the law justifies the means.”

Satterfield said, based on discussions with transportation supervisor David Cothron, adding seat belts to buses would probably increase the price of a bus between $5,000 and $10,000. He also said the need for extra bus monitors would add more costs.

“Early elementary students will be unable to buckle and unbuckle students, therefore, requiring bus monitors on most all buses. This would increase our transportation budget an additional $220,000 for monitors alone annually that the state is not providing and would therefore place the cost on the local county government.”

The House Education Committee delayed discussion of the bill until this week’s meeting. The State Senate version of the bill has been referred to the Finance, Ways & Means Committee.

On Monday, the House unanimously approved companion legislation to create more oversight of school transportation. Among that bill’s requirements are that school bus drivers be at least 25 years old and have five years of unrestricted driving privileges and requiring buses to be equipped with phone numbers on the bumper for complaints.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

County looks to rework gun-range regulations

Changes to Trousdale County’s zoning regulations with regards to outdoor shooting ranges were presented to the Planning Commission during its April 10 meeting.

The Planning Commission earlier this year appointed a subcommittee to recommend changes after a controversial proposal submitted by the Gallatin Gun Club, which would have relocated to Trousdale County.

The proposal fell through after residents living near the proposed site rallied opposition and the land proved not large enough to accommodate the club.

“There were a few things that we thought the language need to be clarified as to what it meant,” county building inspector Dwight Jewell said to the Planning board members.

Jewell added that, to his knowledge, the Gallatin Gun Club was no longer looking at options within Trousdale County.

The amended regulations will include, but is not limited to, the following restrictions:

Parcel must be 10 acres or greater;

Point of discharge of firearm must meet minimum distance requirements from occupied structures, public or private roads – 1,000 feet from rear of shooting range and 250 feet in all other directions;

All projectile and shot shall fall within property of shooting range; and

Decibel levels measured at property line shall not exceed 70 dB.

Site plan approval will also require a sound abatement plan, defining the dissipation of noise within the range.

“That is probably the toughest part of the site plan submittal in our regulations. 70 decibels… is a tough standard to meet. That’s about normal conversation,” added Rick Gregory, representative from the Greater Nashville Regional Council.

The proposed changes must be approved by the County Commission at two separate meetings. First reading is expected to be at the April 24 meeting, followed by a public hearing and second reading at May’s meeting.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Schools seek grant for afterschool program

The Trousdale County school system is seeking a state grant to continue its afterschool program for elementary students.

The Lottery for Education: Afterschool Programs (LEAP) grant provides three years of funding, and the county has utilized those grants since beginning the program nine years ago. By state law, the funding comes from unclaimed winnings in the Tennessee lottery.

Trousdale County’s afterschool program provides 15 hours of instruction each week, running from 2:45-5:45 p.m., in three categories: tutoring/homework, physical education/nutrition and social/emotional learning.

“We had already been dipping in (social/emotional), said Kathy Atwood, who runs the afterschool program. “Volunteer Behavioral Health provided us with a program, and we have been using it. That is one of the buzzwords with learning right now.”

Atwood said the afterschool program tries to be “fun” for participating students.

“One day we have a STEM teacher who does science experiments with the kids,” Atwood said. “Another day we have art, we have a librarian one day, and our social/emotional one day.

Students who come get 30-60 minutes of tutoring, 30 minutes of computer time, 30 minutes of physical activity and 30 minutes of enrichment, according to Atwood. There are also snacks for students and free-play time, “to just be kids for a little while,” Atwood said.

Trousdale County also provides transportation for afterschool students within the city limits, something not every school system does.

The program currently serves 120 students in grades K-5, and has a waiting list of 35-40 students.

Atwood said the program even utilizes high school juniors and seniors as peer models for younger children.

“Our teenagers set good examples for our younger students,” Atwood said. “They’re talking about the senior trip, going to college, what they’ve got to do. It’s also good with scholarship building.”

Director of Schools Clint Satterfield said the afterschool program is one of the things he takes the most pride in during his tenure.

“I think it’s one of the most impactful things we do in our school district,” Satterfield said. “We have a lot of latchkey kids. It’s extending the school day and we’re able to influence those children positively.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Drug Court program holds graduation ceremony

The 15th Judicial District Drug Court Program held its graduation ceremony on Friday, April 7, with the Honorable John Wootten, Jr. presiding.

Four men graduated the program after participating anywhere from one to four years. The Drug Court program started in 2002 and is designed to combine treatment and intensive supervision for non-violent felony offenders who have had contact with the courts and have an admitted drug and/or alcohol addiction.

Submitted photo
Judge John Wootten Jr. addresses graduates of the Drug Court program.

Judge Wootten pointed out that this graduation was special, not only for the four program graduates but also because one of the graduates was a participant in our “Veterans Track.” According to Judge Wootten, the program has recently added a separate track geared towards the unique needs and services of our veterans of the armed forces.

These recent graduates are all employed full time, have suitable long-term housing and have been compliant with supervision and screening requirements. Perhaps most importantly, these participants have maintained a clean and sober lifestyle change for at least 18-24 months.

The goal of the program is to break the cycle of reincarceration. Judge Wootten contributed the program’s success to the hard work of each individual participant, as well as the Drug Court team. Drug Court members include: Judge Wootten, Assistant District Attorney Jimmy Lea, Assistant Public Defender Shelley Thompson, Director of Cumberland Mental Health Nathan Miller, Certified Peer Specialist with Veterans Affairs Clarke Harrison, State Probation Officer with the Board of Probation and Parole Jeremiah Smith, Drug Court Coordinator Jeff E. Dickson, Sr. Case Manager Paula Langford and Case Manager Shelly Allison.

The 15th Judicial District Drug Court program serves Wilson, Trousdale, Macon, Jackson and Smith counties, and has seen much success during the past 15 years and looks forward to continued growth.

Warden says things ‘settling down’ at prison

The warden of Trousdale County’s prison said things at the facility were “settling down” during last week’s meeting of the Hartsville/Trousdale County Chamber of Commerce.

Blair Leibach, who heads operations at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, was the guest speaker last Tuesday. Leibach took over as warden in March 2016, two months after the facility opened.

Since opening, the CoreCivic (formerly CCA) prison has been the subject of numerous complaints by inmates and family members regarding a number of issues, including understaffing and untreated medical concerns. For a time, the state stopped sending prisoners to the 2,552-bed prison, the largest in Tennessee.

Blair Leibach

The warden said problems had been addressed, while adding that many of the prison’s issues stemmed from an “sophisticated inmate population and an inexperienced staff.”

“Probably 85 percent of my staff has just over a year in corrections,” Leibach said. “That’s one of the things that makes a startup so difficult. Plus, when you open a new facility, people (at other prisons) are going to send you what they don’t want.”

“The population at the facility was initially a little rough. We are slowly but surely changing a culture.”

Leibach noted the company had offered better incentives to retain staff, including greater starting pay, referral and sign-on bonuses and relocation packages. The warden said an outside security company, G4S, had been sending staff to work at TTCC, but added that contract has expired and non-CoreCivic personnel are no longer working on site.

“We’ve got staff that understand what the processes, the policies, are and are enforcing those, and the inmate population is coming to realize they can’t get away with things they used to get away with,” the warden said.

Leibach said his view of corrections had changed considerably over a career dating to the 1980s.

“I’ve come to understand these individuals are people. We have an obligation as corrections professionals to give these individuals tools to be successful when they reenter society,” Leibach said.

Leibach said TTCC had implemented programs – both educational and vocational – to help inmates make the eventual transition to life outside prison. There are also drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, and programs teaching social life skills, to learn how to be productive citizens once released.

Leibach praised former Trousdale County Elementary principal Johnny Kerr, who now heads educational programs at the prison.

According to the warden, the prison currently has around 500 inmates utilizing the educational programs and has a capacity for 700.

“John has done a tremendous job with those students. We’re seeing more involvement, more motivation from the inmate population,” Leibach said.

While noting previous bad publicity, Leibach said he was proud of the work his staff has done in turning things around.

“It takes its toll, but people are there giving 150 percent every single day to make sure the mission is carried out.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Broadband bill headed to governor’s desk

High-speed Internet throughout Trousdale County could be one step closer to reality after Monday’s passage of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act.

The Tennessee House of Representatives voted 93-4 for passage of the bill, which was one of Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative priorities this year. Having already passed the Senate by a 31-0 vote, the bill now heads to Haslam for his signature.

“More than 800,000 Tennesseans don’t have access to broadband, and one in three businesses identified it as essential to selecting their location. Spurring deployment in our rural, unserved areas will open them up to economic investment and growth,” Haslam said in a press statement.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

“It’s not a perfect bill, but it blazes a trail,” added State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, who co-sponsored the bill. “This has been a very hot topic for rural areas all across the state.

“Broadband is infrastructure that is needed for people, in their businesses and in their homes.”

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act provides $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses It also makes grant funding available to the state’s local libraries to help residents improve their digital literacy skills and maximize the benefits of broadband. Perhaps even more importantly for Trousdale County, the plan permits Tennessee’s private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband service.

“We are very pleased that the General Assembly has passed Governor Haslam’s broadband legislation,” said Paul Thompson, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Tri-County. “Tri-County Electric looks forward to accomplishing what we’ve been working on with local government officials and community leaders since 2014, bringing broadband to Trousdale County! We have begun design work and are looking at financial models, but are waiting for additional information from the State of Tennessee on regulations, registrations, etc.”

County government had tried to partner with Tri-County last year to start offering broadband service, but a ruling from the state comptroller’s office halted those efforts. This new legislation reopens that door, something County Mayor Carroll Carman was excited to see.

“I think they will be poised to jump on this and move us forward,” Carman said.

“As to how soon, it depends on where you’re at. If the wires are already on the pole, you’ll be quick. If it’s 20 miles to get to you, it may be a while.”

Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the U.S. for broadband access, with 34 percent of rural Tennessee residents lacking access at recognized minimum standards.

The legislation came after a year of study and stakeholder conversations by the administration. In July 2016, the Department of Economic and Community Development released a commissioned study assessing broadband in Tennessee and options for increasing access and utilization. In addition, a report issued by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR), which completed extensive work on the subject of broadband accessibility and adoption, significantly contributed to Haslam’s broadband proposal.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com

Op-Ed: Saying thank you to TCHS

I’ve written previously about how special a place Trousdale County is in which to live.

But the events of last week have reminded me that the people in our community are really what make Hartsville and Trousdale County feel like home.

Last Wednesday, my son, Jay, was stricken with a medical emergency and was hospitalized for a few days. He’s home now and is doing well, by the way!

Jay is autistic, and when we moved here 10 years ago, I admit I wondered how his classmates at school would accept him.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Students, teachers and staff at Trousdale County made this banner for the author’s son.

As it turned out, I needn’t have been concerned at all. His fellow students have been wonderful to him through the years. He has made numerous friends, has twice been voted “Favorite Boy” by his classmates and this year, as a senior at Trousdale County High School, received the “Friendliest” superlative as voted by fellow seniors.

In fact, it’s rare that I show up anywhere in Hartsville – be it grocery store, gas station, school or restaurant – that someone doesn’t ask how Jay is doing. I have joked with family that I’m not sure whether I’m better known as the newspaper guy or Jay’s dad!

On Thursday afternoon, Jay’s favorite teacher from TCHS showed up to visit him, and brought a banner that had been posted at the school that day. I quickly gave up trying to count the number of students, teachers and staff who signed the banner wishing Jay a speedy recovery – there were so many!

My family and I are extremely touched by the caring and love shown by everyone at Trousdale County High School. I was even moved to a tear at the sight of the banner hanging on the wall of his hospital room – which for me is saying something.

I intend to have the banner framed and hung in my home as a permanent reminder of how this community rallies around its own and of the wonderful hearts of the people of Trousdale County, which truly is the heart of Tennessee.

Complaints about the youngest generation are a common sight, especially in today’s society. But from what we have seen and experienced, Trousdale County’s young people have a bright future and will make this town, and eventually this world, a better place.

Words can’t truly express the gratitude and emotions I am still feeling as I type this. But from the bottom of my heart, to everyone at Trousdale County High School and in the community as well, I say: THANK YOU!

Chris Gregory is managing editor of The Hartsville Vidette. Reach him at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Trousdale County seeing population boom

Trousdale County is seeing the benefits from a population boom in Middle Tennessee, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Population in the county increased by 407 from April 1, 2010 and July 1, 2016, according to census data. The estimated population of 8,271 represents a 5.2 percent growth rate.

Not counted in the population increase are the inmates at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, which opened in January 2016. The 2,552-bed prison is currently the largest in the state.

RELATED LINK: Census data

From 2015 to 2016, Trousdale County’s population increased an estimated 2.9 percent, which rated fourth highest among Tennessee’s 95 counties.

That one year’s growth consisted of 584 births, 541 deaths and 348 people who moved into Trousdale County.

The 10 fastest-growing counties in the state are Williamson, Rutherford, Wilson, Trousdale, Maury, Sumner, Macon, Dickson, Lawrence and Putnam.

All 10 counties are either in or bordering the Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin Metropolitan Statistical area. The net population of this area, 1.87 million, makes up 28 percent of the total state population, up 2 percent since 2015.

The fastest-growing area in Trousdale County is currently along Highway 231, where many new residences have been built in recent years.

According to county building inspector Dwight Jewell, the county is seeing growth in all areas as well.

“The larger growth areas are up and down 231 in the western part of the county, but we’re seeing growth in all parts.

“The 141 road has opened up a bit more down in the Providence area. Even the eastern end of the county, Glasgow Branch and Lick Creek, are seeing several houses in that area.”

Jewell said he has been averaging around six new building permits a month, and that he had issued nine such permits in March. In past years, Jewell said, two or three permits would have been considered a “big” month.

The 2016 data indicates counties within metropolitan areas, including Wilson, Rutherford, Williamson, Knox and Hamilton counties, are seeing the highest net migration. Of the state’s 95 counties, 67 experienced growth. Of those 67 counties, 24 experienced growth greater than the state average of 0.9 percent and 33 saw an increase greater than the national average of 0.7 percent.

“The population growth we are seeing across the state is, in part, due to the net migration, or people moving into and out of the state,” said Melissa Stefanini, director of the Tennessee State Data Center, which is a local partner to the Census Bureau. “There could be many reasons for this trend, for example, job growth in the state and people pursuing higher education.”

The state population as a whole was about 6.65 million in 2016, which is a 0.9-percent increase compared to 2015’s population number. The state ranks 16th in the nation in growth percentage.

Numbers from the Census data are considered estimates. For more information, visit census.gov.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com. Contributing: Jake Old, Lebanon Democrat

Band Boosters plan annual children’s pageant

The Trousdale County Band Boosters will hold their annual Spring Children’s Beauty Pageant on Saturday at the high school auditorium.

The pageant is one of two annual fundraisers for the band program, along with the September exhibition that has become one of the state’s largest band competitions.

The Band Boosters have been holding the kids’ pageant for at least 15 years, according to assistant director Steve Paxton. The idea came about as a way to do something for Trousdale County’s youngest residents.

Submitted

“The high school has always done one, and the middle school has one, but no one was doing one for the elementary,” Paxton said. “Our grand champion is Miss Trousdale Elementary.

“For us, this is our spring event. This gets funds ready to carry us through the summer, band camp, and the beginning of the school year.”

The pageant consists of 11 age groups, ranging from 0-6 months up to grades 4-5 for girls and up to ages 3-4 for boys. The entry fee for contestants is $25. Admission to Saturday’s event is $5.

Children entering must be residents of Trousdale County. The pageant will begin at 11 a.m. There will also be a practice on Friday from 6-8 p.m. at the TCHS auditorium.

In recent years, the boosters have focused on new uniforms for the band, which were eventually purchased last year and debuted in the Hartsville Christmas Parade. Paxton said the group is now looking toward equipment purchase and maintenance, while also looking to the future of the program.

“We’ll constantly keep doing instrument upgrades,” Paxton said. “When we have a student who’s a good musician, they need a good instrument to play on.

“Our goal is to keep growing the band, to need more uniforms. We want that to be our legacy.”

For more information on the Band Boosters pageant, contact Paxton at 615-374-2712.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Kellers’ cat takes surprise road trip

Probably everyone has seen a film about, or read of, a pet that found its way home after being stranded – sometimes hundreds of miles away.

Daddy Cat’s journey wasn’t as far, but still makes for an interesting tale.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Daddy Cat is safely perched outside Keller’s Restaurant after recently making a surprise trip to Gainesboro.

The cat, which belongs to Bubba and Lindsey Keller and is often seen outside Keller’s Restaurant, somehow made his way to Gainesboro before returning to his owners.

“We think he might have gotten on our food truck that comes in,” said Lindsey Keller. “That’s the only thing we can think of.”

Daddy Cat went missing on Friday, March 24, and the Kellers took to social media to help find their beloved pet.

One week later, they received a late-night text from a homeowner in Gainesboro, where the cat had shown up. His collar contains Lindsey’s contact information, which is how the homeowner was able to find the cat’s owner.

“Two hours went by before I saw this text, and I’m freaking out, thinking he went to some other house,” Lindsey said. “I called the guy at midnight, but he was still there.

“He said he was in Gainesboro, and I was like, ‘Where’s that?’ We had about a three-hour road trip to get my cat!“

According to Lindsey, her husband may have been more overjoyed to get their pet back.

“Bubba wouldn’t let him go the whole time. He said, ‘He’s not getting out of the house again.’ “

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

March is busy time for UT Extension office

March is considered UT Extension Month in Tennessee. Trousdale County is no different and the UT Extension office has been busy with all the events and activities that take place in March. The month kicked off quickly with 4-H Camp sign-up beginning on March 7. 4-H Camp takes place this summer from June 19-23 in Crossville, at the Clyde York 4-H Center. It is open to all youth in Trousdale County in grades 4-6.

Photos courtesy of UT Extension
A number of 4-H students competed in the state archery contest earlier this month.

The Advanced Master Beef Producer program, which was held in conjunction with Smith County UT Extension, was completed on March 14. The speaker at that event was Dr. Michael Towns with Macon/Trousdale County Veterinary Services.

The program concluded with a graduation ceremony and steak dinner for 42 producers who completed the three-week course. The Advanced Master Beef Producer Program is an educational program offered by the University of Tennessee Extension that focuses on beef cattle production. Anyone interested in attending the next Advanced Master Beef Producer Program can contact the UT Extension office.

Along with 4-H Camp sign-ups, 4-H’ers have been busy competing in livestock judging events and area 4-H archery contests. On Saturday, March 11, Trousdale County 4-H’ers braved the cold and the snow to participate in the livestock judging contest at the Tennessee Beef Agribition in Lebanon. On Tuesday, March 21, Trousdale County’s 4-H program hosted a local 4-H shoot with neighboring Sumner County’s 4-H program. The 4-H’ers had a blast and met new friends. This local shoot helped prepare them for the State 4-H Archery Jamboree on Saturday, March 25.

Trousdale County had 18 4-H’ers who competed at the State Jamboree. Several others were on spring break and enjoying their vacation from school. 4-H Archery Program is open to all Trousdale County 4-H members in grades 4-12. The archery program would not be possible without the parents, volunteers and others who help out each week and provided targets.

Some of the 42 local participants in the Advanced Master Beef Producer program are shown here.

The most exciting news that occurred during the month of March in the UT Extension office was the hiring of a new 4-H Youth Development and Family Consumer Sciences Agent, Erika Potts. She will start in her new position in Trousdale County on Monday, April 3.

Potts is a native of Trousdale County and looks forward to working with the youth and adults in the community to make a difference. Come by the UT Extension office in April to welcome Erika and congratulate her on her new position.

Commissioners OK funding for skate park

A skate park will soon be a reality in Hartsville City Park after the County Commission approved funding during Monday night’s meeting.

Commissioners backed a proposed budget amendment of $37,551 to build the skate park, which is intended to give local youth a place to ride and keep them off city streets.

The funding is partially from donations and fundraising, with the remainder coming from the county’s fund balance.

County Mayor Carroll Carman said he hoped to see work begin on the project by the end of April, with a finishing date sometime this summer.

Other budget amendments that were approved included:

$2,000 for digitizing records in the Register of Deeds’ office;

$4,136 for a part-time trainee position in the Building/Codes Inspector’s office;

$10,765 for data processing needs;

$15,000 for Internet-ready phones for county buildings;

$32,913 in TEMA grant funds, which will be split between the sheriff’s office and Ambulance Service;

A $12,775 donation to the county schools (this was the new softball scoreboard donated by Citizens Bank);

$30,000 in extra funding for health insurance premiums for certified school employees;

$51,423 in construction fees for an industrial access road being built in the PowerCom site; and

$30,000 for sidewalk construction on Andrews Ave., from White Oak up toward Highway 25.

The sidewalk project will be the third the county has taken on recently, joining previous projects on River Street and Main Street. It is also projected to begin in late April.

Commissioners also approved three zoning changes on second reading:

Changing a lot on Puryears Bend Road from R-1 and C-2 to R-3;

Changing a lot on Doodles Nest Lane from A-1 to R-1; and

Changing a lot on Melrose Drive from R-1 to R-3.

A request for a zoning change in a second lot on Puryears Bend Road passed on first reading and will come up again at April’s Commission meeting.

In his mayor’s report, Carman said final plans were ready for a new criminal justice center, to be built using the remaining portion of the old Co-op building on Main Street. A bid opening is scheduled for April 20.

Commissioners previously approved up to $1.75 million in funding for the project.

Six new notaries were also approved by commissioners: Zach Taylor, Jon T. Shonebarger, Jr., Thomas D. Simic, Dustin Dillehay, Amy L. Thomas and Michele Key.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

CoreCivic welcomes Jones to Hartsville facility

CoreCivic (formerly CCA) is proud to welcome a new assistant warden to its Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Andrew Jones.

Assistant Warden Jones is a native of Georgia, and a dedicated and innovative professional with proficiency both as an educator and administrator.

Submitted photo

His professional background includes 10 years with the Tennessee Department of Corrections, over 10 years of service with Bureau of Prisons, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the United States Marshalls Service, two years with the Vermont Department of Corrections, over a year spent with the California Department of Corrections, one year with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and time spent with the Hawaii Department of Corrections and Jackson-Madison County Jail.

Jones is an experienced manager of bilingual male and female inmate/detainee populations. He enjoys contributing to a team effort to include cross audits of multiple CoreCivic locations as a subject matter expert. He is also fluent in major computer software, including CoreCivic-specific software such as J.D. Edwards, Kronos, OMS2, PMDS, LMS, IRD, and INFOR.

Over his career, Jones has demonstrated expertise in compliance of laws and has a proven ability to conduct both community and media relations outreach.

Jones currently serves as the Assistant Warden of Operational Services at the Hartsville facility. He also served in United States Army and maintained the rank of E-4 (Specialist).

Committee eyes expanded fire protection

Finding ways to provide expanded fire protection to Trousdale County was the focus of last week’s meeting of the Local Government Services Committee.

According to information gathered by committee chairman Jerry Ford, the county has an ISO (insurance service office) rating of 6 (on 1 10-point scale, 1 being the best) in the city limits of Hartsville. Outside a five-mile radius of the fire hall on Broadway, the county rating is 10.

“It means that’s what your insurance on your homes and commercial buildings are rated,” Ford said. “If you live 5 or more miles out, you don’t have much fire protection… We need some help.”

The committee examined the situation from two perspectives: a lack of water flow in some areas and a need for more personnel.

Photos by Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Most of the county’s 300 fire hydrants have not been tested in years, according to reports.

Ford noted that a number of fire hydrants in Trousdale County have not been serviced in some time. He cited two examples in recent years of fires in the downtown Hartsville area in which nearby hydrants were either not functioning or were difficult to turn on.

“For some time, our fire hydrants have just been sitting there,” Ford said. “We need to be making sure they’re serviced and adequate.”

There have apparently been questions as to whether the Volunteer Fire Department of Water Department is responsible for testing and maintaining the county’s 300 fire hydrants. Most of those are in the Hartsville city limits.

According to county codes official/building inspector Dwight Jewell, the fire codes call for regular inspection by the designated authority.

County Mayor Carroll Carman told the committee he had spoken with his counterpart in Smith County, which spends roughly $20,000 annually on new hydrants. Carman said he hoped to find money in future budgets for similar action in Trousdale County.

“We’re going to have to compel fire hydrants, but I think we can do some other things as well to help that ISO rating,” Carman said.

Carman said current Planning Commission regulations call for a hydrant to be placed every 1,000 feet along a water line “if feasible.” Lines must be six-inch or greater to accommodate hydrants.

The mayor said this had often, however not been done in the county. “I have been surveying in Trousdale County for 40 years, and to my knowledge, I have never written a check for a fire hydrant… out in the county.”

Much of the outlying areas have 4-inch lines, and replacing those would be a long-term process.

The committee also plans to bring in experts from CTAS (County Technical Assistance Service) to work with Fire Chief Jimmy Anthony and the county mayor’s office in finding ways to address ISO.

The need was noted to be greater in the western edge of Trousdale County, where much of the new construction is taking place. New homes tend to burn quicker than older ones, particularly due to newer petroleum-based materials that are used in new home construction.

 

Getting more help

Anthony has noted previously some difficulties in getting more volunteers for the fire service, but said at Tuesday’s meeting that situation improved over the last year. Anthony said during 2016, his department averaged seven volunteers arriving per call.

One option the committee looked into is utilizing EMS personnel who are cross-trained for fire duties. According to EMS chief Matt Batey, there are 10 such personnel currently on his staff, counting himself.

“What we would propose is, we have two on each shift that are either career firemen at other departments or are volunteers and have been through fire classes,” Batey said. “They could be response units, we could provide immediate response.”

Batey estimated the EMS currently averages 4-5 calls per day, with transport times depending on where a patient was headed. He added EMS was also looking into adding a full-time paramedic who would be fire-trained.

Residences outside a five-mile radius of the new fire hall are lacking in fire protection, according to LGSC chairman Jerry Ford.

Costs of adding EMS personnel were discussed, with Batey saying EMS personnel should be compensated a bit more if they were expected to take on fire duties.

He said he felt any extra monies could be found in the Ambulance Service budget, without needing to tap into the county’s general fund.

“I think we can combine different line items that will no longer be used, into payroll,” Batey said.

Batey also mentioned the SAFER fund, a federal grant available through FEMA that provides money for two full-time firefighters for a period of two years. However, after those two years, the community receiving the grant is required to fund the personnel itself.

Carman said utilizing such a grant would likely force the county toward a full-time fire department, something he estimated could cost $200,000 to $300,000 per year.

Another funding option that was brought up was billing insurance policies of homeowners after fire personnel respond to a call. Anthony said while this was permissible, the county currently has no mechanism in place to do so.

The committee asked Batey to look at and report back on nearby communities to see what fire service they offer and the costs involved.

The Vidette contacted both Greenbrier and Portland. According to its website, Greenbrier has one part-time firefighter, with the rest volunteers who are paid per call. Portland has 13 full-time fire personnel and 12 volunteers. Questions regarding costs were referred to both departments’ chiefs, neither of whom were immediately available for comment.

“We still have a lot of unanswered questions,” Ford said.

The committee plans to examine the matter further at its next meeting, scheduled for April 11.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Op-Ed: Trump’s budget plan will hurt Trousdale County

Donald Trump submitted his first budget proposal as president last week, but for someone noted for “The Art of the Deal,” his plan looks more like a deal-breaker.

Trump’s budget beefs up defense spending by $54 billion, while offsetting that number with an equal amount of cuts to various programs, several of which have direct impact on Tennessee and even Trousdale County.

Perhaps the area that would have the most impact locally would be Trump’s plan to eliminate the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which is run through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The CDBG program has been around since the 1970s, and according to my conversations with the mayor’s office, Hartsville city government (and later county government after the vote to go metro) has been receiving these grants on almost a yearly basis for most of that time.

This money has had great impact on Trousdale County. For years, CDBG money has funded expansion of, or upgrades to, water lines at a local level. According to CNBC.com, around 1,200 cities and counties across America utilize these grants for a variety of uses.

Another item on the ‘cut list’ is the Water and Wastewater loan and grant program. Perhaps you’ve driven down 141 and seen the new sewer plant that is nearing completion? A good bit of the funding for that project came via this program, which allowed Trousdale County’s Water Department to borrow the money.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has also been targeted for deletion. This program, administered locally by Mid-Cumberland Action, helps seniors and the poor pay heating and power bills.

Even Meals on Wheels wasn’t spared in Trump’s budget. Granted, federal money is just a part of the organization’s funding, so that cut doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the program entirely. But how in God’s name can this man support cutting off money to provide a hot meal to people who might get just that one hot meal a day?

Those might be the cuts that would most directly affect Trousdale County, but there are others that affect Tennessee.

The Army Corps of Engineers faces a $1 billion cut, or just over 16 percent of its budget, under Trump’s plan. The Corps maintains and operates a number of locks, campgrounds and dams in Tennessee, several of which I imagine a number of Trousdale County folks use.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park would see budget cuts under Trump’s plan, too. I doubt cutting funds to Tennessee’s biggest tourist attraction is really in our state’s best interest.

There are also a number of cuts to science, environmental and educational programs in Trump’s budget? Does our president really want a dumber citizenry that breathes dirty air and drinks unclean water? I would like to think not, but as the saying goes, ‘Actions speak louder than words.’

To their credit, both of our U.S. Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, have said in statements that Congress will ultimately make the decision on a budget. Therefore, I hope many of these proposed cuts will actually become reality. But to my mind, it does not bode well for the next four years that Mr. Trump seems to have little trouble making ‘deals’ that hurt the little guy in Tennessee, quite a few of whom voted for him.

If you believe in not cutting programs that bring tax dollars directly to Trousdale County and directly impact lives here, then I strongly urge you to contact Sens. Alexander and Corker, as well as Rep. Diane Black, who by the way, happens to chair the House Budget Committee.

I would like to think this isn’t what Trousdale County voters had in mind by ‘Make America Great Again.’

Chris Gregory is managing editor of The Hartsville Vidette. Reach him at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Skate park on County Commission’s agenda

Planned funding for a skate park will be part of the agenda for Monday’s upcoming meeting of the Hartsville/Trousdale County Commission.

A request for $30,000 is one of a number of budget amendments that commissioners will vote on next week.

The Parks & Recreation Committee voted earlier this month to back the idea of a skate park, something that has been bandied about for years.

This rendering of a proposed skate park in Hartsville is courtesy of the mayor’s office.

“This is going to be a beautiful park,” said County Mayor Carroll Carman. “We’ll have a park that other communities will envy.”

A skate park will not cost the county any more in insurance fees, with Carman stating, “We checked on insurance, and we’re already insured for this.”

Carman presented commissioners with plans for the facility during last Monday’s work session.

The $30,000 would combine with roughly $15,000 already in the budget for construction, which has previously been estimated to take as little as 3-4 weeks.

Other budget amendments that will be up for votes Monday include:

$2,000 for digitizing books in the Register of Deeds office;

$4,136 for a trainee position in the Codes/Building office;

$10,765 for data processing;

$15,000 for upgraded phones in county buildings; and

$30,000 for the next planned sidewalk project, on Andrews Ave. from White Oak up toward Highway 25.

Carman told commissioners Monday he hoped to have that project bid out and ready to start by the end of April, should they approve the funding.

Three zoning changes will receive a public hearing at Monday’s Commission meeting, followed by a vote on second reading:

Changing a parcel on Puryears Bend Road from R-1 and C-2 to R-3;

Changing a parcel on Doodles Nest Lane from A-1 to R-1; and

Changing a parcel on Melrose Drive from R-1 to R-3.

A second requested zoning change on Puryears Bend Road from R-1 to R-3 will be up for first reading.

The County Commission will meet Monday evening at 7 p.m. in the upstairs courtroom of the county courthouse on Main Street.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Hartsville hit by fake IRS calls

Multiple instances of fake IRS calls have come in over the last few days, according to social media reports.

According to IRS.gov, scammers make unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS officials and demand that the victim pay a bogus tax bill. They con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone or email.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

They may even threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the drivers license of their victim if they don’t get the money.

Scammers also can alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use an intended victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official.

Courtesy of the IRS, here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not. Any one of these five things is a scam. The IRS will never:

Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.

Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.

Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.

Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:

If you don’t owe taxes, or have no reason to think that you do:

Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.

Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call at 1-800-366-4484.

If you know you owe, or think you may owe tax:

Call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com. Contributing: Staff reports

County archives receive $2,600 grant

Secretary of State Tre Hargett would like to announce grants have been awarded to the Trousdale County Archives in Trousdale County, as well as the Cumberland University Library and the Wilson County Archives in Wilson County.

The grants are distributed through the Tennessee State Library and Archives to fund local archive development. The Trousdale County Archives received a $2,600 archive development grant to purchase updated technology including a computer, scanner and software.

“We will use it to start scanning in old documents,” said county historian John Oliver. “If someone wants a copy of something, we’ll be able to get them one.”

The Trousdale County Archives are open on Wednesday afternoons from 1-3 p.m. or by appointment.

“These are more than investments in archival supplies. These grants protect our state’s precious history while ensuring access to historical information for more Tennesseans than ever before,” said Secretary Hargett. “I’m proud the Library and Archives plays such a vital role in ensuring limited state and federal dollars are used wisely in every corner of our state.”

“This grant is a wonderful opportunity for the Trousdale County Historical Society and the work of their president, John L. Oliver Jr.,” added Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin). “This will allow the well-deserving members and volunteers of the Society to continue their much appreciated hard work in salvaging and saving pieces of history for generations to come.”

In 2017, more than $95,000 in state funds is being awarded to develop and enhance 32 local archives.

The Library and Archives is also awarding more than $300,000 in technology grants to 114 public libraries across Tennessee, which are funded by Tennessee state government and a federal agency, the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

“These grant dollars will go a long way toward protecting the records stored in our archives as well as upgrading our technology and equipment,” said Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster). “I encourage people who want to learn more about our local history to visit the Trousdale County Archives and see the records that are available there.”

Contributing: Chris Gregory, Hartsville Vidette

Visitors’ views vary on gas tax hike

Differing viewpoints on a proposed increase in Tennessee’s gas tax were front stage in Hartsville last week.

Debate continues in the General Assembly on Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed IMPROVE Act, which would raise an estimated $278 million annually for transportation needs in Tennessee. The bill calls for a 7-cent raise in the gas tax, 12 cents on diesel and 15 cents on propane. A concurrent half-cent reduction in the sales tax on groceries is designed to make the bill revenue neutral.

On Monday, the Senate Transportation Committee voted 7-1 to approve an amended measure that has a 6-cent hike in the gas tax (10 on diesel) that would be implemented over three years and a reduction in sales tax on groceries to 4 percent.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
State Senator Mark Norris, second from left, speaks with members of the audience during his visit to Hartsville.

Last Thursday, State Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville) was the guest speaker at the weekly meeting of the Hartsville Rotary Club. Norris, who serves as Senate Majority Leader, spoke in favor of the measure and took questions from the audience at the Community Center. The meeting was held there to accommodate expected public interest.

“We’re into keeping Tennessee safe, keeping her strong,” Norris said. “The way to do that is to build the bridges and rebuild the infrastructure.”

“It’s a tough sell. It’s taxpayer-driven, but we have sufficient cash flow to reallocate some of these revenues and reduce taxes further… It’s not a tax increase, it’s a reallocation revenue to your benefit.”

Norris noted that he is supporting an all-around cut in the sales tax to correspond with road funding, not just a reduction on groceries.

“We want to cut it across the board, so that you really feel the difference.”

Norris did say he was uncertain of the bill’s prospects, saying, “We can pass it in the Senate; I don’t know about the House.”

Norris also spoke on the status of a bill to expand broadband accessibility in rural areas. The governor’s proposal would allow electric cooperatives, such as Tri-County, to provide broadband service.

“The broadband bill is now beginning to move in the General Assembly,” Norris said. “The bill is now moving without opposition, starting in the House, which will address some of the small providers. We’re trying to foster competition.”

On Friday, State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver stopped at the Early Bird Café for her monthly ‘Coffee and Conversations’ visit. Weaver said she remains opposed to a gas tax increase.

“The House is doing our work and we’re seeing how we can do the same thing using what we have, without a tax increase,” Weaver said. “That is my first priority.”

RELATED LINKS: Weaver vows fight against gas tax increase

Governor addresses gas tax plan in Carthage stop

Op-Ed: IMPROVE Act is best road for Tennessee

The House Transportation Committee, on which Weaver serves, last week postponed consideration of the IMPROVE Act for a week. It was expected to come back up at Tuesday’s planned committee meeting.

Weaver discussed a potential amendment that would take a portion of sales tax collections on new and used car sales and earmark that for transportation.

“History is on our side with this; we used to do this,” Weaver said.

Weaver claimed such a plan would raise around $300 million for transportation. She said she felt the Transportation Committee would take up the measure, perhaps as soon as this week.

Critics of using sales tax revenue to fund transportation have pointed out that doing so would require cuts in other budget areas should the state experience an economic downturn. Weaver said those issues would have to be addressed when and if they arose.

“I don’t have a crystal ball; I don’t know what to project,” she said. “I do know this: by keeping taxes low, we can have record revenue. We’ve just got too big for our britches.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

Sheriff debunks rumors of more crime in county

The Hartsville/Trousdale Chamber of Commerce welcomed Sheriff Ray Russell as its guest speaker for last week’s March meeting.

Russell was joined by Chief Deputy Wayland Cothron, and the pair worked to set the record straight regarding crime in Trousdale County.

“Some people have been talking about how lawless Trousdale County is here,” Russell told the audience. “We have a good community here. We try to take care of the public.”

The sheriff trumpeted his department’s clearance rate of cases, while noting that the county’s increasing population has translated into more calls to law enforcement.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Trousdale County Sheriff Ray Russell, right, and Chief Deputy Wayland Cothron address the audience at last week’s Chamber of Commerce meeting.

Russell noted that according to records compiled by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Trousdale County cleared, or solved, 53.6 percent of its cases in 2015, up from 47.8 percent in 2014. Among neighboring communities, Lebanon had a 43 percent clearance rate and Wilson County was at 36 percent.

“Statistically across the state, a clearance of 25-26 percent is average,” Russell said. “That’s not to brag on us, but that’s the facts.”

Russell also noted an increase in calls to the sheriff’s office over recent years. In 2013 there were 9,049 calls, in 2014 there were over 10,700, and in 2015 that number reached 12,500. In 2016, the number was at 14,089, according to Russell.

In 2013 there were 1,600 incident reports. Last year, there were 2,000.

“It’s increasing every year,” Cothron said. “Stats continue to increase, but luckily the sheriff has been able to hire good men and women to get that job done.

“I know there are larger departments where you can’t talk to a person anymore… When you call the sheriff’s office here, a person picks up and talks to you.”

Russell cited the cooperation of the public in the increase in calls, saying that people were more willing to call in suspicious activity, rather than an increase in crime itself.

Russell and Cothron addressed concerns over the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, which opened in January 2016. According to Cothron, there had been 328 calls to the prison since then, or less than one per day. A number of those were ambulance calls or calls to assist motorists at the CoreCivic (formerly CCA) facility.

“We have made several arrests for introducing contraband: visitors, and criminals that happened to have guard uniforms on,” Cothron said. “We’ve made those cases and bring them in.”

Asked what crime has seen the biggest increase, Cothron said the usage of drugs would fit that category.

“I remember 31 years ago, if we found someone with a bag of marijuana, that was big news,” Cothron said. “The loss of quality of life of people who use drugs is sad. Kids, homes, property are neglected because people focus on drug abuse.”

Russell said Trousdale County sees more marijuana and pills, but not as much methamphetamine. On the Upper Cumberland plateau, meth is becoming a more prevalent concern, according to the sheriff.

Russell also noted the use of body cameras on all Trousdale County deputies, saying they were a great benefit both to officers and to the public.

“I explained to (deputies), ‘We don’t want to video you doing wrong. We want to document you doing right,’ ” Cothron said. “Video tells what happened without human perception. It helps us get all the facts we can.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

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