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County Commission allows guns in parks, shoots down funding for schools

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By BEN DUDLEYThe Wilson Post

Members of the public turned in force at Wilson County Commission’s meeting Monday to support and/or opposed three major items on the agenda.

Besides approving a $190.8 million budget for fiscal year 2009-2010, the commission voted on prohibiting guns in parks as well as increasing the adequate facilities tax, or impact fee.

Before the resolutions were discussed, District 20 Commissioner Annette Stafford read a letter from Lyndon LaFevers, president of the Eastern Middle Tennessee Association of Realtors. The letter stated that while Lafevers supported a new Lebanon High School, he firmly opposed an increase to adequate facilities tax.

“This will force appraisers to justify an $8,000 increase in what a house is worth,” LaFevers said. “It will slow growth, put contractors out of business, and it will give the county a negative image.”

LaFever’s letter was met with thunderous applause from the audience, which was full of citizens, school employees and real estate agents.

First off was the resolution to prohibit guns in parks. County Attorney Mike Jennings provided an amendment to the resolution which would only opt out the James E. Ward Agricultural Center because he said “there are a lot of student activities going on there and we should keep them safe.”

Sheriff Terry Ashe was asked what he thought about the resolution. He said that he looked up the definitions for a park, convention center, event center, agricultural center and fairgrounds, and was not sure if the Ward Ag. Center qualified as any of them.

“The ball fields are rented out to other people and the fair is run by other people,” Ashe said. “It’s their responsibility. I will enforce whatever is passed.”

“Since 1994,” said District 23 Commissioner Bernie Ash, “200,000 people have gotten handgun permits and they are not the ones committing crimes. We’re addressing a problem that doesn’t exist. This whole thing is ridiculous.”

Jennings told commissioners “We’re voting on being a part of a law that hasn’t even gone into effect. But if we opt out and ban guns, then we will have an excuse in a lawsuit. We can show that we tried to keep guns out of the area.”

District 9 Commissioner Gary Tarpley said that this would only take guns away from honest people while District 14 Commissioner Jeff Joines said it was a sad state of affairs that this was the best thing to come out of the General Assembly this year.

The commission voted to substitute the resolution for the amendment, but then voted against the prohibition of guns 8-15, with Stafford abstaining.

The next major issue was the increase in the adequate facilities tax. The resolution was brought by District 1 Commissioner Larry West and was seconded by District 3 Commissioner Fred Weston.

“I understand why some of you don’t like this,” said District 19 Commissioner L.T. Jenkins, “but I know we need a new Lebanon High School. What’s the problem with limiting the amount of newcomers the county gets? I like the status quo.”

“The issue here is capital growth,” said District 8 Commissioner Frank Bush. “We were unwilling to discuss the wheel tax at the last meeting. We need to discuss the wheel tax, the adequate facilities tax, the property tax and the sales tax. We need to find the best way to increase our capital growth.”

Ash added, “If we vote for this insane resolution, we will kill both the real estate and construction industries as well as the growth of our county.”

The commission voted 2-22 against the increase of the impact fee.

The final big issue on the commission’s agenda was approving the budget. Teddy Cook, chairwoman of the Wilson County Board of Education, was the only person to speak at the public hearing prior to the meeting and she asked that the school’s budget proposal be left as they requested.

The school budget called for $1.4 million, but the budget committee gave them half and put the other $700,000 in a “rainy day fund.”

Bush made a motion to amend the budget and add the other $700,000 back from the rainy day fund into the school’s budget.

“We provide nearly half of the school’s funding,” Bush said. “The state gives almost half and the remaining 10 percent comes from Federal funding. This money is very important.”

“We have been led to believe that next year is going to be worse economically than this year,” Ash said. “If we put $1.4 million in the school’s budget, we are required by law to match that next year.

“If we have to increase this money next year, it will come from a property tax increase.”

District 22 Commissioner Heather Scott said that the committee showed good fiscal policy by creating the rainy day fund and that no one was saying that if the schools needed it that they could not have it.

“Why hasn’t every department’s budget decreased to make this rainy day fund?” Bush asked. Ash replied saying that the schools were the only department that got $700,000, which was more than most departments.

The commission voted 6-18 against adding the rainy day fund money back to the school’s budget and 18-6 in approval of the submitted budget.

Other resolutions included giving assistance to low income elderly citizens with State Property Tax Relief (see separate story), allowing public comment during committee meetings, putting committee agendas on the web site for public viewing, and giving an additional appropriation to the Sheriff’s Department.

Commission will meet again on Monday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Wilson County Courthouse.

Staff Writer Ben Dudley may be contacted at ben@wilsonpost.com.

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