Commission approves $1.5 mil more by 14-9 vote
The Wilson County Commission approved $1.5 million more for the Expo Center Monday night after serious debate of the issue.
The commission first voted 12-11, with District 2 Commissioner Adam Bannach and District 15 Commissioner Mike Justice absent, not to defer voting on the request for the added funds.
In the end, the additional funding was approved by a vote of 14-9 with Commissioners Bobby Franklin (District 3), Chad Barnard (District 4), Jerry McFarland (District 5), Frank Bush (District 8), Dan Walker (District 10), John Gentry (District 11), Terry Ashe (District 12), Diane Weathers (District 16) and Jim Emberton (District 25) opposed.
'What this is all about'
District 6 Commissioner Kenny Reich led the support for the additional funding. "Are we going to build something we are proud of or not?" he asked the commission. "That's what we're debating here. That's what this is all about."
Reich also pointed out that the sales tax revenues the Expo Center would generate would benefit both the schools and the county since it would be money that the county wouldn't have to raise property taxes to get.
Ashe said he would be voting against the increase since he has told his constituents he wouldn't vote for more than $10 million to build the Expo Center unless there's a new fire hall in his district.
But County Mayor Randall Hutto told the commission that $700,000 is still reserved for the fire hall. "The county is only waiting until we find the land in Norene," Hutto said. "The money is still there. I wouldn't want you to think I lost it."
'Why not under budget?'
Bush said he couldn't understand why the contractor and architect couldn't bring the building in for less than the $10 million originally budgeted. "Surely they can give us a state-of-the-art project under budget," he said.
District 23 Commissioner Sue Vanatta talked about all the effort that has gone into the plans for the Expo Center - adding that she has talked to numerous business people and others and "not one of them said we shouldn't do this right."
District 14 Commissioner Jeff Joines pointed out that the county's newly-created Facebook page about the Expo Center received over 100 "likes" the first day it was online - and that newly-hired Expo Center Director Charity Toombs has reported already receiving inquiries about how soon it would be ready for use.
"This is good for Wilson County," Joines said. "It needs to be state-of-the-art."
District 22 Commissioner Wendell Marlowe agreed, pointing out, "If we don't do it right the first time, it will cost us more in the long run." He said the county "can't wait to build a fire hall first. We can't wait until we do something else first."
Finally, the commission voted 14-9 to approve the added funds, after County Attorney Mike Jennings told them the funding required 13 votes to pass. "It has to be a majority of the entire (25-member) commission," he said - even including those commissioners who were absent.
Support for paralyzed deputy
In other action, Sheriff Robert Bryan told the commission that one of his deputies has become paralyzed due to a surgical procedure he had recently. Bryan said Earl Dyer is currently in a nursing home, but since all of his sick days and vacation days have run out, he's going to have to transfer home.
Bryan said the Sheriff's Department is sponsoring a benefit turkey shoot at the fairground on Saturday to help the family, and there's a Go Fund Me account online for him if people want to help.
Dr. Stumb's 'pop quiz'
Commissioner McFarland introduced Cumberland University President Dr. Paul Stumb and yielded the floor to him for the "historical moment" that McFarland usually presents at the beginning of the meeting.
Stumb then proceeded to give the commissioners a "pop quiz." He said he was doing this in true academic fashion. Actually, it was a way for him to share several points of interest about CU's history.
In the end, District 20 Commissioner Annette Stafford, who appropriately also chairs the Education Committee, was the only commissioner to score 100 percent correct on the quiz.
Team helped flood victims
Honored at the meeting by a resolution introduced by Commissioner Reich was the Wilson Emergency Management Agency's Water Rescue Team which traveled to South Carolina during the recent flooding there.
The WEMA team helped with rescues of individuals trapped by the flooding in Georgetown, South Carolina, delivered food and water there and conducted house-to-house welfare checks. Team members were Jeremy Hobbs, Brian Newberry, Shannon Cooper and John Partridge.
Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright also explained to the commission why Wilson County students don't get Veterans Day off.
"Veterans Day is a teachable moment we might not have if the children weren't in school," she said. The schools use the day to teach children why the day is important and hold events at school to honor veterans, she added.
Elzie Patton Elementary honored several generations of veterans as part of their school day this year, Wright noted.
Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.