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Pody Opposes Governor's Plan to Hike State Gas Tax

January 21, 2017
by: 
Dwayne Page
State Representative Mark Pody

Governor Bill Haslam on Wednesday proposed Tennessee's first gas tax hike in 27 years to fund the state’s road building and maintenance program but State Representative Mark Pody is not sold on it.

Under the Governor’s plan, the state gas tax would increase by seven cents from 21.4 cents per gallon to 28.4 cents. The tax on diesel would increase by 12 cents per gallon. The IMPROVE Act would increase car registration fees by $5 for the average passenger vehicle. It places an annual road user fee on electric vehicles and increases charges on vehicles using alternative fuels. The proposal also includes a 3 percent charge on rental cars and changes the state’s open container law to allow the Tennessee Department of Transportation flexibility to use $18 million in existing federal dollars on roads. Fuel taxes would be indexed – but also capped – to the Consumer Price Index in order to keep up with the rate of inflation.

The Governor said the state’s $6 billion backlog in transportation projects should spur legislators into action. Haslam's plan would generate about $278 million per year in new transportation funding, while at the same time cutting about $270 million in taxes for shoppers buying groceries, manufacturing companies investing in the state and people earning income from stocks and bonds.

Speaking with WJLE during a visit to Smithville Friday, Pody said while he agrees the transportation department needs more funding, he believes there are better alternatives.

“I am very excited that they are tackling the transportation funding issue. We have to find a way to put more money into TDOT. If I had to pick a number it would have been closer to $400 million per year in dedicated funding (we need). The proposal he (Governor) has isn’t going to be quite that much. But if that is what he feels comfortable with then I am good with that. The question is “how are we going to fund it”? He is proposing that we put a seven cent gas increase per gallon and twelve cents per gallon on diesel. I would rather readjust the taxes. For example, if we just took the people that are using the roads in all sources, when you get your oil changed or buy a tire, or buying a used car, take the sales tax we’re using on that and put that into the department of transportation. If we do it with just the gas tax it doesn’t affect anybody who is using electric or using natural gas. He says we’ll put another fee on those people. I’m not really big on just doing fees because we’re only going to kick this problem down the road. Let’s take a dedicated tax revenue source we already have so it comes out of the general fund, and we have an almost 2 billion dollar surplus there, and dedicate that toward TDOT. That can be easily done without a tax increase. I’m in full agreement with the Governor that we need to put more money in. It’s just where that source is going to come from,” said Representative Pody.

The IMPROVE Act cuts the sales tax on groceries another .50 percent ($55 million) to 4.5 percent, making a total cut to the sales tax on food of 1 percent, or $101 million, during Haslam’s administration; makes Tennessee’s franchise and excise tax on manufacturing businesses more competitive by allowing companies to go to a “single weighted sales factor” ($113 million); and cuts the Hall income tax 1.5 percent this year with a commitment to cut it another 1.5 percent next year (3 percent, $102 million) – a tax that is statutorily required to be eliminated by 2022 but without a specific schedule to do so. IMPROVE cuts taxes by an estimated $270 million annually, bringing the total number of cuts made and proposed since 2011 to $540 million annually, roughly nine times more than any other administration.

Pody said while he likes the idea of further tax cuts, the state must make sure it’s obligations are met first. “Returns lately in the stock market have been good but last year and the year before they really haven’t been as well. Therefore the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System state retirement program didn’t get the rate of return anticipated. We have to make sure we fully fund that as well. We have to make sure the Basic Education Program (BEP) is fully funded.”

“We already voted to get rid of the Hall’s Income Tax over the next few years and he wants to cut 1.5% of that right now. I would rather see us make our commitments fulfilled before we do another decrease on something else. We’ve already made a commitment to cut 5% and he is only cutting it by 1.5%. Before we propose another tax decrease, let’s fulfill the agreements and promises we’ve made to Tennessee by cutting what we have already promised. Once that is done, if there is more money left over next year then go ahead and take the next cuts we can do. But don’t keep cutting taxes until we have fulfilled promises we’ve made to Tennesseans first. I think that is very important because I don’t want to be caught down the road if we have a downturn. Let’s do all our promises first before we look at additional tax cuts. I’m all for tax cuts but it’s got to be step by step. I think we can do better than what he is proposing,” Representative Pody said.

The IMPROVE Act would bring in $278 million in new dollars to the state for projects and all funds would go toward transportation, including the 2 percent typically reverted to the General Fund, to provide funding for 962 projects across all 95 counties plus an additional $39 million to cities and $78 million to counties. The legislation would also allow municipalities, only if approved by local voters through referendum, to impose a surcharge on their sales tax rate that would be solely dedicated to public transit projects.

The governor added that his FY 2017-2018 budget proposal would use surplus one-time funds to finish repaying the Highway Fund by transferring $120 million from the General Fund.

Additional pieces of the governor’s NextTennessee plan will be announced in the coming weeks. Haslam is scheduled to deliver his annual State of the State address on January 30.

Judge Hands Down Sentences in Criminal Court

January 21, 2017
by: 
Dwayne Page
Judge Gary McKenzie

A 39 year old woman who allegedly stole a debit card was sentenced Wednesday in DeKalb County Criminal Court.

39 year old Amy Jeanette Lawson entered a plea by criminal information to theft of property under $500 and fraudulent use of a credit/debit card. Judge Gary McKenzie sentenced her to 11 months and 29 days in each case to run concurrently with each other and with a six year term in a Warren County felony probation. She will be on supervised probation by TDOC.

Sheriff Patrick Ray said that on August 27 Lawson allegedly stole a wallet containing several items including a driver license, social security card, a Regions bank debit card, a Discover credit card, Buckle credit card, Victoria Secret credit card, and $100 cash. Lawson also allegedly used the Regions Bank debit card for $25.02 at the Liberty Stop N Buy.

38 year old Sherry Evans entered a plea by criminal information to forgery and theft under $1,000. She received a two year sentence for the forgery and 11 months and 29 days for the theft to run concurrently with each other but consecutive to another case against her. The two year sentence on these charges has been suspended to supervised probation. She must make restitution of $250.64 to the victim. Sheriff Ray said that on Wednesday, October 26 Evans and a co-defendant passed a forged check at Wal-mart in Smithville.

30 year old James Robert Lee (Jimmy) Fuson entered a plea to theft under $1,000 and received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days on supervised probation. The term is to run consecutive to his probation in another misdemeanor case. He is to make restitution of $985 to the victim. According to the indictment, Fuson did knowingly obtain or exercise control over certain property, to wit: $905 the property of Middle Tennessee Outfitters between January 1 and February 23, 2016 with the intent to deprive Middle Tennessee Outfitters of its property, constituting the offense of theft.

40 year old Shannon Stanick entered a plea by criminal information to attempted possession of a schedule IV controlled substance for sale and delivery. She will be on supervised probation and judicial diversion for one year. She must undergo an assessment and followup as part of the plea agreement. In October, Stanick and 47 year old Elsie Mae Judkins were arrested and 63 year old Kathy Ann Taylor was cited for simple possession. During an investigation it was discovered that Judkins allegedly made a phone call to Taylor in order to assist Stanick in selling her prescription resulting in the sale of twenty (20) somas.

43 year old Miguel Angel Soto Reyes entered a plea by criminal information to two counts of driving under the influence. He received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days in each case all suspended except for 48 hours to serve. His license has been suspended for one year. The sentences are to run concurrently with each other.

24 year old Tony Lee Petty, Jr. charged with simple possession, has been granted pre-trial diversion under a memorandum of understanding and will be on probation for a period of 11 months and 29 days.

53 year old Jimmie Rayder entered a plea to assault and will be on supervised probation for 11 months and 29 days. He is under a restraining order to keep away from the victim.

Starnes pulled over for expired License, Found with Meth

January 20, 2017
by: 
Dwayne Page
Brandon Lee Starnes
Gregory Michael Patton
Andy J. Certain

Smithville Police recently pulled over a man for a traffic violation and discovered he was in possession of some meth that he may have intended to sell.

39 year old Brandon Lee Starnes was arrested on Wednesday, January 4 for possession of a schedule II drug for resale. He was also cited for driving with an expired license. His bond is $35,000.

Police spotted Starnes operating a motor vehicle. Knowing that Starnes’ license is expired, an officer pulled him over. When Starnes got out of his vehicle, he handed over to the officer about seven grams of methamphetamine he had produced from a black pouch. The officer then asked Starnes to turn over the pouch. Inside the pouch, police found approximately 12 grams of methamphetamine along with several individual baggies. A search of Starnes’ vehicle also turned up a set of digital scales in the glove box and several individual baggies that matched those which held the meth.

Meanwhile, 41 year old Gregory Michael Patton was cited on Thursday, January 5 for three counts of simple possession.

Police were called to do a welfare check on someone found asleep in a vehicle. An officer arrived and found Patton in the automobile. After asking him to step out of the vehicle, the officer saw Patton trying to hide something in his shoe. Found in his shoe was a vial containing 11 pills believed to be xanax and 2 ½ pills thought to be Subutext for which he had no prescription. Police also found on Patton less than a gram of methamphetamine.

39 year old Andy J. Certain was cited for simple possession on Friday, January 6. His court date is January 26. According to police. Certain was a passenger in a vehicle that had been pulled over for a traffic stop. Before the vehicle stopped, the officer saw Certain throw something out the passenger window. After obtaining consent to search, the officer found 0.4 grams of methamphetamine on the passenger seat where Certain had been sitting.

State Lawmakers Step In to Clear up Confusion on Lifetime Carry Permits

January 20, 2017
by: 
Dwayne Page
State Representative Mark Pody

Tennessee citizens with a valid handgun carry permit now have the option to upgrade to a lifetime permit for a lower cost.

In 2016, the 109th General Assembly lowered the renewal fee on lifetime handgun carry permits from $500 to $200. The new fee for an original permit is now $100, and the permit is now issued for eight years. The legislation was sponsored by State Senator Mae Beavers and State Representative Mark Pody.

If you currently have a permit with an expiration date, and would like to upgrade to a lifetime permit, you can now pick up an application at any driver services center and pay the $200 upgrade fee at any time. Handgun carry permits are processed at any full service driver services center. If you’re applying for the lifetime carry permit without first obtaining an original handgun carry permit, the fee will be $300.

Although the intent of the new law was for valid handgun carry permit holders to be able to upgrade to a lifetime permit at any time for $200, the State Department of Safety and Homeland Security initially saw it differently. “After January 1 when the law went into effect, people came in to renew their permit to the lifetime permit by paying the $200 and were told they could not because their renewal was not due yet so they would not let them renew it early,” said State Representative Pody, who was in Smithville Friday.

“State Senator Mae Beavers and a couple of others and myself heard about this and went to the department and told them that what they were doing was not the intent of the law. We wanted anybody who had a gun permit to be able to renew it anytime they wanted for $200 and have it for a lifetime. So the department has reversed and is now saying permit holders can upgrade for $200 at any time. I would encourage anybody with a permit to go and get it renewed for life for $200 right now,” said State Representative Pody.

According to Representative Pody, an amendment to the law may be necessary to clear up any further confusion in the future. “The problem is if they (department) can change these procedures just within the department good or bad, what keeps them from changing it again two years from now. We may have to run a bill to lock them (department) in so they can’t change their minds and reverse themselves again,” he said.

For more information on handgun carry permits, visit the website, http://tn.gov/safety/article/handgunmain

DWS Student Receives First "Classroom Champion" Award

January 20, 2017
by: 
Dwayne Page
Gracie Griffin Receives "Classroom Champion" Award Presented by Attorney Jim Judkins and WJLE
Attorney Jim Judkins, DWS Principal Sabrina Farler, Classroom Champion Gracie Griffin, her mother Carol Ann Griffin, and WJLE manager Dwayne Page

The first “Classroom Champion” has been recognized by Smithville Attorney Jim Judkins and WJLE.

13 year old Gracie Griffin, an 8th grader at DeKalb West School received the award and a special gift card on Thursday presented by Judkins and Dwayne Page of WJLE.

Griffin, daughter of Carol Ann and Bart Griffin of Alexandria, is a member of the BETA Club and the Lady Bulldogs basketball team. Gracie said she loves Science and History and plans to become a veterinarian someday.

“Gracie is a very high achiever. She is a well rounded student, admired by her peers, and a member of the basketball team. She is a wonderful student at DeKalb West School,” said Principal Sabrina Farler.

In an effort to recognize achievements of students in the DeKalb County School System, WJLE has partnered with attorney Judkins in featuring a “Classroom Champion” each week for the next several months.

The name of the student selected each week will be announced on WJLE and will be featured on the WJLE website. Each student winning will receive a plaque and a gift certificate.

“This is our way of recognizing and celebrating the achievements of the future citizens and leaders of the community. It can benefit their learning and overall school atmosphere and climate. The students' selection will be based on academic performance, responsibility and work ethic, leadership abilities, and citizenship and character,” said Judkins.

Sheriff's Department Receives "Zero Fatal Award"

January 20, 2017
Law Enforcement Liaison Fred Sherrill Present Sheriff Patrick Ray "Zero Fatal Award"

The Tennessee Highway Safety Office (THSO) recognized the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department with the “Zero Fatal Award” during the THSO’s annual Cumberland Region Awards Meeting on December 8 hosted by Law Enforcement Liaison Fred Sherrill at Fall Creek Falls.

Every year, the “Zero Fatal Award” recognizes law enforcement agencies that maintain zero fatal crashes within their jurisdictions. The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department is considered a key partner of the THSO for continuing to save lives by preventing fatal crashes.

Sheriff Patrick Ray says “About one in three traffic deaths in the United States involve a drunk driver and millions get behind the wheel intoxicated every year. Thanks to our dedicated Law Enforcement Officers here in DeKalb County, our traffic fatalities were at zero in this reporting period. I am very proud to accept this award for DeKalb County. I want the Citizens of DeKalb County to know local Law Enforcement Officers have worked very hard this year to combat Drunk Drivers on our highways here in DeKalb County".

Williams Elected Head of Area Chambers of Commerce Group

January 20, 2017
Suzanne Williams

The Smithville-DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce director, Suzanne Williams, was recently elected chairperson of the Upper Cumberland Chamber Executives Association.

The UCCEA is an organization composed of the leadership of the Chambers of Commerce that serve the 14-county Upper Cumberland area. The organization’s mission is to support the Upper Cumberland’s economic development as well as provide the opportunity to speak as a regional entity with the potential to benefit each county. It also serves as a forum for chamber directors to discuss best practices, challenges, and ideas.

In addition, Tennessee Tech, UCCEA, and other economic and community development agencies partner together annually in January to sponsor the “Redi for Action” conference hosted by Tennessee Tech. This year’s conference included 3 State Commissioners from the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and the Department of Environment and Conservation as well as several state agency directors.

Williams has worked at the Smithville-DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce since 2000, and has served as Executive Director since 2003.

Williams received her B.S. degree from Middle Tennessee State University, and continues her love of learning through attending leadership conferences, seminars, and training.

As director, she wears multiple hats while managing and directing local programs, operations, and numerous activities of the Chamber. She is also involved in community and economic development, grant writing, and a monthly Chamber television and radio program called “Chamber Chat.”

Williams and daughter Shan Burklow are the co-hosts of the Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree and Crafts Festival national television broadcast, aired locally by Cookeville’s WCTE-TV, and broadcast by the Public Broadcasting Service throughout the year across the nation.

Williams is a native of Smithville and loves her community. She is very passionate about promoting DeKalb County, the Upper Cumberland region, and the beautiful state of Tennessee.

Williams says, “We are looking forward to the new year and working together for the purpose of improving not only our individual communities, but the Upper Cumberland as a whole.”

Griffin Ordered to Make $30,000 Restitution in TennCare Fraud Case

January 18, 2017
by: 
Dwayne Page
Kimberly Dawn Griffin

A Smithville woman indicted on charges of TennCare Fraud and theft of services over $10,000 appeared in DeKalb County Criminal Court on Wednesday.

46 year old Kimberly Dawn Griffin of Page Lane, Smithville entered a plea to theft of services over $10,000. Judge Gary McKenzie gave her a four year sentence all suspended to TDOC probation under judicial diversion. She must make restitution of $30,498. If the restitution is not paid in full by the end of the diversion period, the balance will be converted to a civil judgment.

Griffin was named in a sealed indictment on Monday, November 23, 2015.

According to count 1 of the indictment, "Kimberly D. Griffin, between the 15th day of December, 2008 and the 29th day of October, 2012 intentionally did obtain certain services, to wit: medical assistance benefits for herself and her minor child, provided by the State of Tennessee, of the value of over $10,000 but less than $60,000, by means of deception, fraud, coercion, false pretense, or other means, with the intent to avoid payment for the services, constituting the offense of theft of services over $10,000".

Count 2 of the indictment alleged that "Kimberly D. Griffin, between the 15th day of December, 2008 and the 29th day of October, 2012 did knowingly obtain medical assistance benefits for herself and her minor child, by means of her willfully false statement, representation or impersonation or by concealment of a material fact, to wit: fraudulently reporting to DHS that her minor child resided with her, in order to be eligible for TennCare benefits, constituting the offense of TennCare Fraud".

Fults Gets Three Year Sentence for Attempted Aggravated Child Sexual Battery

January 18, 2017
by: 
Dwayne Page
Jacky Lynn Fults

A 54 year old Smithville man indicted last year for the rape of a child was in DeKalb County Criminal Court Wednesday.

Jacky Lynn Fults entered a plea to the lesser offense of attempted aggravated sexual battery. Judge Gary McKenzie gave him a three year sentence to serve in the Tennessee Department of Correction. Fults will be in the sex offender registry for the rest of his life and he is restrained from having any contact with the victim. He was given jail credit of 38 days.

Fults was accused of committing anal penetration with his finger on a seven year old girl at his Foster Road residence on September 28, 2014. According to the warrant at the time of his arrest, the child was examined by Our Kids in Nashville on September 29 and doctors did find evidence consistent with abuse. The child did give disclosure on September 30 at the Child Advocacy Center in Cookeville.

The case was investigated by Lieutenant Matt Holmes of the Smithville Police Department

The Grand Jury indicted Fults in July, 2015. The indictment alleged that "Fults, between September 25 and 28th, 2014 did intentionally and or knowingly engage in unlawful sexual penetration of a seven year old child constituting the offense of Rape of a Child."

DeKalb Animal Coalition Awarded $25,000 Grant for New Shelter

January 18, 2017
by: 
Dwayne Page
Worker completing outside concrete pours at new animal shelter
Worker on site at new animal shelter location
DeKalb Animal Coalition Awarded $25,000 Grant for New Shelter

The DeKalb Animal Coalition for the Humane Treatment of Animals got a nice Christmas gift last month when word came that it was being awarded a $25,000 grant from the Roger T. Moore Revocable Trust Foundation.

The grant will be put toward the new animal shelter which is under construction behind Tenneco near the county’s soon to open solid waste transfer station.

Sue Puckett Jernigan, a member of the Coalition, told WJLE that she had not even heard of the foundation until Pete Siggelko mentioned it during a coalition meeting last year. “He attended some of our meetings and he mentioned that there might be a grant available from this foundation. He said I’ll get you the ladies name and number. He did. He sent me a text and last June I called her and she told me what to do to make the application. The lady I dealt with is Belinda Leslie, a Trustee of the Foundation. I just wrote a letter outlining what our Coalition did and the need for it. I included the history of how we had come about organizing and that we were a 501c3 organization. I wrote that we were trying to garner some funds and mentioned our 99 year lease,” said Jernigan.

“In December I received a call from this lady. She told me we had been awarded the grant and I was so excited. She said it was for $25,000 and Merry Christmas. I believe that is the max that the foundation grants,” added Jernigan.

This is great news for the Coalition which is still in search of donations to help equip and furnish the new shelter before it opens. “We have enough money to complete the building but I’m not sure we’re going to have enough to equip it so we’ll have to have some fund raisers,” said Jernigan.

Mike Foster, who is also involved with the Coalition, said the building should be completed within the next six weeks. “I think the building will be finished in three weeks and then it will be ready for the interior stuff which may take another three weeks. The outside concrete pours that makes the runs were completed today (Wednesday). They finished up the central heat and air today (Wednesday). The electrical is also now ready for a rough in inspection. It’s really coming along. Of course some things like the Guillotine doors and things like that can’t be put in until it’s painted,” said Foster.

If you would like to volunteer or make a donation toward the shelter, contact Marsha Darrah, Sue Puckett Jernigan, or any member of the Coalition. Donations may be made by Pay Pal or at Post Office Box 354.

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