Local News Articles

Liberty Library to Close

June 13, 2015
by: 
Dwayne Page
Kathy Hendrixson

Although services of the DeKalb County Library System as a whole have been expanding in recent years, one library location will be closing this month due to declining patronage.

"As of June 26 we will be closing the Liberty Library," said County Library Director Kathy Hendrixson in an interview with WJLE. "The nine member DeKalb County Library Board voted in May to close the library. It was a sad and difficult decision for the board to have to make but in order to use our staff and resources to the best advantage to the community and reach more people, we had to make this decision," she said.

The Liberty Library, located in a 700 square foot room in the old high school building, opened about ten years ago after having relocated from Dowelltown. But in recent years, fewer people have been taking advantage of it. "At that time (in the beginning) it was supported. More people were coming in and more children, but the demographics have changed in the area. There is just very little usage of the library down there now. It's been coming for about a year. We tried changing our hours. The board voted last year to take it down to two days a week. We did that last year and it opened it up so we could have more staff to do programs here (Smithville). This year in May we took it to one day a week because we were having so many programs and things going on at this library (Justin Potter) and needed the staff for that," said Hendrixson.

While the library will be closing, people in the Liberty area may make use of library services at either the Smithville or Alexandria location. "When one window closes, it presents another window of opportunity. The cool thing about this is that their library card can be used at any of our county libraries and they (people of Liberty) have been utilizing it. They have already been coming in here from Liberty and Alexandria has had people coming down there. That's a plus," Hendrixson continued.

"We're not abandoning the people in Liberty. We love those people and want to reach out to all our communities hopefully in a more effective way. I spoke to two senior citizens in Liberty recently and explained the READS Program to them and they were excited about this. That program offers our patrons over 60,000 free downloadable eBooks and audio books to their computers, Kindles, Nooks and smart phones. While these seniors may not get out as much and weren't using the library as much down there, this service lets them stay at home and read their books. All they need is a library card. There are children's books, fiction, etc. They can go in there and check those out and choose the times, seven, fourteen, or twenty one days and when the time is up, they (e and audio books) just disappear. There are no fines. And those books they check out counts toward our circulation at the library so it's like they came in here and checked out a book only it's from home and it’s free. We get a count each month from the state on how many READS books are downloaded through the library system in this county and last month there were almost one thousand downloads. We are fifth highest (downloads) among the fourteen counties in our region. I have also enrolled in an Advantage Program so that the patrons of our libraries can go in and have access to some of the best sellers and it's only available to them. It's a wonderful resource, "she said.

"Sometimes you have to have a library without walls. You have to take the library to the people and that's what we want to do. We want to do more partnering and more outreach with our communities. We're already partnering with Motlow State Community College, using their room (county complex) for computer classes. We're partnering with the arts community. They're coming in and doing art projects and things for the children. When we partnered with the Farmer's Market last year we brought the artists in for the arts and foods demonstrations and they had more people come to the Farmers Market that year than they had seen in a long time," she said.

"We did sixteen programs in May. It was the busiest time I can remember and that's all the way from discussion groups to partnering with the Farmers Market, computer classes, Older Americans Day where we partner with the senior center, art classes, kindergarten field trips,and now the Summer Reading program is going on. We've partnered with the Study Club for art exhibits and had six youth and ten adult programs with 641 people attending. That's just phenomenal to me. More outreach. That's what we want to do in the future," she said.

As times change, Hendrixson said the library system has to adapt. "For libraries to stay viable we have to change with technology. We have 30 plus computers for two libraries. When I started 15 years ago there were two computers. We are now automated where we can check books in and out without doing the little stamps. We couldn't go back to that system now. We do too big a volume during the day with people using the computers. We might have 50 people or more using the computers a day. Last year the population shifted and we were able to arrange our hours to open two late nights at Justin Potter. We're open six days a week here (Smithville) but we don't close until seven o'clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Alexandria is open four days a week on Mondays until six o'clock and Wednesdays and Fridays until five o'clock. They're open on Saturdays from ten until two".

And while they may be stretched thin, Hendrixson said the library staff gets the job done and she is proud of them. "Our staff has stepped up to the plate. We've changed their schedule and moved them around but they have given 100%. I really appreciate my staff and volunteers. We only have three full time staff and that includes me and three part time to run three libraries".

As the Liberty Library prepares to close, Hendrixson said she wants to express her appreciation to the town's leaders for allowing the library system to have a location there. Library books and materials in Liberty will soon be moved to another location. "We don't have any storage here at this library (Smithville) but we will move the materials and hopefully put them in a room and use it as outreach and hopefully eventually we can re-establish a bookmobile," she said.

Harold Luna Injured in Rollover Crash

June 13, 2015
by: 
Dwayne Page
Harold Luna Injured in Rollover Crash
Harold Luna Airlifted by Life Force

76 year old Harold Luna was injured in a rollover accident Friday afternoon on Keltonburg Road (Highway 288) near the community center.

According to Trooper Bobby Johnson of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Luna was traveling east in a 1996 GMC Sierra 1500 pickup truck when he crossed the center line and ran off the left side of the highway. The truck tore through a fence and overturned coming to rest upside down in a field.

Members of the Keltonburg station and extrication and rescue team of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department arrived on the scene and helped remove Luna from the truck.

He was treated by DeKalb EMS and then taken to the back yard of the Keltonburg Community Center where a helicopter ambulance airlifted him to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga.

Budget Committee Denies County Clerk Request for Additional Employee

June 13, 2015
by: 
Dwayne Page
County Clerk James L. (Jimmy) Poss

The DeKalb County Budget Committee has been hearing from public officials and department supervisors in recent weeks on funding requests for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The committee has already recommended some budgets be adopted by the full county commission later this summer.

One request that the budget committee has denied for this year came from County Clerk James L. (Jimmy) Poss who was seeking a fourth full time employee for his office.

In a recent budget committee meeting, Poss gave reasons for why he believes an additional employee is needed in his office. "After much consideration and researching our daily and monthly work flow going back to the beginning of 2013 to current, I definitely feel we have the need for another full time person".

"When this office began printing new titles in December 2012 work flow all together increased. Our office currently processes an average of 87 titles and renewals per day. This does not include boat registrations, beer permit applications, completing business and marriage license, notaries, bookkeeping, assisting customers with the kiosk machine, etc."

"In comparison, last year we completed 1,000 more transactions than Smith County. They are approximately 500 more in population and have five full time employees and one part time. They (Smith County) don't lose anybody through the week and don't work on Saturday. I'm not saying we have to operate their way. I'm just using this as an example of the amount of work we do," said Poss

"I originally considered seeking a part time employee, but with time we have experienced increasing work flow and scheduling difficulties concerning the employees vacation time, sick time, comp time, and different things that are due them as well as their lunch hours. In order to maintain two employees in the office it requires a minimum of three people Monday through Friday every week just to assure each employee has their lunch break."

"Current employee absences exceed 700 hours annually. The employees who work on Saturday are allotted time off during the same week in order to keep their 37 1/2 hours status quo with the other employees who do not work on Saturdays. This time alone accounts for the loss of one full time employee one day every week. Factor in employee sick time, vacation time, and take into consideration any bereavement or family leave if needed, the office will lose enough hours a year that certainly covers at least a part time position," said Poss.

County Clerk Poss also stated that according to previous public statements made by the former administrator the need was anticipated even prior to his (Poss) taking office and he (former administrator) addressed the concern with the county legislative body during a monthly meeting on August 27, 2012 and again the following day in an interview with WJLE.

The projected costs of adding another position to the office is $23,024 plus benefits according to the county's existing wage scale.

Qualifying Deadline for Alexandria Election Next Thursday

June 11, 2015
by: 
Dwayne Page

Anyone wishing to qualify for the Alexandria Municipal Election has until noon next Thursday, June 18 to get in the race.

In this year's election on September 3, three aldermen are to be elected, each to serve a four year term. Meanwhile, a mayor and two other aldermen are to be elected to fill vacancies or the remaining two years of unexpired terms.

According to the election commission Bennett Armstrong and Tony Tarpley have picked up petitions to run for mayor. Armstrong has already returned his petition to become a candidate. Armstrong is currently an alderman appointee. Tarpley was appointed mayor in 2013 after Jim York was elected mayor and resigned three days after taking office. Tarpley has served the first two years of York's unexpired term as mayor. Both Tarpley and Armstrong plan to seek the last two years of the term.

Kelly Pyburn, David Cripps, and John F. Suggs have each been issued petitions to seek a four year alderman term. Both Suggs and Cripps have returned them to become candidates. Cripps and Suggs are incumbent aldermen, appointees serving out unexpired or vacant terms.

Matthew Boss and Danny Parkerson each have obtained petitions to run for a two year alderman term.

The sitting members are Mayor Tony Tarpley and Aldermen Pat Jackson, David Cripps, John Suggs, and Bennett Armstrong. All are serving as appointees except for Jackson, who was elected in 2013 and still has two years remaining in his term.

Sierra Hull Honored with Blue Blaze Award for 2015

June 11, 2015
by: 
Shan Burklow
Sierra Hull Honored with Blue Blaze Award for 2015

There aren’t many twenty-three year old musicians that can say they’ve had a career that’s already spanned more than a decade, and there aren’t many at any age that can compare resumes with Sierra Hull.

Hull has been named the 2015 Blue Blaze Award recipient by the Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree and Crafts Festival. She will be presented this award on the same stage that her love of competitive bluegrass music began. Her journey began on the stage of the Smithville Fiddlers Jamboree at the young age of 9 years old. By age 11, Alison Krauss had called with an invitation to the Opry stage; by 12, Rounder Records was expressing interest (she signed a record deal with Rounder at 13, with her first album released at 16.) She’s also played the White House, Carnegie Hall (twice), the Kennedy Center, traveled around the world sharing her music, and released three albums. Then there’s the fact that Berklee gave her the school’s most prestigious award, the Presidential Scholarship, a first for a bluegrass musician; her choice to accept it, to delay her dream of hitting the road full-time after high school in favor of expanding her musical worldview, was hardly a light one.

“When the Jamboree board and committees were talking about potential recipients for this year’s Blue Blaze Award, we were looking for a candidate whose roots of success grew from their participation at the Smithville Fiddlers Jamboree. Sierra Hull, with all of her great success and accolades, was the uncontested fit for this honor,” said Shan Burklow – Jamboree Marketing Committee, “We are honored that Sierra’s humble beginnings started right here on the Jamboree stage and have enjoyed watching her career explode at such a young age. She is a remarkable talent and extraordinary person. The core mission of the award is to acknowledge a musician that has kept the embers of bluegrass music glowing for future generations to come. We believe that Sierra embodies the heart of this mission.”

“At 9 years old, I stepped on to the stage at the Smithville Fiddler’s Jamboree for the first time to play “Jerusalem Ridge”, said Hull, “It was my first contest, and I had only been playing about a year at the time. I didn’t place in the contest, but felt really inspired by all the other kids and musicians I met that day. I immediately looked forward to going back the next year. My dad certainly reminded me that I’d have to work hard if I wanted to place next time. The next year, I went back and won 1st on guitar, which was really exciting, but only 2nd on mandolin. I’ve always thought of myself as a mandolin player first, so I really wanted to win the mandolin contest at least once. It was such a good thing for me as a young kid to enter a contest and lose! It really gave me a boost to work hard for another year. I went back the next year and won both mandolin and guitar! I was so excited. It was also great local exposure with the contest being broadcasted on WCTE. After winning - later that year, Gibson gave me my first mandolin endorsement - mostly because Danny Roberts had seen me play at the Jamboree. I couldn’t believe it! I am so honored to be chosen for the Blue Blaze Award this year. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Smithville as a place where some of my fondest memories as a young musician were made.”

Boundaries---age, genre or otherwise---don’t hamper an artist like Sierra. She’s already earned considerable respect in the bluegrass world, the IBMA’s voting members having nominated her for no fewer than eight awards. We’re thinking that there’s a good chance that she’ll be the first woman to win the mandolin category. But as a player, singer, and a songwriter, she also has remarkable range. Matt Glaser, head of Berklee’s American Roots Music Program, put it this way, “She has no limitations as a musician.”

Hull has a fan base that includes country icons and legends alike. Country Music Legend Dolly Parton was quoted as saying, “I can’t say enough about Sierra Hull….Sierra is truly a beautiful and talented gift to this world, so special and unique.” Alison Krauss weighed in with her feelings on the young artist, “Sierra is a remarkably talented, beautiful human being. Success could not have come to a more worthy person. I adore her.”
…and we couldn’t agree more. Congratulations to Sierra Hull, the Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree Blue Blaze Award recipient for 2015. For more information on her career, accolades, and upcoming tour dates, go to www.sierrahull.com

Erin Cantrell Named to Dean's List at Cornell University

June 11, 2015
Erin M. Cantrell

Erin M. Cantrell, of Smithville, was named to the Dean's List for the Spring 2015 semester at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The Dean's List is an academic honor awarded to students for high academic achievement.

Cantrell is a sophomore majoring in Environmental Science and Sustainability with a concentration in BioGeoChemistry at Cornell University. She is an active member of Phi Mu Sorority, where she serves as historian, and Theta Tau Engineering Fraternity. She holds a research assistant position in the CALS Lab working with water salinity and soils. She is also a certified caving and rock climbing instructor with the Cornell Outdoor Education department. Erin is a 2013 graduate of DeKalb County High School. She is the daughter of Lori and Edgar Pryor of Smithville.

Cornell University is a privately endowed, Ivy League, research university and a partner of the state of New York. It is ranked in the top 10 engineering programs in the US, and the 11th best university in the world. Cornell just celebrated its Sesquicentennial, in April 2015, which celebrates 150 years since its founding charter was signed, Cornell is a community of scholars, known for intellectual rigor and engaged in deep and broad research, teaching tomorrow's thought leaders to think otherwise, care for others, and create and disseminate knowledge with a public purpose.

Former DCHS Pitcher To Join MTSU Blue Raiders

June 11, 2015
Cody Puckett

Middle Tennessee Head Baseball Coach Jim McGuire has announced the addition of five transfers who have signed letters of intent to continue their careers with the Blue Raiders including former DCHS pitching standout Cody Puckett who has played two seasons for Columbia State Community College.

Puckett is expected to fill an immediate need for the program as a left-handed pitcher. Blue Raider southpaws Johnathan Frebis and Nathan Foriest exhausted their eligibility following the 2015 campaign.

Puckett (6-0, 190), who starred as a pitcher/outfielder at nearby DeKalb County High School in Smithville posted a 9-4 record and registered more than 125 strikeouts in two seasons at Columbia State. Puckett was a member of the weekend rotation both seasons at Columbia State and helped lead the team to the JUCO World Series in 2014 when he posted a 5-0 record.

Puckett was the District 8-AA Pitcher of the Year as a junior at DeKalb County, where he led the Tigers to two Class AA state tournament appearances.

"With the left-handed pitchers we are losing we felt we needed to add another lefty to the class," McGuire said. "Cody can start or relieve for us. He will definitely help us from the left side. He has a strong body, strong arm and could be a draft pick before his career is complete at Middle Tennessee."

All five signees are transfers and are expected to help make an immediate impact in the program following the loss of nine seniors who exhausted their eligibility following a 32-win season in 2015.

In addition to Puckett, incoming players for the Blue Raiders include Riley Delgado, infielder, Columbia State CC; Will Jackson, RHP, Georgia Perimeter College; Vaughn Shapen, catcher/infielder, Bosier Parish CC; and Chaz Vesser, catcher, Chattanooga State CC.

Sheriff Proposes New Pay Plan for His Employees

June 10, 2015
by: 
Dwayne Page
Sheriff Patrick Ray

Four years ago the county established a four tier wage scale for employees of the Sheriff's Department to give them more pay and make their wages more competitive with law enforcement officers in other counties of similar size.

Sheriff Patrick Ray said at the time that his deputies and detectives were some of the lowest paid of any county our size in the state.

While the pay plan implemented in 2011 has been good for his department, Sheriff Ray believes its time the scale was brought up to date. During Tuesday night's meeting, the county budget committee approved the sheriff's budget request for 2015-16 which includes a new modified scale that adds two more tiers to the plan.

"We've had some loyal employees that has been with the county for a long time here at the sheriff's department and we want to see them make a little more money for being loyal to the county and staying with us. They are good employees and we want to give them an incentive to stay on and also to give our younger people on the first tier something to look forward to. A goal to reach," Sheriff Ray told WJLE Wednesday.

Although the budget committee gave its blessing for the plan, cuts were made in the Sheriff's proposed budget to help pay for it. " Some of the increase was anticipated because of the existing wage scale but I cut $48,480 out of my budget to help offset this (extra costs). Since taking office in 2006 we've always been under budget. We've never been over budget and we're going to try our best this next budget year to do the same. We've always turned in quite a bit of money back to the county (at year's end). I appreciate the budget committee working with me on this and the employees here will also appreciate that," said Sheriff Ray.

Under the new wage scale, Sheriff's Department employees start out on the first tier either as a Detective, Sergeant, Deputy, Correctional Officer, or Cook.

"After they work one calendar year from July 1, employees are eligible to advance to the second tier the following July 1. Employees may then advance to the third and fourth tier. When employees work at this department for a total of six consecutive years in the same job position, they may advance to the fifth tier. After they work two more years (eight years) in the same job position, employees will move to the sixth tier," Sheriff Ray said.

The Chief Deputy's pay will be based on performance rather than the six tier plan. "He is at $40,144 now and will go to $43,365. His tiers are set on performance which means the Chief Deputy will be evaluated on his performance within the Department and will then be raised to the next step accordingly. It is not a year by year tier like the other positions," Sheriff Ray told WJLE.

The following tier plan for each position is as follows:

Chief Deputy: (Performance Tiers)
$40,144 (Yearly Pay)
$43,365
$44,675
$46,016

Detective:
1st Tier: $35,597 per year
2nd Tier:$36, 603
3rd Tier: $37,676
4th Tier: $38,615
5th Tier: $39,621
6th Tier: $40,628

Sergeant:
1st Tier: $35,597
2nd Tier: $36,156
3rd Tier: $36,715
4th Tier: $37,274
5th Tier: $37,833
6thTier: $38,392

Deputy:
1st Tier: $30,141
2nd Tier: $31,505
3rd Tier: $32,869
4th Tier: $34,233
5th Tier: $35,597
6thTier: $36,961

Correctional Officer:
1st Tier: $26,429
2nd Tier: $27,145
3rd Tier: $27,860
4th Tier: $28,598
5th Tier: $29,269
6thTier: $30,007

Cook:
1st Tier: $20,966
2nd Tier: $21,299
3rd Tier: $21,632
4th Tier: $22,006
5th Tier: $22,297
6thTier: $22,630

The budget committee's favorable recommendation on the sheriff's department and jail budget including this new pay plan now goes to the county commission this summer for final approval

School Spending Plan Meets with Approval of County Budget Committee

June 10, 2015
by: 
Dwayne Page

The proposed budget for schools is on its way to final passage by the county commission later this summer.

The spending plan met the approval of the county budget committee Tuesday night and will be recommended to the commission for adoption.

Members of the budget committee commended Interim Director of Schools Dr. Danielle Collins for her work on the school budget, which has been adopted by the Board of Education, and for her cooperation.

The committee, made up of Chairman Wayne Cantrell and members Larry Summers, Jack Barton, Jimmy Midgett, and Jerry Adcock, amended the school budget, making minor changes or corrections to certain line items to accurately reflect that funding for extended contracts would not be included as intended by the school board.

This was the second attempt by the Board of Education to satisfy the county budget committee on a school budget.

After the budget committee Tuesday night, June 2 rejected the original spending plan offered May 28, the school board made some cuts last Thursday night, June 4.

In the revised version, the school board cut the request for two RTI positions down to one, hoping federal money can be used to fund the other. No local money is included to cover extended contracts which are no longer funded by the state. The board has decided to save $4,100 by no longer having a billboard on the side of the road near the high school, which has been there for the last several years showing a picture of high school graduates with the theme "Education Counts in DeKalb County". And the board is freezing funding for five positions in the school system, which have been left vacant with the recent retirement or resignation of former employees. While the funding for those five jobs will remain in the budget, the money will not be spent unless the school system's average daily (student) membership numbers increase, requiring them to be filled. The board is also considering dropping its association with AdvancED for accreditation of the schools which would save the school system money. In the school transportation category, the board had budgeted $250,000 for the purchase of two buses but the cost is not expected to be that much. The board has cut $20,000 from that line item of the budget.

The school budget does include a new computer teacher postion at Smithville Elementary School, a new part time janitor position at DeKalb West School, a new school nurse, technology and equipment upgrades, additional supplies for classrooms and intervention programs, a deaf education contract, a new scrubber, and a few other proposed new expenditures.

The school budget for 2015-16 totals just over $21 million dollars. Anticipated revenues are budgeted at $19.3 million. More than $1.6 million of the school's BEP and Technology reserves will be needed to balance the budget on paper but the actual number by the end of the fiscal year in 2016 is expected to be in the neighborhood of $250,000 to $300,000.

The school board will be asked to adopt the budget as amended by the county budget committee.

Chamber Presents Community Improvement Award to Alexandria Fire Department

June 10, 2015
Chamber Presents Community Improvement Award to Alexandria Fire Department

The Smithville-DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce recently presented a Community Improvement Award to the Alexandria Fire Department.

The fire department has undergone a complete interior renovation including walls, floors, ceiling, signage, new furnishings and a new TV for weather emergency information and for training purposes. Recently, the ISO Rating for Alexandria dropped from a 7 to a 4 which may translate into lower residential and commercial insurance premiums.

The Alexandria Fire Department also has a 2nd engine now.

(PICTURED): Alexandria Alderman David Cripps, FF Rebecca Partridge, FF Lorrie Merriman, Asst. Chief John Partridge, FF Chris Cavin, FF Justin Avera, Capt. Brent Davis, Alexandria Mayor Tony Tarpley, Chief Brian Partridge, FF Chris Henderson, Alexandria Alderman Bennett Armstrong, Alexandria Alderman John Suggs and Chamber Director Suzanne Williams

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