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Year in Review: Growth spurs changes in Wilson

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As has been the case for more than a decade, government in Wilson County and its municipalities spent much of 2015 monitoring, preparing for or dealing with the ramifications of growth.

With much debate and public input that included a failed Wilson County Republican Party petition drive in opposition to the project, county commissioners ultimately approved the construction of the 78,000-square-foot Expo Center at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center earlier in the year.

Construction on the multi-million dollar center is underway, and the project is scheduled for completion in 2016.

MJ, Lebanon hold special censuses

In an effort to capture additional state funding as a result of population growth, city leaders in both Mt. Juliet and Lebanon rolled out special censuses in 2015.

With the certification of its census results over the summer, Mt. Juliet became Wilson County's largest city in July with a total population of 28,159. City officials estimated the new population tally would translate into an additional $360,000 for Mt. Juliet's coffers.

And while the numbers for Lebanon's special census - launched later in the year - are still to be revealed, the county seat may reclaim the title of largest city as Lebanon leaders have said the city's population could reach or even surpass the 30,000 mark.

Infrastructure improvements made

Continued growth fueled the need for infrastructure improvements, particularly in the realm of transportation, and a handful of road projects were completed over the past year while others remain in the proverbial pipeline.

July saw the completion of the Lebanon Public Square Safety Project. The $1 million project, which saw the Square transform into a roundabout with additional parking and improved pedestrian access, was heralded by local leaders as one that beautified and enhanced the city's downtown district.

Safety was also the watchword when the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) addressed a storm water runoff issue that led to a flood of hydroplane crashes on Interstate 40 East near Mt. Juliet.

Meanwhile, the intersection of Academy Road and Highway 109 - the site of numerous fatal crashes in recent years - will likely have to wait until at least 2017 for a traffic light, according to TDOT.

While the department added additional signage and safety improvements to the intersection in 2015, TDOT said a traffic light will not be installed until it can be included in the widening project for Hwy. 109 North - a project the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee, a statewide advocacy group, later identified as among more than $121 million worth of road projects needed in Wilson County.

Schools due millions in liquor-by-the-drink tax

Money was at the heart of a pair of government-related dust-ups in 2015. A two-year-old discovery that Lebanon and Mt. Juliet had been unaware half of their respective liquor-by-the-drink tax revenues were due to the county school system continued to unfold.

Both cities began to pay their share on a regular basis; however, the county school system and Mt. Juliet remained at what Wilson County Board of Education Attorney Mike Jennings described as an "amicable" impasse regarding an arrangement for the payment of back taxes.

Commissioners vote to double their own pay

Through no action on their part, county school board members saw their monthly pay doubled to $800 in July when the Wilson County Commission voted in favor of the pay raise for each of the county's 25 commissioners.

Commissioners voted 16-6 to double their own salaries via a resolution sponsored by District 8 Wilson County Commissioner Frank Bush. Bush noted commissioners had not received a pay raise in nine years and that their pay was not in line with their counterparts in Lebanon and Mt. Juliet city squires.

The raises, which took effect retroactively beginning July 1, 2015, proved controversial among commentators on social media.

Changes made in city, county departments

Personnel changes closely tied to economic development in Lebanon and Wilson County helped set the stage for new faces and opportunities in 2016.

In late summer, then-Lebanon Economic Development Director Helene Cash stepped down from the post after a brief six-month tenure to accept a position in the private sector. The search for Cash's successor remains ongoing.

At the county level, a search committee named Mt. Juliet native Charity Toombs as the marketing director for the Wilson County Expo Center.

News Editor Brian Harville may be contacted at bharville@wilsonpost.com.

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census, Charity Toombs, commissioners, economic development, economy, growth, Helene Cash, Hwy. 109, I-40, infrastructure, James E. Ward Ag Center, Lebanon, Lebanon Public Square, liquor-by-the-drink, Mt. Juliet, taxes, TDOT, traffic, Transportation, Wilson County Commission, Wilson County Expo Center, Wilson County Schools
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