AG's opinion prompts speedy response


MT. JULIET -- State Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr., issued an opinion on Valentine’s Day that may affect development in West Wilson County, and Mt. Juliet officials think it’s a sweetheart of a deal.

The newly-issued attorney general’s opinion has opened the door for development to possibly proceed on the proposed Bel-Air Subdivision at Mt. Juliet’s Beckwith Road.

In question was which sewer districts had the right to provide service for Bel-Air: its neighboring cities of Mt. Juliet and Lebanon, or the rural Wilson County Water and Wastewater Treatment Association (WCWWTA).

Cooper’s opinion, requested by State Rep. Susan Lynn, stated that the most recent Tennessee statute concerning which public entity has jurisdiction over sewer service, passed in 2003, in effect repealed an earlier Tennessee law, passed in 1995, Mt. Juliet City Attorney Gino Marchetti told the city’s Board of Commissioners at their regular meeting this week.

“The two statutes said the exact opposite thing regarding who has the right to provide the service,” Marchetti explained. “But the attorney general said the latest would overrule. It was a good opinion.”

Cooper’s opinion affirmed the right of a city to provide utility service in any area it annexes, as provided for by the latest law, Marchetti continued, and that may put an end to Mt. Juliet’s impasse with the WCWWTA, City Manager Kenny Martin said he hopes.

When Bel-Air’s developers applied for sewer service, the WCWWTA intervened and “said it was their service area, due to a little-known law passed in the late ’80s,” Martin told the commissioners.

The Bel-Air subdivision currently pending comprises 500 acres, half of which are in Lebanon and half in Mt. Juliet, Martin said. But commissioners acted quickly to take the proposal out of limbo in response to the attorney general’s ruling.

They voted 5-0 for Mayor Ed Hagerty to send a letter to the WCWWA reasserting the city’s jurisdiction over its half of Bel-Air, and they also requested to have their own names affixed under the mayor’s signature.

“How fast can you write?” Vice Mayor James Maness responded when Hagerty asked for the commissioners’ views on the topic.

“This will let us develop our area, so to speak?” District 4 Commissioner Jim Bradshaw inquired, and Martin assented.

Lynn and State Sen. Mae Beavers are working on legislation to clarify the jurisdiction of Tennessee’s cities even further, Martin said, but even if that doesn’t pass, Cooper’s opinion should strengthen the city’s position, he added.

The problem is that Bel-Air’s developers want to make certain they don’t get tied up in lawsuits before they commit to financing and beginning the project, according to Martin.

However, the 2003 law does give the exclusive authority to provide water and wastewater service to any city that annexes territory and wants to provide that service, Marchetti advised the commissioners. The only hitch is that the city must pay “fair market value” for any existing water or wastewater infrastructure in the annexed area, and none currently exists in the Bel-Air territory, “so the fair market value would be zero,” the city attorney said.

In related action, Hagerty asked the commissioners to reappoint himself and Luke Winchester to the Joint Economic & Community Development Board (JECDB) of Wilson County, noting that Winchester has agreed to serve again and that “quite candidly, I would like to stay” as well.

Hagerty’s work on the JECDB “ties into the wastewater issue,” he said, and in his role on that board he believes he can help “relieve the impasse,” the mayor added. The commissioners agreed, voting 5-0 to confirm Winchester and Hagerty’s reappointments.

In other action involving state regulations, Martin asked the commissioners to adopt the Tennessee code for modular structures so banks could put up ATMs that fall under the code.

A local bank applied to install an ATM near I-40, Martin said, but its approval was held up for a year and a half because “our standards didn’t meet the state standards.”

An ordinary ATM can be installed without modular regulation, but if it has any kind of attached building, the standards must be met, according to Martin.

“It’s basically any kind of ATM you have to enter to repair,” he explained. “There would be no cost to the city; it would just bring the city into compliance.”

However, Hagerty said the proposal provoked some concern from commissioners because “it sounded like we were going back to the days of allowing mobile home parks.”

To deal with that concern, Martin said there was “no rush” and commissioners could review the proposal further, first. Bradshaw moved to defer it to the next regular meeting and his motion passed 4-1, with Maness voting no.

Correspondent Connie Esh may be contacted at Photographer John Butwell contributed to this article, also.