Today is Sunday, August 20, 2017

Pet tax, school upgrades on hold

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Monday's Co. Commission meeting --
It was a busy night Monday for the Wilson County Commission.

A proposal to reinstate the $2 per animal "pet tax" was referred back to committee by a 13-9 vote; a plan to videotape commission committee meetings failed due to a tied vote; and selling $14-million-plus in bonds to remodel the old Lebanon High School was approved by a 17-5 vote, although financing the rest of the Wilson County Schools' building plans for 2015-16 has been deferred until August.

County Finance Director Aaron Maynard asked the Education and Budget Committees to place a "hold" on the rest of the building package, which includes improvements to five county schools, until he can see if re-bonding would allow a badly needed, additional elementary school in Mt. Juliet to also be built.

Old LHS project funded separately
The five schools in the $31.155 million renovation and expansion package on "hold" are Tuckers Crossroads, Southside, Gladeville and Watertown Elementaries and Mt. Juliet Middle School.

The Wilson County School Board's plan to remodel the old high school would provide office space for the director of schools, Central Office administrators and the school nutrition program. It would also create space for the adult high school program, the school system's TVOL online education program, and textbook storage, among other things.

Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright also pointed out at a recent board meeting that renovating the old high school could free up the existing Central Office on Stumpy Lane to become classroom space, possibly for a second section of the MAP Academy, which would allow high school and middle school students to be served in separate buildings.

One of the proposal's opponents suggested deferring the vote on the renovation until it could be considered together with the rest of the school building projects.

In response, Maynard explained that the money for the old high school project would come from a different funding stream, and therefore would not affect the funding of school buildings.

'Give me classrooms'
The five votes against approving and funding the old high school project separately were cast by Commissioners Bobby Franklin (District 3), Frank Bush (District 8), Dan Walker (District 10), John Gentry (District 11) and Diane Weathers (District 16).

After the meeting, Weathers explained she wasn't voting for funding anything but classrooms. "You give me classrooms, I'll vote for that," she said.

Absent and therefore not voting Monday night were Commissioners Terry Ashe (District 12), Sonja Robinson (District 13) and Jim Emberton (District 25).

A proposal on whether to reinstate the $2 pet tax also was again referred, by a 13-9 vote, back to the Animal Control Committee - whose chair, District 22 Commissioner Wendell Marlowe, assured the full commission that the committee would be meeting in August to discuss the matter.

The tax was referred to that committee at the commission's June meeting as well, but the committee failed to meet this month.

When it was in effect, the tax assessed all pet owners in the county, including those inside city limits, $2 per dog or cat per year, which went to New Leash on Life. Last month, when District 24 Commissioner Joy Bishop first asked the full commission to consider reinstating the tax, she said the nonprofit organization desperately needs more funding to fight the epidemic of strays in the county - and that she couldn't get the Animal Control Committee to consider reinstating it.

'Worried about the animals'
First passed by a referendum of county voters in 1980, the tax was repealed two years ago by the county commission, which decided that the county Animal Control Shelter could handle stray animal issues without extra help.

In their vote last month, other commissioners wanted the tax reinstatement proposal to go through the usual committee channels, and Marlowe said that he had received no request from Bishop about reinstating the pet tax. After Monday's meeting, Bishop said she has nothing against the Animal Control Committee - she just wants to see the tax reinstated.

"I'm worried about the sick and hurt animals," she said.

In a related action, the commission voted Monday to make Animal Control one of its regular standing committees, a detail which was overlooked when it originally was created.

Mayor doesn't break tie
In yet another proposal that generated a (very) split vote, a plan to videotape commission committee meetings and post them on the county website led to an 11-11 tie, due to the absence of the three members who would have given the commission odd rather than even numbers.

The controversy seemed not to stem from any reluctance to record the committee meetings, but rather from the lack of a project plan or funding estimate. First the commissioners considered sending the proposal, which was sponsored by Commissioner Franklin, back to the Rules Committee with a request for more information.

But that amendment failed and when the commission voted to approve or turn down the plan, the tie vote was the outcome.

Commissioners suggested that Mayor Randall Hutto could cast a vote to break the tie, but County Attorney Mike Jennings got him off the hook by explaining that Hutto's vote wouldn't change the results, legally. Because the videotaping would involve a change to the county's Rules of Order, it would require a two-thirds majority of votes (17) to pass, Jennings said - but it could still be brought back up later.

Protest to the White House
The commissioners also unanimously to:

Accept a $250,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture to build a 20,000-square-foot livestock pavilion at the James A. Ward Agricultural Center.

Proclaim Aug. 2 a "Community Day of Prayer for Our Schools," and especially for the safety of the children in school. The program is sponsored by the national and local Kiwanis clubs. It was started in 1999 shortly after the school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

Send a letter of protest to President Obama inquiring why the White House flag was not lowered to half-mast in honor of the five servicemen who were fatally shot in Chattanooga Thursday. The motion was made by District 15 Commissioner Mike Justice, and Jennings agreed to draft and mail the letter.

Writer Connie Esh can be contacted at cewrites@yahoo.com.

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