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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Macon Co. man killed in Highway 10 collision

A Red Boiling Springs man was killed early Wednesday morning in a head-on collision on Highway 10 in Trousdale County.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol identified the deceased man as Stevie Barton, 38. The crash occurred near the intersection of Highway 10 and Old Highway 10.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
EMA officials work to clear the scene after a fatal crash on Highway 10 on Wednesday.

According to THP Trooper Danny Fisher, Barton was driving a 2002 Nissan Sentra southbound on Highway 10 around 5:30 a.m. and had just crossed the county line between Trousdale and Macon, when he was hit head-on by a 2002 Dodge Ram driven by Timothy Austin Scruggs, 23, of Castalian Springs.

Trousdale County EMA, Rescue Squad, Volunteer Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department officials responded to the scene. THP also arrived to investigate the crash.

According to THP, Scruggs, who was driving northbound on Highway 10, told first responders that he had fallen asleep behind the wheel and had crossed the center line. Scruggs was taken by ambulance to Skyline Medical Center for evaluation.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
The driver of this truck reportedly fell asleep at the wheel, leading to Wednesday’s crash.

Trousdale EMA Director Matt Batey told The Vidette that Scruggs was “awake and alert” and showed no signs of serious injury, but did complain of back pain.

Scruggs reportedly told responders he had been ejected from his truck, but EMA officials said it appeared he had rolled out of the truck after it came to a stop. THP said Scruggs was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the collision.

THP Trooper Fisher told The Vidette the investigation would be turned over to the District Attorney’s office for a decision on whether Scruggs would face charges.

As of 10:45 a.m., the crash site had not been completely cleared and that section of Highway 10 remained closed.

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

Elementary school celebrates National Reading Day

Trousdale County Elementary School celebrated National Reading Day last Friday with visits from community members, who read to the students.

Started 20 years ago by the National Education Association, National Reading Day is part of the Read Across America campaign, which focuses on motivating children and teens to read through events, partnerships and reading resources.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Nancy Painter reads to third-grade students in Ms. Landis’ classroom.

School officials recruited volunteer readers from all walks of life, such as County Mayor Carroll Carman, retired teachers, an airline pilot, business leaders and more.

“We wanted to show our students how reading is used in the classroom and in their future career,” said first-grade teacher Kellie Porter, who took charge in organizing the event. “We decided to bring in community members from various professions, for them to read to the students and share how reading is used in their professions and daily lives.”

Porter said TCES officials plan to make the Reading Day event a monthly occurrence, to emphasize to students the importance the ability to read will have on their futures.

“We want to show them how what they do today will greatly affect their futures,” Porter said.

Porter also credited TCES Prinicpal Demetrice Badru and school secretary Kathy Dies for helping organize the event. She also expressed the school system’s thanks to the various readers.

“Thank you to all of our readers who participated in this day!” she said. “We greatly appreciate each reader’s time and their contributions to the education of our students.”

The Trousdale County school district has put a special emphasis on reading in general, including a goal of having 90 percent of third-graders read at grade level by 2022.

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

Committee offers support for skate park plan

A long-awaited skate park was among the topics of discussion at last Thursday’s meeting of the county’s Parks & Recreation Committee.

Public Works Director Cliff Sallee presented a 3D drawing of a planned site in the park, in the corner next to the parking lot closest to the Tee-ball field.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
This corner near the Tee-ball field has been identified as a possible location for a skate park.

“It looks like a good idea to me; I don’t think we’d have any problems with it,” Sallee said.

The committee also heard a presentation from Matt Dockery, a Hartsville resident who has worked with County Mayor Carroll Carman to get the ball rolling on construction. The mayor has recently visited similar facilities in Gallatin, Mt. Juliet in Nashville to get ideas.

“You know the kids want it,” Dockery said. “To me, it taught me independence. Riding in a park like this is great exercise… it’s a full-body workout. It keeps kids out of video games and off the streets. There are so many positives.”

Around 10 children of various ages, accompanied by parents, were in attendance to show support for the idea.

The committee voted to show its support for the idea, but plans to wait until April to discuss the matter further, including funding.

Estimates of the cost to build a skate park were around $50,000, which includes lights and cameras on the area. Dockery estimated construction could take as little as 3 to 4 weeks, once plans are in place.

Carman later told The Vidette the matter could be brought before the County Commission in March, but that he was unsure whether he would do so.

“We basically operate under a committee procedure,” the mayor said. “There’s a measure of handling these things with kid gloves… I would hate it to go before County Court and then get shot down.”

“Building it through the committee process… the Commission is somewhat more responsive to pass it if funds are available.”

Committee members also received a report from Sallee on the park’s swimming pool.

Sallee said prices would likely remain the same for the 2017 summer season for admission, pool passes and concessions. Work has also been done on the plumbing and concessions stand. Sallee added that Public Works is already taking applications for positions at the pool this summer (call 615-374-9574 for more information).

Asked about the possibility of a water aerobics class for seniors,

Sallee also updated the committee on Trey Park repairs, noting that the drainage work was mostly complete and that grass was growing inside the play area. Replacement of worn play equipment is also near complete, with one piece left to install.

“Trey Park is looking real good,” Sallee said. “We still have to get the fence back up and we’re working on that.”

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

Weaver vows fight against gas tax increase

State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver remains resolute in her opposition to raising the state’s gas tax.

In an interview last week, Weaver told The Vidette she was “not supportive of the mechanics of the governor’s bill.”

RELATED LINK: Haslam promotes gas tax at Carthage stop

Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed IMPROVE Act would raise the gas tax by 7 cents (12 on diesel, 15 on propane), along with an average of $5 increase in vehicle registration. The extra revenue would be directed toward the state’s transportation fund and would be offset by a half-cent reduction in the sales tax on groceries.

Terri Lynn Weaver

Last week, the House Transportation Subcommittee voted 5-4 to move the IMPROVE Act forward to the full committee, which was to meet Tuesday. A tiebreaking vote was cast was Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville).

The subcommittee also voted 5-3 to kill an alternative plan by Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, which would take a portion of the sales tax and direct it toward transportation.

Weaver, who chairs the Transportation Subcommittee, was on the losing end of both votes.

“The plan was to have out of subcommittee two clean transportation bills: the IMPROVE plan and the Hawk plan,” Weaver said. “It’s like a chess game.”

Instead, the format of the Hawk plan was added as an amendment to the IMPROVE Act. Weaver said she believed the full committee would remove that language and put back the governor’s original plan, or something close to it.

“It’s going to be a fight all the way to the floor,” she said. “There’s no way to tell what it’s going to look like.”

Weaver noted that transportation funding in Tennessee is “very vulnerable” but said she felt utilizing sales tax revenues was the proper course, rather than raising taxes, especially with a near $1 billion surplus last year.

“Why is (Gov. Haslam) in a hurry to put a permanent tax on the people of Tennessee? We’re going to fight it,” she said.

In a previous stop in Carthage last month, Gov. Haslam told The Vidette that using the general fund to support transportation could force cuts elsewhere in the state budget, especially in future years when no surplus might be there.

Weaver did say she was not in favor of adding a cut in the state’s franchise business tax to the transportation bill, as was discussed during hearings. She said such a measure should instead stand alone.

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

House GOP unveils Obamacare replacement bill

By Tony Pugh and Alex Daugherty / McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON After months of negotiations, House Republicans unveiled their long-awaited legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on Monday amid concerns the bill would weaken or erase many of the health law’s signature consumer protections.

The bill would replace Obamacare’s income-based subsidies with tax credits based more heavily on age, wipe out the individual mandate, cut federal funding for local public health programs, bar Planned Parenthood from receiving federal money and phase out enhanced funding for newly eligible Medicaid recipients.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Ways and Means Committee were expected to move quickly, taking up the measure at hearings on Wednesday, which would then set the stage for the proposals to be merged into a final bill next week by the House Budget Committee, chaired by Congressman Diane Black.

In a press statement, Black said, ““Obamacare is collapsing and we have a mandate to protect the American people from its damaging effects. With this legislation, House Republicans are honoring that commitment. No bill is perfect but I’m proud of the fact that, working hand in hand with the Trump Administration, we have secured key conservative victories that dismantle Obamacare’s mandates and taxes and put healthcare decisions back in the hands of patients – where they belong. I look forward to marking up our portion of the bill this week in Ways and Means Committee and seeing our colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee do the same so that the legislation can then be sent to the House Budget Committee for a vote.”

The Republican legislation hasn’t been scored by the Congressional Budget Office for its cost and impact. But most experts expect fewer people to get coverage under the GOP plan than under Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

“The House plan includes tax cuts that (the) CBO previously estimated would cost about $600 billion over 10 years,” said Aviva Aron-Dine, a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Those tax cuts go mostly to higher-income people and large corporations, Aron-Dine said.

Proposed cuts to Medicaid in the GOP bill would finance those tax cuts, she said.

“We know that the only way this bill’s math can add up is for Medicaid to foot the bill for those hundreds of billions in tax cuts,” Aron-Dine said in an evening conference call with reporters.

Officials with the Tennessee Justice Center also said the plan doesn’t work for Tennessee.

“This bill makes deep cuts to Medicaid and would cap federal funding for the program – which will result in reduced access to coverage and benefits. Not only that, but it will shift significant costs on to states and health care providers, effectively end Medicaid expansion by winding down its funding, and cause harm to millions of seniors, people with disabilities and children,” the organization stated in a released list of talking points. “In Tennessee, half of our state’s children, half of our state’s pregnant women, and over 60 percent of our nursing home residents are on TennCare, our state’s Medicaid program. Cuts to the program would be devastating for them, and for our economy: 20 percent of our state budget relies on federal Medicaid funding.”

Senate Republicans are hoping to vote on the measure before the end of March, but four Republican senators – Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday that previous House drafts did not provide enough support for newly eligible Medicaid enrollees who gained coverage under the ACA’s Medicaid expansion.

Tennessee’s Republican senators – Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker –  issued statements on Tuesday with regards to the House proposal.

“I am appreciative of what appears to be a very constructive contribution by members in the House, and while I am still reviewing the legislation and want to see a Congressional Budget Office cost analysis, this seems to be an important step in the right direction,” Corker said. “With rising premiums, lost coverage and fewer choices, it is clear that the Affordable Care Act is not working. I am glad the process is underway to put in place an alternative that works better for the American people.”

“One especially encouraging aspect of the House bill is that it would help 40,000 Knoxville-area residents who are expected to have no insurance plans available on the exchange next year by allowing them to use their Affordable Care Act subsidy outside of the exchange,” Alexander said. “The bill also allows subsidies to be used to purchase lower cost health plans than allowed under current law, which would provide relief to Tennesseans facing increased premiums on the Obamacare exchanges across the state. The House begins the committee process on the bill this week, but this bill clearly would provide Americans with a broader choice of plans, rein in the out-of-control Medicaid entitlement spending, and give states flexibility to provide Americans with access to low-cost insurance.”

The bill also would continue the ACA’s requirement that insurers provide access to coverage for all, even those with pre-existing conditions. But insurers could charge 30 percent more for coverage to plan members who’ve let their insurance lapse.

The proposal would also allow insurers to charge older plan members five times more than younger members who typically have much lower medical costs. Under the Affordable Care Act, older enrollees can only be charged three times more than younger plan members.

A study commissioned by the AARP found that premiums for people in their 60s would jump an average of 22 percent, or $3,192 per year, under the proposed change. People in their 50s would pay an average of 13 percent more, about $1,524 per year, the study found.

The GOP proposal also would end the individual mandate that requires all Americans to have health coverage, and would end the employer mandate that requires certain employers to provide health insurance benefits.

The legislation would also eliminate funding beginning in 2019 for the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which provides grants to state and local health departments through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bill would also change Medicaid’s funding formula to a per capita cap system.

Currently, the federal government pays a share of each state’s Medicaid spending – anywhere from 50 percent to 80 percent – with no limit on total costs.

A “per capita cap” provides funds for each Medicaid beneficiary in certain groups – such as pregnant mothers, the disabled and children – up to a specified amount. Doing so would end Medicaid’s guarantee of coverage for all who qualify and would require restructuring program eligibility and coverage rules.

The Republican bill would also resurrect high-risk pools to provide coverage for hard-to-ensure plan members.

The GOP plan would put these higher-cost enrollees into state-run high-risk pools so private insurers could charge lower premiums for everyone else. The GOP proposal would provide $100 billion for the risk pools over 10 years. The measure would also allow states to use the risk pool funding to provide more financial support for low-income enrollees who might not be able to afford coverage even with the flat-tax credit.

Contributing: Staff reports

Vol State event to feature Gallatin’s Sherlin, Ligon

Volunteer State Community College will host an event celebrating two childhood friends and their role in helping move their hometown past the days of segregation.

“More Than Rivals: A Conversation with Bill Ligon & Eddie Sherlin” will be held on Thursday, March 16 at 5:30 p.m. in the Wemyss Auditorium on the Gallatin campus.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Former Gallatin basketball star Eddie Sherlin signed copies of “More Than Rivals” last week at Hartsville’s Piggly Wiggly.

The event is free and open to the public, and pizza and refreshments will be provided.

Ligon and Sherlin are the subjects of the book “More Than Rivals,” a New York Times best-selling book by author Ken Abraham, who will also be in attendance. The book chronicles the friendship developed between Sherlin, who is white, and Ligon, who is black. The two lived on opposite sides of the tracks in Gallatin during the 1960s and attended segregated schools, but developed a close friendship on the basketball court.

“I lived a street over from the black section, and it wasn’t a time when they came in our area,” Sherlin said. “You didn’t even get close.

“I was 11 years old, walking home one day and saw some black kids playing basketball on a corner lot. I just had to stop and ask them if I could play… Bill and I became real good friends.”

The friends became rivals on the court in 1970 when all-white Gallatin High and all-black Union High met in a district championship game. Gallatin won 74-60, but the spirit of friendship helped to pave the way for better racial understanding and the merger of the two schools later that same year.

“We just wanted to play basketball,” Sherlin said.

Sherlin was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and later returned to coach the men’s and women’s basketball teams at Vol State. Ligon played college basketball at Vanderbilt and later became a noted attorney.

Sherlin has traveled extensively promoting the book, including stops last Saturday in Hartsville at Piggly Wiggly and Keller’s Restaurant. Sherlin will also be the guest speaker at the March 16 noon meeting of the Hartsville Rotary Club.

For more information on the “More Than Rivals” speaking event, call 615-230-3400 or visit volstate.edu/rivals.

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

Senate leader to discuss broadband in Hartsville visit

State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) will visit Hartsville to discuss broadband with local leaders on Thursday, March 9.

Norris, re-elected last month to a fifth term as Chairman of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Affairs (TACIR), will attend the Hartsville/Trousdale County Rotary Club’s meeting, to be held at the Community Center, 301 East Main, at noon. The public is invited to attend the meeting as well.

Under Sen. Norris’ leadership, TACIR recently completed the comprehensive study of Broadband, Internet, Availability, and Adoption in Tennessee. The study’s findings are the basis for Gov. Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, which Sen. Norris is sponsoring this year to bring high-speed internet services to rural, unserved or underserved areas without additional costs to taxpayers.

“We need better access, not bigger government,” says Sen. Norris.  “Broadband is critical to commerce and the quality of life of every Tennessean and is essential for our current and future education and economic initiatives.”

The Accessibility Act will provide $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses.  In addition, the plan will permit Tennessee’s private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband service and make grant funding available to the state’s local libraries to help residents improve digital literacy skills to maximize the benefits of broadband.

Norris will meet with local officials from Trousdale County and elsewhere across the state to discuss the Accessibility Act.

TCES student wins state’s ‘Tar Wars’ contest

Submitted photo

Willow Jones, a fifth-grader at Trousdale County Elementary School, was named the state winner in the Tennessee Tar Wars Contest, which was held on Sunday, Feb. 26, in Franklin.

Willow, the daughter of Rachel Gross and Jacob Jones, is a student in Mrs. Cornwell’s class, and competed against 55 other students to win the county award. As a state winner, she receives $500 and will also receive recognition from the Tennessee Legislature later this month. Her design will also become a T-Shirt and billboard here in Trousdale County.

The Tar Wars program is run through the TCES Wellness Program and taught by Jeremy Wilhelm. Local sponsors are the Tobacco Grant Program and the Trousdale County Health Council. The state sponsor is the Tennessee Academy of Family Physicians.

Tar Wars is a tobacco-free education program for fourth- and fifth-grade students. The program is designed to teach kids about the short-term health effects of tobacco use, the cost associated with using tobacco products and the advertising techniques used by the tobacco industry to market their products to youth.

Threat forces TCHS to go on lockdown

Trousdale County High School was placed on lockdown Thursday morning after a threat was reported to school officials.

Director of Schools Clint Satterfield posted a statement on the school system’s website which read, “At 9:25 today, a school threat was reported to the principal at TCHS. Local police were immediately contacted, students were placed on lockdown and an investigation into the threat was completed. Classes resumed at 11:30, when it was determined that the threat posed no danger.”

In a phone interview with The Vidette, Satterfield described the threat as a hack of a student’s online account.

“It appeared that [someone] impersonated another student, and it had some threatening language,” Satterfield told The Vidette. “All threats have to be taken seriously.”

TCHS principal Teresa Dickerson notified the Trousdale County Sheriff’s Department upon learning of the threat. Dickinson told The Vidette the threat was proven to “absolutely be false” but referred all other questions to Satterfield.

Satterfield agreed, and said the investigation showed students were in no danger.

Sheriff Ray Russell said the investigation had not discovered the identity of the person involved, but that it was determined the online activity happened from a school computer.

“The only thing we’ve identified right now is that it came from computers at the school,” Russell said.

Russell said a suspect was interviewed, but no proof linking that person to the online activity was found as of yet. The sheriff said if the perpetrator was identified, a decision on charges would likely be left to school officials.

“Student safety is our No. 1 concern, Satterfield reiterated. “We will continue to let our parents and community know when something like that happens.”

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

Haley’s Hearts holds Winter Carnival

It was a banner weekend for Haley’s Hearts Foundation, which saw a good turnout for its seventh annual Chili Supper and Winter Carnival at Trousdale County High School.

GALLERY: Haley’s Hearts Winter Carnival

The event is one of two annual fundraisers for Haley’s Hearts, which was founded by her parents in memory of Haley Chasse. Haley passed away in 2010 at the age of 5 after battling a congenital heart defect throughout her life.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Children participate in some of the games during Saturday’s Winter Carnival.

“We had a good turnout and everyone looked like they were having a great time,” said Haley’s mother, Tina Chasse. “I heard several people say the chili was awesome. A ‘Thank You’ goes out to Donna Satterfield for making the chili!”

Included with the admission was an all-you-can-eat chili supper. The carnival provided a fun atmosphere for all ages, including a cake walk, vendors, games and inflatables.

A silent auction was also held to raise funds for Haley’s Hearts.

The foundation seeks to raise awareness of CHD and provides assistance to families dealing with children who have been diagnosed with a CHD.

“The total raised count so far is around $15,900. We still have some money coming in!” said Tina Chasse. “We would like to say thank you for the donations, our volunteers, the community and our supporters. We could not do any of it without you!”

For more information on Haley’s Hearts, call Tina Chasse at 615-374-1326 or go online to haleyshearts.org.

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

Op-Ed: IMPROVE Act is best road for Tennessee

I wish I could say I was surprised by the lack of action on, and lukewarm support for, Gov. Haslam’s IMPROVE Act so far, but I’d be lying.

In a recent MTSU poll of Tennesseans, 38 percent supported the plan, 28 percent opposed and 33 percent were unsure.

I get the fact that no one likes to pay more taxes. I don’t particularly care for opening my wallet a little wider. But in this case, the costs of not doing so will prove to be even more drastic.

The governor wants to raise the state’s gasoline tax by 7 cents per gallon (12 for diesel) and raise car registration fees by an average of $5, with said increase to put $278 million annually in new money for transportation projects in Tennessee.

It’s not like the increase isn’t needed. The gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1989, and thanks to inflation and more fuel-efficient vehicles, that money coming in today barely does half of what it did 30 years ago.

I used to drive to Nashville five days a week for work, and there are plenty in Trousdale County who commute a decent ways to their jobs. I’ve dealt with the traffic and also seen it get worse. I see the potholes that need fixing, the roads that could use repaving, and also the need for additional lanes of traffic.

And the IMPROVE Act includes a half-percent cut in the sales tax rate on groceries, making the plan a revenue-neutral one for most people in Tennessee. So in theory, at least, I shouldn’t be paying more overall. Personally, I go to the grocery store more often than the gas station. I might actually come out ahead!

Our state representative, Terri Lynn Weaver, chairs the House Transportation Subcommittee, where the governor’s plan is first receiving hearings. But instead of taking the lead on the IMPROVE Act, she’s waffled on whether she will support the plan.

In her last ‘Coffee & Conversations’ in Hartsville, Rep. Weaver instead talked up the Hawk Plan, an alternative that has garnered some support. The plan by State Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, would instead take a small portion of the sales tax and designate that for transportation.

On paper, I admit, it sounds good – getting the needed funds without raising taxes. But when the governor was in Carthage last month to promote his plan, he made a valid point when I asked him about it. By moving that money from the general fund, you have to come up with an equivalent amount in budget cuts elsewhere. Where will those cuts come from? Education? Bad idea. TennCare? Worse idea. State parks? Bad idea #2.

Technically, we wouldn’t have to make cuts this year because the state has a near $1 billion surplus. But what happens when that surplus isn’t there – because it won’t be? And what is to stop the General Assembly from simply raiding the transportation fund, as has occurred in previous years? We could simply find ourselves having the same conversation, just a little further down the road.

And why is Weaver’s committee wasting time listening to so-called economist Art Laffer on this issue? I say so-called, because this genius’ ideas of “supply-side economics” exploded the national debt in the 1980s and again in the 2000s. Let’s cut taxes and get more money – apparently he never learned basic math.

Granted, Laffer in his testimony to Weaver’s committee did support raising the gas tax, but also called for cutting the business tax to compensate. Raise individual taxes and cut business taxes; please, remind me again why our elected leaders are listening to this guy?

Raising the gas tax won’t be a popular move, but in this case it would be the right move for our state. Our elected representatives need to focus more on doing what’s right instead of what’s popular. Getting re-elected should not be the goal; it should be getting the job done.

I wholly support Gov. Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, and urge readers of The Vidette to contact our elected officials and do so as well.

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

Second arrest made in Macon County shooting

A second suspect was arrested last week in connection with a Macon County shooting last month that claimed two lives.

Keithandre Murray, 22, was arrested on Feb. 22 by deputies with the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office in Monroe, La., where he has relatives.

Murray was added to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Top 10 Most Wanted list on Feb. 16 after the arrest of Rodney Garrett, 29.

Keithandre Murray

On Feb. 11, James Turner, 44, of Macon County, and Alisha Mondoni, 32, of Hartsville, were both found in a vehicle at 5100 New Harmony Road in Macon County by a neighbor, who called 911. Both had been shot and eventually died from their injuries.

During the course of the investigation, TBI agents developed information that led them to Garrett and Murray as the individuals responsible for the deaths of Turner and Mondoni.

Murray is currently facing two charges of first-degree murder in connection to the shooting. At press time, he was being held without bond on a Fugitive from Justice warrant at the Ouachita Parish Correctional Center pending extradition to Tennessee.

Garrett remains in the Macon County Jail on two counts of first-degree murder. He was being held without bond and as of Tuesday morning no court date had been set.

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

County Commission eyes zoning changes, budget needs

A number of zoning changes and budget amendments highlighted the agenda of Monday’s meeting of the Hartsville/Trousdale County Commission.

Commissioners approved on second reading a rezoning of the WTNK property on Marlene Street from R-1 to C-1. Station ownership had previously stated that a zoning change was needed to better position WTNK’s proerty value.

Three other zoning changes were approved on first reading:

Changing a lot on Puryears Bend Road from R-1 and C-2 to R-3, which will allow for multi-residential properties to be built;

Changing a 4-acre tract at 135 Doodles Nest Lane from A-1 to R-1; and

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

All three ordinances will come up for a public hearing and second reading at March’s Commission meeting.

Most of the budget amendments on Monday’s agenda were internal transfers, such as:

$3,000 for overtime in the county mayor’s office and $4,000 for overtime in the Sheriff’s Department;

Adding $10,000 to the Urban Services Fund from building permit fees for projects in the Urban Services District;

$7,250 added to the Solid Waste Fund from the sale of recyclables; and

Respective grants of $10,000 and $2,600 for Trey Park and the County Archives.

Some budget items drew on the county’s fund balance:

$15,000 for the county coroner/medical examiner;

$50,000 from Debt Service for interest payments on loans for energy-efficient work in the schools and for the upcoming criminal justice center; and

A $250,000 transfer into the county’s Capital Projects Fund, which was created in January by commissioners.

In his mayor’s report, County Mayor Carroll Carman updated the group on plans for the criminal justice center, which remain under review, and for the next sidewalk project, which will be on Andrews Ave. The mayor said he hoped to begin that project in April.

Carman also updated commissioners on estimates for needed repairs to the roof and gutters at the public library. He said estimates came in at just under $10,000 as opposed to the $20,000 he had mentioned previously.

Commissioners also approved resolutions for the county’s Road List, and resolutions showing support for the governor’s proposals for broadband and raising the gas tax.

The gas tax resolution showed division among the commissioners, passing by an 11-6 margin.

Those voting no included Johnny Kerr, Kendra Belcher, Bubba Gregory, Shane Burton and Gary Claridy. The vote was taken by show of hands and the sixth no vote could not be immediately identified. Commissioners Linda Johnson, Andy Jellison and Michael Satterfield were absent Monday.

One commissioner said he was not enthusiastic about the governor’s plan, but recognized the need.

“We have a lot of roads in Trousdale County that need work, and people see that,” said Commissioner Richard Johnson. “The money has to come from somewhere.”

Commissioners also acknowledged a certificate of compliance for Nick Patel to allow liquor sales at Bubba’s Market, and approved a five-year contract for BIS Systems for data processing services in the county clerk’s office.

The following notaries were also approved: Jackie Gregory, Rhonda Keisling, Antoinette Carter, Beth Crocco and Marshall E. White, Jr.

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