Op-Ed: Listen to facts, not fears, about fire-EMS merger

Ever since this week’s meetings regarding the proposed fire-EMS merger, I’ve seen what I believe to be a lot of misinformation out there about the costs involved.

So I’m going to use this space to try to get some of the facts out there instead.

At April’s County Commission meeting, the group opted to wait to see some budget figures from County Mayor Stephen Chambers on the proposed merger. Those numbers are now out there, as well as the funding mechanisms, and to me it just makes even more sense to make this merger a reality.

At the Emergency Services Committee meeting on Tuesday, the mayor presented two options for a merger of the Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad. Rescue Squad was mentioned as part of this previously but hasn’t been bandied about the way EMS has – but I think adding them is a good idea.

Chris Gregory

Those options on the sheet the mayor handed out ran from $470,170 to $515,510. But there’s more inside those numbers than just raw dollars.

Most of those figures are made up of money already in the budget – namely the fire budget plus the Rescue Squad’s budget. Money that would already have been budgeted anyway. So there’s NO new money there. Those numbers also include $285,000 for a new tanker truck for the fire department. That money was originally allocated two years ago; it just hasn’t been spent yet. That’s a one-time expense (after all, we’re not going to be buying new trucks every year!).

The mayor’s proposal does envision adding 13 current members of the Rescue Squad to the fire department’s ranks. They will need equipment and that is an additional expense – $45,300 based on Mr. Chambers’ projections. Of course, just like previous mayors, the expenses tend to be overestimated when making a budget. So it might not be quite that much.

That equipment is necessary too, as firefighters in attendance pointed out. Some of the current equipment is in rough shape and needs replacing as well. There are seven sets of turnout gear already in the fire budget for next year. Fire rotates out their gear on a regular basis, just like the sheriff rotates patrol cars out every year as they age. It only makes sense.

There is also an estimated $3,700 in utility expenses from having a crew at the fire hall 24/7. That was not in the original plan and perhaps could be tweaked or even eliminated by housing a crew and fire truck at the Rescue Squad building. Those are details best left to the directors of those departments and even if there does turn out to be a 24/7 fire hall staffing, $3,700 isn’t a great deal of money.

There is also a $9,000 cost in adding to salaries of nine EMS workers who would be part of a merged department. That cost was previously disclosed by EMS Director Matt Batey.

On the mayor’s sheet were figures related to a potential expansion of the fire hall to add sleeping quarters, more vehicle bays, etc. Those were estimated at anywhere from $600,000 to $760,000 – but there are no plans to expand the fire hall this year, next year, or in the near future. Since that meeting, I’ve had commissioners mention that a fire hall expansion might be a question best left to public referendum. That’s a terrific idea and I would support that 100 percent.

So we’re talking about $58,000 total in new expenses – not the $500,000 or $1,000,000 figures I’ve seen thrown out there on social media. Thrown out there, I will add, by people who were not even at either meeting where this was explained.

Where will that $58,000 come from? That’s the good news.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Chambers said he was awaiting a phone meeting with the comptroller’s office to see if the Ambulance Service’s fund balance could be used to pay those costs. As it turns out, yes, they can. It will take some minor tweaking from county commissioners (namely, moving money from one fund into another –something they do all the time anyway) but that’s a minor issue.

By the way, at Thursday’s Budget & Finance meeting the Ambulance Service fund balance was estimated at roughly $627,280 as of the end of April. According to the mayor’s office, the projected balance as of June 30 – the end of the fiscal year – will be $491,854. So funding the cost of equipment needs for new fire-trained personnel should be no big deal.

I mean, if I’ve got $491,000 in the bank I would think nothing of writing a $58,000 check for something I needed.

Combining departments will also make it easier for the department to get grants to pay for equipment and training – something sorely lacking in recent years. That’s not intended as a dig at anyone; but a full-time staff would surely have more time to devote to such matters.

We can get more trained personnel for the fire department, upgrade our equipment and training and get 24/7 staffing at the fire hall. And we can do it without costing a penny more in current taxes. Can anyone give me a reason NOT to take advantage of this opportunity?

Here’s hoping our commissioners and the public will listen to the facts, not the fearmongering. I strongly encourage the County Commission to vote YES on merging the departments during their May 28 meeting.

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

Trousdale students, teachers take up wheelchair challenge

Students and teachers at Trousdale County High School took up a challenge this week to give up the use of their legs for a day.

Participants in the Team ALeX “Spend a Day In My Wheels” Challenge spent their time confined to a wheelchair while completing their normal routines during the course of the school day.

The challenge is named for Alex Johnson, a seventh-grader in Wilson County and the nephew of TCHS Assistant Principal Ben Johnson. Alex has been in a wheelchair since first grade because of a rare skeletomuscular disorder.

“My nephew started this challenge about two years ago,” Ben Johnson said. “He came to me wondering if we would do this challenge at the high school to get a view through his eyes as well as all those in our society who are confined to wheelchairs or mobility devices.”

“It’s to raise awareness of people in wheelchairs so they hopefully can lead better lives; also to partner to help people who can’t afford wheelchairs get them,” Alex Johnson added.

Ben Johnson and TCHS Principal Teresa Dickerson looked for students and teachers willing to participate. Eight students and 10 teachers took up the challenge.

Students spent Monday in wheelchairs while teachers participated on Tuesday. Permobil Foundation of Lebanon provided the wheelchairs.

“We had such an interest in participating,” Johnson said. “A lot of the participating students are athletes or those who do other extracurricular activities. It’s very difficult to go back to very simplistic movement.”

The participants said being in a wheelchair opened their eyes to the everyday struggles someone in that situation faces – even something as simple as going through a door.

“I’ve always been curious as to how difficult it is, to roll and turn around, especially doors,” said TCHS senior Noah Cartwright. “You have to go backwards; use one hand to open the door and the other to turn the chair.

“It opens your eyes – just how you want the challenge to be. This world isn’t necessarily made for those in wheelchairs.”

Students said the physical strength required to wheel a chair around the school was more than they might have anticipated as well. The mental aspect was equally challenging, including being looked at by other students.

“I find myself thinking about I’m going to get from place to place physically, and it’s hard to concentrate on the job tasks I have today,” Johnson said.

Ramps were another challenge, Cartwright added, saying, “You’ve got to really lean into it.”

“I was in a wheelchair my sixth-grade year after I tore my ACL,” said sophomore Addison Gooch. “I thought it would be cool to do it by myself this time. But it’s really hard.”

“Once Coach Johnson brought it to my attention, I figured it’d be nice to see if I could accept the challenge,” said junior Tarvaris Claiborne. “I didn’t know it’d be so hard to get through a door! Just maneuvering around, your arms really get tired.”

Participants were challenged to do specific tasks while in their chairs, such as using the restroom facilities, visiting the vending machines, finding wheelchair access to the auditorium stage and going through the cafeteria lunchline.

Friendship Christian has also participated in the challenge previously and Alex is hoping to get more schools and even businesses involved.

“We have met with Cracker Barrel corporate in Lebanon and I gave a speech about what the challenge is. Some people there are going to do it on June 3,” Alex said.

“We’re also hoping to get more schools doing this.”

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

Thomas “Wish” Beasley receives Good Scout Award

The Walton Trail District of the Boy Scouts of America presented its Trousdale County Good Scout Award to Thomas “Wish” Beasley at a banquet last Wednesday evening.

Beasley, who grew up in the area, is the co-founder of private prison company CoreCivic and has long been involved in a number of charitable causes.

“The Good Scout Award recognizes individuals who exemplify the spirit of the Scouting oath by helping others and doing their best at all times,” said Russell Washburn, who served as master of ceremonies. “This prestigious award honors those personal and public contributions to their community and the world in which we live in.”

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Thomas Beasley, left, receives the Good Scout Award from presenter Russell Washburn.

The award is the highest honor bestowed by the Middle Tennessee Council of the Boy Scouts.

“Thomas Beasley is a an who has not only shown the Trousdale community unending compassion through his years of leadership, but also has continued to exemplify the Scouting oath and laws throughout his life,” added Washburn.

Beasley is a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam, earning a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for valor. He is also a graduate of Vanderbilt Law School and a former chair of the Tennessee Republican Party. He is currently Chairman Emeritus of CoreCivic after serving as president and chief executive officer of the company from 1983 to 1987 as and chairman of the Board of Directors from 1987 to 1994.

“I’m very grateful for this,” Beasley said. “(Scouting) is a really good cause and I encourage the idea of Scouting. I wish you all the best in the county.”

Hartsville’s Marvin Denham was also honored for his work as Dean Leader for local Cub Scout Pack 122, which presented the colors and offered the invocation before dinner.

The event also served as a local fundraiser for Boy Scouts and raised roughly $6,600, according to officials. Beasley said he would be nearly doubling that amount with a contribution as well.

The Walton Trail District covers Trousdale, Macon and Smith counties and a portion of Wilson County. In 2018, the district had 568 youth served, 12 Cub Scout packs and 10 Boy Scout Troops that recorded nearly 3,000 hours of community service.

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

Sweet Kuntry Bakery & Eatery satisfying Hartsville’s sweet tooth

Sweet Kuntry Bakery & Eatery held its much anticipated opening last week, giving Hartsville customers a new place to enjoy breakfast or to just satisfy their sweet tooth.

The bakery, located at the corner of Broadway and Main Street in the old bank building, is the brainchild of childhood friends Jennifer Petty and Kendra Stafford.

“I had a bakery in Lebanon before,” Petty said, “and then went back into the corporate world as a nurse. But we moved back to Hartsville this year and I wanted somewhere in town… a little cool spot to hang out in Trousdale County.

“We started bouncing ideas off other and it’s just taken off from there!”

Photos by Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Pictured from left are Kathy Stafford, Kendra Stafford, Jennifer Petty and Priscilla Elmore. Kendra and Jennifer have opened Sweet Kuntry Bakery & Eatery in downtown Hartsville.

Sweet Kuntry Bakery & Eatery sells donuts, cupcakes, hand-dipped ice cream, apple fritters, muffins, donut holes, cake pops, chocolate covered strawberries and much more. The bakery held an open house last Wednesday prior to its official opening and served around 350 customers in a span of a few hours. Last Friday was the first day of business, which already looks to be booming.

“Our goal was to offer to Trousdale County something we don’t have and not to compete with the other businesses that serve food,” Stafford said. “We want to be unique and throw in other things along the way.”

Petty said that Sweet Kuntry expects to bring on chicken & waffles and other specialty desserts in the coming weeks that she called “surprises.”

“We didn’t want to roll everything out at the open house,” she said.

Currently, the bakery is open from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. The bakery will be closed Sundays and Mondays.

Petty said those hours would be in place through May and would adjust depending on demand from customers.

“We want to figure out when the busiest times of the day are,” Stafford said, while Petty added, ‘We want to give the kids time to get out of school and get over there.”

The bakery already has a Facebook page, a SnapChat page and an Instagram page, courtesy of Petty’s and Stafford’s daughters. They also thanked their mothers, Kathy Stafford and Priscilla Elmore, for help in getting the bakery ready to open.

“It’s been fun to see them so involved in watching a business grow from the ground up,” Petty said. “Both our families have been so supportive, as well as friends in the community.”

“People in the community are as excited as we are and it shows,” Stafford added.

Some of the sweet treats available at Sweet Kuntry Bakery & Eatery are shown here.

In June, the bakery plans to expand into a lunch menu as well with sandwiches, croissants and wraps and more “surprises” as the summer goes on.

“We’re excited about doing some outside seating as the weather heats up,” Petty said. “It’ll be a great little place – an outdoor hangout spot!”

Both ladies agreed the building was the perfect spot for their business, citing its history in downtown Hartsville. A gallery of historic photos is planned for one of the walls and WiFi is also available, giving Sweet Kuntry Bakery a taste of the old and the new.

Soups are planned when the fall begins and cooler temperatures set in. For home football games, the bakery plans to be open afterwards for fans to enjoy good food and a place to recap the action.

“I think it’s going to be great for the youth – give them something to do and a positive atmosphere. We want to show that with hard work, you can graduate from Trousdale County and come back and open your own business!”

Sweet Kuntry Bakery & Eatery can be reached through its social media pages or by calling 615-934-8535.

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

Macon County jury convicts man in murder of Hartsville woman

A Macon County jury convicted a man of two counts of first-degree premeditated murder last Friday.

Keithandre Murray, 24, was found guilty of the shooting deaths of Hartsville native Alisha Mondoni, 32, and James Turner, 44, at a residence on New Harmony Road in Macon County on Feb. 11, 2017.

A trial date has not been set for the other co-defendant, Rodney Garrett.

Submitted photo
Keithandre Murray

The two victims were discovered in a car over two years ago, at the New Harmony Road residence by a neighbor who called 911. Officers from the Macon County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene and the TBI was also called in to assist with the investigation.

The investigation eventually led to the arrests of Murray and Garrett. The two suspects were each indicted by the Macon County Grand Jury on charges of first-degree murder-premeditated, criminal attempt to commit aggravated robbery and felony murder.

The Macon County Chronicle reported that according to Assistant District Attorney General Javin Cripps, the state dismissed the aggravated robbery and felony murder charges before the trial started and went forward with the premeditated murder charges.

The guilty verdict came after a weeklong trial that began on April 29.

Testimony during the trial reportedly showed that Murray had previously lived with Turner, but that Murray didn’t know Mondoni.

The Chronicle reported that the jury deliberated for three hours before returning the guilty verdict to presiding Judge Brody Kane. Murray is scheduled to be sentenced on June 20.

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

Trousdale County undergoing property revaluing process

Dewayne Byrd, Trousdale County Property Assessor, has announced that Trousdale County is undergoing a Current Value Update (CVU) for tax year 2019.

The CVU program is designed to make appraisals for property tax purposes more equitable by adjusting appraised values based on recent sales in the county. Pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. 67-5-1601 (a)(2), appraisals are updated in the third year of a six-year reappraisal cycle if the overall level of appraisal drops below 90 percent of market value.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
All property in Trousdale County is undergoing a Current Value Update as mandated by state law.

Appraisers from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Division of Property Assessments have used current market information to establish market trends for the various classes of property in Trousdale County. The updates are derived from an analysis of recently sold properties and reflect market trends for the different property classifications – residential, farm and commercial/industrial.

“The advantages of the CVU program are numerous,” Byrd said in a press release. “Property owners will be better informed as to the value of their property and the true value at which they are being assessed for property tax purposes. Property owners will also see a more gradual change in their property values over the six-year reappraisal cycle.”

According to state officials, the update program is not a method for raising local revenue. It is designed to produce appraised values more in line with fair Markey value, and by itself will not increase the county’s revenue. In fact, Tenn. Code Ann. 67-5-1701 requires that a certified tax rate be established following a CVU of properties in a county. The Tennessee State Board of Equalization established a certified tax rate, which is a rate that will produce the same amount of revenue as billed for the same taxable properties the year before. A jurisdiction’s local legislative body may exceed the certified tax rate only after a public hearing.

Property owners who experience changes in their property values because of the updates will receive an assessment change notice in the mail. Those notices are scheduled to be mailed out on May 3, Byrd said. Those who feel that their property’s appraised value is not in line with market value will be given the opportunity to appeal their value to the county’s Board of Equalization, which in Trousdale will meet on June 3, 4 and 6. Appeal hearings will also be conducted with assistance from state officials at Byrd’s office in the County Administration Building from May 6-10.

For more information, call 615-374-2553.

School Board passes preliminary 2019-20 budget

The Hartsville/Trousdale County School Board passed last Wednesday night a preliminary budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year that would require significant assistance from county government to balance.

The school system is anticipating a loss of $429,198 in state funding via the Basic Education Program (BEP) because of increased fiscal capacity (ability to pay) on the part of the county. The addition of CoreCivic’s Hartsville prison has added over $1.5 million annually to the property tax rolls since the facility opened in 2016, which increased the county’s fiscal capacity.

An additional loss of BEP funds is expected for the 2020-21 budget, but estimates on that will not be available until next year.

While acknowledging the BEP loss was less than original projections of over $600,000, Director of Schools Clint Satterfield said the loss still left a big hole in the schools’ budget.

Director of Schools Clint Satterfield

“The county has always provided more than the minimum,” Satterfield said. “What has happened over time is the local required match has increased as the BEP has increased.”

The proposed budget has no new positions or programs, includes $462,890 in capital outlays and estimates a 3 percent state raise for teachers. The actual state raise has not been determined yet.

The capital outlay projects include recoating and recertifying the roof on the elementary school, replacing classroom doors at the middle and replacing the sidewalk at the elementary school.

The budget calls for the school system to dip into its fund balance for $477,890 to even out but also anticipates an increase in county funding of just over $900,000 – or 46.5 cents on the property tax.

The schools’ current budget estimates a total fund balance of just under $2.8 million as of June 30. However as of March 31, roughly $1.76 million of that is restricted to certain uses.

If no additional county funds are provided, Satterfield estimated the schools’ fund balance would dip to roughly $1.4 million by the end of June 2020.

“We didn’t have to raise taxes last year because we were able to go into our fund balance. But we can’t continue to do that,” Satterfield said. “You can only kick that can so far down the road before the can wears out.”

The school system also has an estimated $341,150 in debt payments annually, plus $75,000 for school resource officers. The cost of SROs is split 50/50 with the county under a deal worked out in last year’s budget negotiations.

Satterfield has already met with County Mayor Stephen Chambers and County Commission chairman Jerry Ford to discuss the budget. Satterfield said discussions would continue leading up to the budget process. County budget hearings typically take place in late May or early June.

“We are submitting a status quo budget,” added School Board member Johnny Kerr. “It’s based on the assumption that the county court is going to help us with our deficit issues, which we’ve tried to be very transparent (about)… They’ve been great to work with.”

The School Board also approved May 3 as Teacher Appreciation Day and set May 16 as the day for the Employee Appreciation Breakfast.

Satterfield also told board members that the ‘Read to be Ready’ summer program would run from June 3-28 and is expected to serve anywhere from 40 to 45 children. ‘Read to be Ready’ is a state-funded initiative to improve literacy in students entering grades 1-3.

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

Community Pregnancy Center banquet raises over $13,000

Monday night was the second annual fundraising dinner for Hartsville’s Community Pregnancy Center.

CPC Director Peg Shonebarger was thrilled with the turnout, saying, “I thought the program went very well! I got lots of compliments from people saying how nice it was.”

There were around 150 people in attendance and the dinner raised an estimated $13,160 to help the center’s mission to minister to and provide help for expectant mothers.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette

Creekside Fellowship Church was full of people and the food was delicious! Thank you to Amy and Russell Terrell as the service was beyond belief. All the teens and preteens who served were very professional!

Our master of ceremonies, Art Pinzur, introduced chaplain Jon Shonebarger, who gave the blessing.

After a delightful meal, our first speaker came forward to relate how the Pregnancy Center helped her, her husband and their young son in a time of great need.

Russell Terrell then came forward to talk about ways of giving. Sure, giving money outright is great and so is writing a check or swiping your card, but there are other ways to give that attendees probably didn’t know about.

If you shop online via Amazon, you can give through a program called Amazon Smile that will give 0.5 percent of your purchase cost to the charity of your choice. Hopefully you will choose the Community Pregnancy Center of Hartsville!

Or if you shop at Kroger, that company has its Community Rewards program – donate to the CPC with the organization number MP 290. These are all very easy ways to give to a very worthy cause!

Our last speaker of the evening was Mark Hays, who talked about what needs to be done and what we can do. He reminded us that we live in a broken world, but that the CPC is here to help save mothers and children. The CPC will walk and support that mother throughout her pregnancy and beyond in any way we possibly can.

If you were not at the dinner Monday night and would like to help support the Community Pregnancy Center, the workers at the center would be eager to talk with you. Call 615-680-8026 for more information.

Grace Thomas is a Trousdale County resident and volunteer at the Community Pregnancy Center.

Trousdale County population grows 40 percent since 2010

From 2010 to 2018 Trousdale County saw the highest percentage of population growth of any county in Tennessee, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau’s estimated population in Trousdale County on July 1, 2018 was 11,012 – a 40 percent increase from the same time in 2010.

Williamson County had the second-highest growth percentage-wise with 26.4 percent growth. Rutherford County was third at 23.7 percent growth and Wilson was fourth at 23.3.

“The county has experienced tremendous growth since 2010, rising from 7,870 to an estimated 11,012 as of July 1, 2018. While that is significant, we must keep in mind that the 2018 estimate includes inmates at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center,” said County Mayor Stephen Chambers. “Also, this is just an estimate and it will be important to have a high participation rate in the 2020 Census so as to get an accurate population count. This will have an impact on several levels, including federal and state funding based on population, grant eligibility and redistricting at the federal, state and local levels.”

Since the last federal census in 2010, Trousdale County was estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau to have grown by 3,148 people through 2018.

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

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

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

Cinco de Mayo party planned for downtown Hartsville

Submitted photo

The owners of La Hispana Costenita Hispanic Market are planning a Sunday block party to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in downtown Hartsville.

Amber and Erick Reyes plan to have vendors, food and music outside the store, located on Foxall Street behind the courthouse. Court Street will be blocked off to Foxall and Foxall will be closed off to River Street for the festival.

“We’ve talked to a bunch of different vendors; we’ll be open and cooking,” Amber Reyes said. “We’ll have music out here, face painting and more!”

The festival will run from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sunday, May 5.

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican Army’s victory over French forces in an 1862 battle, but in America has become more of a celebration of Mexican-American culture.

“We’ve got a lot of people who are really interested,” Reyes said. “Hopefully we’re going to have a really fun day!”

Anyone interested in participating or who wants more information can call 615-680-8043.

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

One killed in house fire on Skillet Creek Road

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
Volunteer firefighters work to extinguish a house fire that claimed a life early Wednesday morning.

A house fire on Skillet Creek Road claimed one life early Wednesday morning.

The Volunteer Fire Department responded shortly before 6 a.m. to calls of a house fire in the 2500 block of Skillet Creek Road. EMS and the Trousdale County Sheriff’s Department also responded to the scene. Tri-County Electric also sent a crewman to shut off power to the site.

The house was completely destroyed, as were two cars on scene.

The identity of the deceased was not released pending formal identification of the body.

The cause of the fire was not immediately available. EMS Director Matt Batey said TBI arson investigators were being called in to assist with the investigation.

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

Trousdale elementary teacher arrested, charged with child abuse

A preschool teacher at Trousdale County Elementary School has been suspended without pay following her arrest on a charge of child abuse.

Photo courtesy of Trousdale County Sheriff’s Department

Carla Annette Haynes, 54, of Hartsville, was arrested Friday afternoon.

According to the arrest affidavit, Haynes reportedly pushed the child from a kneeling position onto their back, then grabbed the child’s feet and dragged the victim from the hallway into a classroom.

The school’s resource officer witnessed the incident while watching security footage and reported it to the assistant principal. The child’s parent took out a warrant and Haynes was arrested.

Haynes has eight years experience with the Trousdale County school system according to Director of Schools Clint Satterfield, who issued the following statement:

“Ms. Haynes was suspended indefinitely without pay on Friday, April 26 when it was reported by the school that she inappropriately used physical force when disciplining one of her students. Our investigation is still ongoing and the employee disciplinary determination is still contingent on the results of that complete and through investigation.”

Haynes was booked into the Trousdale County Jail and released on $5,000 bond. She is scheduled to appear in general sessions court on June 14.

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

Op-Ed: Commission needs to make decision either way on merger

After Monday night’s County Commission meeting, I have another bone to pick with our elected officials.

The good news is that commissioners were much better behaved (see last week’s column and you’ll understand what I mean). The bad news is that they passed the buck for a second time on the proposed merger of the fire and EMS departments.

Speaking of last week’s column, a brief mea culpa. One of the volunteer firefighters contacted me last week and complained about being lumped in with those opposed to the merger. The gentleman I spoke with said in actuality, several firefighters support the merger but have been afraid to speak out.

Chris Gregory

I said last week that it looked like maintaining their clique was more important than serving the people of Trousdale County. As I told the man I spoke with, I wrote that because none of the volunteers have spoken out publicly one way or the other on this, so I had nothing else to go on. If the rank and file support this, they need to let it be known.

The reasoning for wanting to delay sounds good at first glance. Several commissioners expressed a desire to see some actual budget numbers on what merging the departments would cost. Citizens who spoke during a public hearing Monday said similar things.

If hard budget numbers were a must, though, why wasn’t this brought up previously? Commissioners have been talking about merging fire and EMS for close to four years. Granted, the debate has only gotten to the serious stage in recent months – but why is the budget now a concern?

What would it cost to merge the fire and EMS departments? I’m willing to wager it wouldn’t be all that different from the costs of running both now as separate services.

In the 2018-19 budget, Trousdale County anticipated spending $86,410 on the fire department and $1,019,689 on the Ambulance Service. I called the mayor’s office Tuesday morning and got those figures in less than a minute. Obviously actual expenses won’t be calculated until after the fiscal year ends in June, but in my four-plus years of observing county government, I’ve seen that most expenses tend to come in under what has been budgeted.

If there are unexpected costs of merging the departments, I would imagine they would be covered by the difference between estimated and actual expenses. I would have hoped that our commissioners, especially the more experienced ones, might have made that point.

I’ve made no secret that I support the merger, but in either case it’s past time to make a decision one way or the other. Whether it was voted up or voted down, I credit the nine commissioners who were ready to make a decision that’s already overdue and now will become even more so.

The Commission should have made a decision, yes or no, and not continue to push this back, wasting more time and energy on this matter. Like the old saying goes, “Piss or get off the pot.”

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

County Commission delays vote on fire-EMS merger for second time

County commissioners delayed for a second time Monday a final vote on a reorganization of the Volunteer Fire and Emergency Medical Services departments.

The 11-9 vote to delay came after a public hearing and a somewhat subdued debate among the 20 commissioners. The nine opposed to pushing the measure back were Beverly Atwood, Mary Ann Baker, Ken Buckmaster, Bubba Gregory, Dwight Jewell, Linda Johnson, Richard Johnson, Amber Russell and Steve Whittaker.

“I wanted to vote on it how it was,” Baker said after the meeting. Atwood and Russell expressed similar sentiments when asked.

“I think we probably should dispose of this ordinance – either vote it up or vote it down…,” Jewell said during the meeting.

Courtesy of Trousdale County government

Commissioners said they wanted to see budget figures from the mayor’s office on what merging the departments would cost. A previous estimate from EMS Director Matt Batey cited $9,000 in additional costs, which would provide additional pay for EMS workers who are cross-trained in firefighting. That estimate also assumed that the assistant fire chief would be an unpaid volunteer position.

“One of the issues in hand is we’d like to see a written budget as to how this would look,” said vice chairman Bill Fergusson. “We’ve been informed of what we think it would cost, but I think it’s time for us to see it in writing.”

County Mayor Stephen Chambers told commissioners he expected to be able to have budget numbers available by the next meeting of the Budget & Finance Committee, currently scheduled for May 20.

“I believe it does (provide enough time to get budget numbers); if not I’ll structure it the way I want and that’s what you’ll vote on,” Chambers told commissioners.

At the request of Chambers, commissioners also voted unanimously to remove the county’s Emergency Management Agency from the planned merger. Chambers cited other counties, such as Davidson, that merged fire and EMS but left EMA as a separate agency as well as a previous ordinance passed by a previous Commission.

Five resolutions also passed Monday night:

Allowing the county to apply for a TDOT 2019 Litter Grant;

Adding American Fidelity Insurance as a supplement insurance carrier for county employees;

Allowing the mayor to sign a contract with TDOT for the extension of Highway 141 from Cedar Bluff Road to Highway 10;

Accepting a $20,000 Built Environment Grant from the state; and

Establishing a committee to set fair prices for the resale of land seized by the county for unpaid property taxes.

The 141 contract is a step in getting that project done, Chambers said in his mayor’s report, but no timeline exists for construction. TDOT released its three-year statewide estimate for projects last week and Highway 141 was not included.

The land sale committee is required by state law and will consist of the mayor, Jerry Ford, Richard Harsh, Linda Johnson and Fergusson.

Four budget amendments were approved by commissioners:

$10,000 from fund balance for the redesign of the county’s website;

$20,000 from the Built Environment Grant for a study of needed work in Hartsville City Park;

$813 in improvements to the animal shelter; and

$109,000 for the purchase of a backhoe for the Highway Department.

The last three budget amendments were internal transfers of funds already allocated.

Two appointments were made: Bryan King to the Economic Development Committee and Bubba Gregory to the Executive Committee. Gregory will give up his seat on the Purchasing Oversight Committee.

Two notaries were also approved in Ashlee Scott and Kyle Rutter.

The County Commission is next scheduled to meet on Tuesday, May 28 at 7 p.m. The May meeting is typically pushed back because of Memorial Day.

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

Hartsville man charged with attempted first-degree murder

A Hartsville man faces multiple charges, including attempted first-degree murder, after a shooting that took place last week.

Photo courtesy of Trousdale County Sheriff’s Department

Leon Wayne Berry, 64, was arrested April 15 after he allegedly went to his ex-girlfriend’s home on Taylor Avenue shortly after 6 p.m. The arrest affidavit said Berry racked a handgun and pointed it at the victim, who was there with her current boyfriend. The victim reportedly told police Berry had threatened her since they broke up in October 2018.

Berry reportedly told the pair, “Y’all [expletive] are going to die today,” and then fired a shot at the current boyfriend. The shot missed and hit the ground, and Berry allegedly yelled for her current boyfriend to come out.

A .9mm shell casing was found at the scene, according to the affidavit, and the weapon was found later that evening at a home Berry went to after he left the scene. The weapon was described as a Luger .9mm.

Berry was booked in at the Trousdale County Jail and charged with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated domestic assault and possession of a weapon by a felon. He remained on $100,000 bond, and a general sessions court date was scheduled for June 14.

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

Trousdale Medical Center completes remodel after flood damage

Trousdale Medical Center has reopened its main entrance and emergency room after flood damage limited the facility’s operations for five months.

Chief Executive Officer Mike Herman gave The Vidette a tour of the renovated hospital, which was damaged by water flowing downhill from behind the building. Water entered the building and did considerable damage.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette
The remodeled nurses’ station in the emergency room at Trousdale Medical Center is shown here.

“We got new flooring, new paint and new cabinetry through half the hospital,” Herman said. “With that, we were able to improve the aesthetics of the building and improve the flow of patient care, especially in the ER.”

Herman said the drainage flow around the hospital has been addressed as part of the repairs to ensure the situation does not repeat itself.

Herman did not have an exact figure on what the repairs cost, as the hospital filed an insurance claim to cover repairs. He did estimate that the work might have totaled around $500,000.

The main entrance and emergency room, including the nurse’s station, got the biggest benefit from the repairs.

The hospital continued to operate during the renovations, moving into the undamaged portion of the building. The ER was run out of two patient rooms, and the nurses’ station and lab work were moved patient rooms as well. The hospital had just three patient rooms available during the repairs instead of its usual 11, but Herman said all rooms are now back in service for patients.

The sleep study and pulmonary rehab centers were offline during the repairs. They have not yet reopened but Herman said both are preparing to resume operation.

Some work still remains, mainly getting furniture in place for outpatient services.

“I’m extremely proud of my staff because we operated this hospital out of half a building,” Herman said. “We kept our services available to our community and ultimately didn’t have a significant impact on the care we provide.”

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

Hartsville Fred’s location expected to close by end of May

The Hartsville location of Fred’s is among 159 stores being closed in 13 states, the retailer announced last Thursday.

In a statement, Fred’s said it expects to close all 159 stores by the end of May 2019. However, an exact closing date was not currently available and requests from The Vidette were directed to Fred’s corporate offices.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette

“After a careful review, we have made the decision to rationalize our footprint by closing underperforming stores, with a particular focus on locations with shorter duration leases. Most of these stores have near-term lease expirations and limited remaining lease obligations. Decisions that impact our associates in this way are difficult, but the steps we are announcing are necessary. We will make every effort to transition impacted associates to other stores where possible,” Fred’s CEO Joseph Anto said in a statement.

Liquidation sales have reportedly already begun at the 159 stores, which also include Fred’s locations in Gallatin and Lebanon.

Fred’s sold its pharmacy patient files and pharmacy inventory to Walgreens late last year and the local pharmacy closed earlier this year.

The closures represent nearly 29 percent of Fred’s 557 stores, with Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee most heavily affected. A complete list of closing stores can be found online at finance.yahoo.com/news/fred-retains-pj-solomon-evaluate-123434145.html.

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

Education Committee looks at potential budget shortfall for schools

Shoring up an expected shortfall in the county schools’ budget for the upcoming year was the focus of the Education Oversight Committee during last Thursday’s meeting.

Because of increased fiscal capacity (ability to pay) on Trousdale County’s part, the state has started providing less funding through the BEP (Basic Education Plan). In the current 2018-19 fiscal year, state funding dropped by just over $303,000.

According to Director of Schools Clint Satterfield, another similar cut is expected for the upcoming year with an additional $150,000 cut for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

“They’re saying, ‘You’ve got a significant amount of revenue somewhere in your county that came in.’ We know what it was; it was the prison,” Satterfield said. “Since your ability to pay has become greater, then the BEP is going to give you less.”

Director of Schools Clint Satterfield

CoreCivic’s Hartsville prison pays over $1.5 million each year in property tax to Trousdale County. Chairman Jerry Ford pointed out that much of that money had been spent in raises for county employees and other recurring expenses.

“That’s why we’re in the position we’re in now,” Ford said. “If we had just saved some of that money.”

“No one is to blame; we’ve never had anything like this happen before,” added Johnny Kerr, a current School Board member and former county commissioner. “Fiscal capacity is a compliment to us because we’ve actually got a major industry in here… Based on the information we had at that time, we spent the way the majority approved.”

Satterfield said the state was supposed to provide a preliminary estimate of BEP funding for the upcoming year this week. That estimate had not been made available at press time.

The County Commission has over the years gone above what the state requires in terms of funding schools beyond the BEP. In 2017-18, the county funded $582,129 above state BEP funding. For 2018-19, that funding excess was reduced to $278,628.

If the county loses another $303,000 in the upcoming year, it could force some difficult decisions.

In Trousdale County, the BEP funds 85.52 teacher positions. Currently, there are 87.5 teachers in the system. BEP also funds 0.5 assistant principal positions – each school has an assistant currently. BEP also does not fund any extracurricular activities.

In a worst-case scenario without making up some of the lost BEP funding, items such as community use of facilities, school athletics and teaching positions could be cut.

Satterfield also addressed upcoming capital outlay needs, including roof work on the elementary and middle schools, the high school parking lot and a new bus route on the western end of the county where population growth is at its highest.

The school system does have a healthy fund balance, estimated at $5 million as of Dec. 31. However much of that money is restricted for certain uses and actual available cash was around $2.1 million, according to Satterfield. The school system is already going into fund balance this year for some expenses and the budget estimates an available cash balance of $1.1 million come June 30.

“Fund balance is not for reoccurring expenses like salaries and benefits; you can use it for one-time expenditures,” Satterfield said.

Commissioners discussed potential options for finding revenue for the schools. Options tossed out included increasing the local option sales tax, which would require a referendum, adjusting impact fees from new construction in the county and removing the discount for early payment of property tax.

“We’ve done an excellent job over time of extending the quality of our schools,” Satterfield said. “I hear from county commissioners about how many people are moving into our county, and a lot of them are moving in because of the quality of our schools.

“We’re going to have to have some relief to keep this momentum going.”

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

Sheriff lays out funding requests for upcoming budget

Trousdale County Sheriff Ray Russell presented a list of budget requests, including two new dispatchers and a raise for current employees, during last Tuesday’s meeting of the Law Enforcement Committee.

Russell said an increase in calls over recent years showed a need for additional dispatchers. According to figures provided by the Sheriff’s Department, Trousdale County’s dispatch office received 9,049 calls for service in 2013. In 2017, that number was 14,169. The number did decrease slightly in 2018 with 13,809 calls.

“Some of the deputies are certified dispatch,” Russell said, “but it’s gotten where… you’ve got four or five phone lines ringing. We dispatch for fire, EMS, us… Their job needs as much support as the deputies out there.”

Sheriff Ray Russell

Trousdale currently has one dispatcher per shift with assistance but Russell said he envisioned going to two per shift in the coming future.

The sheriff estimated two dispatchers would cost roughly $30,000 each, not including benefits.

With regards to raises for employees, Russell said he planned to request one equal to the one he receives from the state.

Chairman Dwight Jewell said County Mayor Stephen Chambers had indicated to him there would be no requests in the budget for raises for county employees this year, except for the Water Department. Raises for constitutional officers are determined by the General Assembly and Russell said he had been told to expect a 2.8 percent increase this year.

The Sheriff’s Department did provide raises in the current year’s budget based on time in service, costing almost $240,000.

Russell said he also wanted to budget $20,000 for cameras to cover both the interior and exterior of the Justice Center.

“That way if something does happen, we can go back and look it up,” Russell said. “I can’t believe they didn’t fit that in when they (built) this.”

Russell also said a judge had asked about a public-address system, which was not expected to be a significant expense.

Also, Jewell said the 911 Board had agreed to request some funding for radio equipment for the Pumpkin Branch Road tower. Also, a fiber-optic link will be needed between that tower and one in downtown Hartsville as the two towers are not within line of sight.

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

Op-Ed: County Commission debate turned into embarrassing debacle

The proposed merger between the Volunteer Fire Department and Trousdale County EMS has led to some contentious debate over the past couple of months. So I expected a few fireworks, figuratively speaking, at Monday night’s County Commission work session.

After watching that meeting, though, all I can say is “Wow.” One commissioner commented to me afterward that he was the glad the mayor was on vacation and was not there to stream the meeting via Facebook video. He was entirely correct. Monday night was an absolutely disgraceful performance from all sides of the debate and Trousdale County deserves better.

The problems started with a comment from one commissioner that, in retrospect, he probably wishes he hadn’t made. When a concern was raised as to whether the volunteer firefighters might quit if a merger goes through, it was said (I’m paraphrasing), “If they want to quit, we appreciate their service and they can go to hell.”

Chris Gregory

At that point, one commissioner walked out and shortly after, there was a page for all firefighters to report to the fire hall for a special called meeting. I thought being a tattletale was something most of us grew out of after childhood. Apparently some of us didn’t.

The last part of that comment was unnecessary but personally, I tend to agree. If maintaining their little clique is more important than serving the people of Trousdale County, maybe they don’t need to be there. If I walked out on my job because I didn’t like directives from higher up the corporate chain, there probably would be some sentiment of “Oh, well. We need to find someone else to do the job.” Is there much difference?

Later in the meeting, a number of firefighters showed up and criticized commissioners for that “go to hell” comment. No problem there, and to his credit, the member in question owned up to his remark. The volunteers work hard and didn’t deserve that.

But that criticism turned into an attack, with one firefighter saying, “We’re not asked once about nothing. It’s just assumed we’re going to be told.” Yes, the input of the firefighters and EMS personnel is an invaluable asset in determining how this merger should be handled and commissioners should listen to them. I find it interesting that so far at various meetings addressing this merger, no fire personnel have spoken out one way or the other.

But ultimately, the County Commission can tell the Fire Department how it will be organized. That’s one of its defined roles in the charter – making decisions about organization of county government. It’s not about screwing the Fire Department or the personnel.

Then came accusations of “stacking” the Emergency Services Committee to ensure a favorable recommendation on merging the groups. Then another commissioner was called out publicly by another for referring to county government as “corrupt” via social media.

At one point the chairman of the Commission was accused by another member of lying about his reasons for not putting that member on the Emergency Committee.

It was an embarrassment and something I’ve never witnessed in roughly 4½ years of covering county government. Personally, I think the blame starts at the top with a chairman more concerned about folks raising their hands to be recognized than with properly running the meeting and maintaining a sense of decorum. There are 20 commissioners and keeping those egos in check can’t be an easy task, but it needs to be handled a heck of a lot better than it currently is.

Even the audience got in on the act to some extent. When the county attorney and experts from the state were asked if the charter permitted such a merger, the response was that by their interpretation, yes, it does. Then one citizen asked, “So this is a way around the law?” No, citizen, it’s not. It’s saying the charter, which is the law for the county, allows this because there’s nothing in there that says it doesn’t. No case law, no precedent.

I’m not a lawyer, but the charter says, “The Commission may by ordinance establish or amend any plan of administrative organization.” Sounds plain to me that yes, the Commission can reorganize the departments and a charter amendment isn’t needed.

One audience member, thankfully, showed a better sense of professionalism and asked good questions as to why the opponents felt a merger was a bad idea and for their reasons it shouldn’t happen.

He couldn’t get a straight answer; nothing better than being afraid of what might happen. If being afraid of the future were a reason not to act, we’d never get anything done in government.

I fully support merging the fire and EMS departments, even though there are questions remaining about the process. A healthy debate over the proposal is a good thing and is how government should operate. But that debate needs to take place in public and be handled in a civil fashion, not via social media and echo chambers.

The cesspool that developed Monday night amid our county commissioners was completely unprofessional behavior. If that’s how our leadership is going to act, we need new leadership. Grow the hell up, people.

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