Local News Articles

Turnout Light But Concerns Raised At First Public Hearings On Proposed Sales Tax Hike

April 12, 2007
Dwayne Page

The first public hearings on the proposed local option sales tax increase/property tax cut didn't attract many people Thursday night at Liberty or Dowelltown but a couple of people who did speak expressed their concerns.

At the Dowelltown hearing, Snow Hill resident Mike Antoniak suggested that the proposed sales tax hike would amount to an overall tax increase for most residents of DeKalb County, even with a property tax cut, and he took issue with recent public statements made by County Mayor Mike Foster.

Foster recently told the local media that the annual property tax bill on a $200,000 piece of property would be reduced by approximately $90 with the 19 cent reduction in the property tax rate. He said it would take nearly $8,000 in purchases by a consumer for the 1.25 cent hike in the sales tax to go over the $90 savings.

Antoniak says he did some research and found that only about 6% of the property owners in DeKalb County have land assessed at more than $200,000. Using Foster's scenario, Antoniak says for 90% of the property owners, this would not be a tax swap, as Foster contends, but a tax increase. \"The logic works until you look at what percentage of homes or properties in the county is assessed at $200,000 or more. I called the Tax Assessor's office and he referred me to the Division of Property Assessments in Cookeville. This is what she told me and I had her to repeat it. There are 1,047 pieces of property in DeKalb County, out of 17,000, assessed above $200,000. That's six percent. So that would mean for 90% of the people here, if they spend just the $8,000 (purchases where sales tax is applied) their taxes are actually going to increase. I mean $8,000 is just $150 a week for groceries.\"

As far as the overall plan is concerned, Foster still insists that it would basically amount to a tax swap, with the loss of funds from the nineteen and a half cent property tax cut to be offset by new revenue generated from the proposed sales tax hike, which is projected to be the equivalent of twenty one cents on the tax rate. Foster says the plan would give property owners a 10% tax cut while broadening the sales tax base, distributing the tax burden among a greater number of people including tourists and others who work here but reside elsewhere. \" You have a choice of broadening the base of who is paying. You can't continuously forever rely on property tax payers.\"

At the Liberty meeting, Myron Rhody, another Snow Hill resident, weighed in on the debate, saying while he supported the sales tax increase last year, he has reservations about it now. \"I voted for the sales tax increase last year because that's more fair. But I don't like this way it's coming now. It's almost like you're saying 'I'm going to twist your arm a little bit or encourage you a little bit by saying we're going to give you this (property tax cut)if you'll take that (sales tax increase) now, because it didn't go (pass) before. I'm just telling you what I have heard all over the county. It's everybody you talk to, even the ones who were for the sales tax increase the last time and voted for it. They don't like this at all. It smells fishy to them.\"

Foster responded saying \" Vote against it and it will smell like higher taxes.\"

Rhody added that he would tend to favor a wheel tax. \" You've got people who live in the projects. You've got people who are not local residents of the United States. But they all drive cars. I'm not in favor of a tax period. But we've got to have it. I'd rather see a wheel tax come in or a luxury tax. I've got a boat. You may have a boat. But we don't have to have those things to live. You have to have groceries. You have to have clothes. There are some people who are just barely getting by.\"

The county commission, in 2003, raised the property tax rate by 36 cents. Last September, the commission raised the rate by 39 cents.

County officials say if the sales tax referendum is approved by the voters in a special election on Thursday, May 17th, which would raise the local option sales tax rate from 1.5 to the maximum of 2.75%, the county commission will reduce the property tax rate by at least nineteen and a half cents.

Whether or not the sales tax referendum is approved, county officials have not ruled out the possibility of some other tax increase or new tax within the next four or five years, should the need arise, due to inflation.

School Board Considers Policy To Prohibit Use of Cell Phones By Students during School Hours

April 13, 2007
Dwayne Page

Students will be allowed to possess cell phones at school, but they won't be permitted to use them under a new policy adopted on first reading by the Board of Education Thursday night.

Under the proposed policy regarding cell phones, \"Students may possess personal communication devices, such as cell phones, while on school property. However, the personal communication device must be in the off mode and must be kept in a backpack, purse, or similar personal carry-all and may not be used during school hours. The principal or his or her designee may grant a student permission to use a personal communication device at his or her discretion. A device used outside these parameters shall result in confiscation of the device until such time as it may be released to the student's parent or guardian. A student in violation of this policy is subject to disciplinary action.\"

The proposed policy further states that \"Use of cameras on personal communication devices is strictly prohibited on school property or at school functions. A student in violation of this policy is subject to disciplinary action.\"

As for personal electronic devices, the proposed policy states that \"Personal electronic devices such as CD players, Ipods, or MP3 players may be stored in backpacks, purses or personal carry-alls. However, the use of the devices during school hours is strictly forbidden. Use of improper storage of the personal electronic device will result in confiscation of the device until such time as it may be released to the student's parents or guardian. A student in violation of this policy is subject to disciplinary action.\"

The school board will act on the proposed policy on second reading at the next meeting May 10th at the high school cafeteria.

Three Arrested By Smithville Police on Various Charges

April 16, 2007
Dwayne Page

Three people have been arrested by the Smithville Police Department since Friday.

Chief Thomas J. Stufano says on April 13th Smithville Police Officers working selective traffic enforcement for speeding stopped 33 year old Edward Ralph Roberts of 229 Robinson Road in Liberty for excessive speed on West Broad Street. A computer check disclosed that Roberts was currently driving on a suspended license. He was arrested and charged with Driving on a Suspended License, No Insurance and Speeding and transported to the DeKalb County Jail. His bond is $3,000.

Meanwhile, Chief Stufano says On April 14th Smithville Officers investigating a reported suspicious person complaint at Evins Manor Apartments found a male walking around the complex knocking on apartment doors at 11:30 p.m. Further investigation noted that 22 year old Stephen Hunter Pugh of 234 Sweetwater Road in Liberty was also in possession of drug paraphernalia. He was subsequently arrested and transported to the DeKalb County Jail under a $1,000 bond.

Chief Stufano further reports that on April 15th at approximately 3:30 a.m. Smithville Police responded to the BP Gas Station on South Congress Boulevard to a reported drunk driver. Upon arrival 24 year old Charles Michael Blanchfield of 3770 Seven Spring Road in Smithville was found passed out at the gas pumps with the vehicle motor still running. Also found in his lap was a plate, straw and narcotics. In his hand were a plastic bag containing 7 marijuana cigarettes, 6 Hydrocodone tablets and 2 Xanax tablets.

Blanchfield was eventually awakened and placed under arrest and transported to the DeKalb County Jail. Charges included DUI, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, and Possession of Drugs for Sale and Delivery. Bond was set at $27,000.

Two More People Served With Sealed Indictments On Drug Charges

April 18, 2007
Dwayne Page

The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department has picked up two more people named in sealed indictments returned by the grand jury earlier this month on drug charges.

Josh Goff and Steve Stanley are each charged with two counts of sale and delivery of a schedule II controlled substance (Dilaudid).

They are among more than 40 people indicted by the grand jury as a result of a six month undercover drug investigation by the Sheriff's Department.

Corps Announces Plans To Close Some Campsites and Shorten Camping Season at Others

April 18, 2007
Dwayne Page

The Nashville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced today that Anderson Road Campground on J. Percy Priest Lake will not open for the 2007 recreation season. The closure is temporary and the Corps anticipates reopening the campground in the spring of 2008. The popular picnic area, beach, launching ramp and fitness trail at Anderson Road Recreation Area, referred to as the Day-Use area, will open April 18.

Reductions in the recreation portion of the overall operations and maintenance budget made it necessary to close Anderson Road Campground, close several campsites and shorten the camping season at a few other campgrounds in order to reduce costs.

Campers who had reservations affected by the closures will be contacted and given a full refund. Reservations may be made at Corps campgrounds online at www.recreation.gov, by calling 877-444-6777.

The reduction to Nashville District?s recreation budget resulted from overall reductions to the Operations and Maintenance budget for fiscal year (FY) 2007. Following several continuing resolutions to the federal budget, a final resolution for the remainder of the year left the Corps? Nashville District with a $5 million reduction from FY 2006 levels. The budget cuts are not related to the repairs at Wolf Creek Dam as that funding is from an entirely different appropriation.

More than 35 million visitors used Nashville District lakes last year and Resource Managers expect the same visitation rates this year.

?We want to provide the best service we can,? said Ralph Ownby, deputy director of Operations, ?with available resources and we can best do that by concentrating our efforts on the majority of recreation areas while temporarily closing one campground and parts of other campgrounds. We regret any inconvenience to campers.?

In addition to Anderson Road Campground, closures will also affect Corps of Engineers campgrounds at Center Hill, Cheatham, Cordell Hull, and Dale Hollow Lakes in Tennessee and Lake Barkley in Kentucky.

At Center Hill Lake, a section of Ragland Bottom and Floating Mill Campgrounds will open later and close earlier in the year.

At Cheatham Lake, Harpeth River Campground will open on May 1, one month later than originally scheduled.

At Cordell Hull Lake, Salt Lick Campground will open May 24, two weeks later than originally scheduled, and 50 percent of the campsites will close on September 4, three weeks earlier than originally scheduled.

At Dale Hollow Lake, one section of Lillydale Campground will be closed for 2007.

At Lake Barkley, one loop of Canal Campground will close earlier in the year.

?We will make every effort to accommodate visitors to Corps lakes at alternate sites in the event their favorite Campground is affected,? said Corps spokesman Bill Peoples.

Senate Approves Measure Increasing Penalties for Sexual Predators

April 18, 2007
Dwayne Page

State Senate Bill 326 by Senators Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) and Diane Black (R-Gallatin) unanimously passed the Senate on Thursday. It proposes to increase the sentence for a person convicted of child rape.

?We are going to make Tennessee a safe haven for children,? said Beavers. ?Sexual predators in Tennessee need to be behind bars, and they need to stay there.?

As amended, Senate Bill 326 proposes to set the minimum penalty for rape of a child at 25 years in prison, with the maximum being life in prison. Currently the penalties are 15 to 60 years in prison.

Due to the increased incarceration time, the legislation would increase state expenditures by $7,690,700. This year, the Governor has included funding for the measure in the proposed budget.

?A lot has been said about Florida?s Jessica?s Law?, said Black. ?There are portions of our law that are already more strict than Florida?s law. This bill brings us more in line with Jessica?s Law, while keeping our laws tight.?

The bill will have to pass the House and be signed by the Governor before becoming law.

Dowelltown Man Gets Eight Year Sentence In Wilson County For Reckless Vehicular Homicide

April 20, 2007
Dwayne Page

30 year old James T. Evans of Dowelltown pleaded guilty Monday in Wilson County Circuit Court to vehicular assault and two counts of reckless vehicular homicide stemming from an April 2005 wreck that killed his cousin and a friend.

The Lebanon Democrat reports that Evans received a total sentence of eight years, one year of which must be served in jail before he is eligible for release on probation

The six car fatal traffic accident, which occurred at the Highway 109 interchange of Interstate 40, killed Evans' cousin, 28 year old Martisha Annice League of Smithville and 23 year old Victoria Susan Dyer of Baxter, who were both passengers in his car.

According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the crash occurred in the outer lane of I-40 westbound, where three cars were stopped and a fourth car was slowing to a stop due to an earlier accident further ahead on the interstate.

Evans' vehicle approached the traffic jam traveling at a high rate of speed and did not slow down in time to avoid a crash.

Evans' vehicle did crash into the car in front of it, causing a five-car pile-up.

After the initial crash, Evans' vehicle was hit by a sixth vehicle that was \"traveling at an Interstate speed,\" according to the THP report, and tried unsuccessfully to avoid the crash by driving into the median.

Dyer, one of the four other passengers in the Evans vehicle, was flown to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where she was later pronounced dead.

Also flown to Vanderbilt was 48 year old Dana Marie Ragan of Kingston Springs, the driver of one of the vehicles involved in the crash. Ragan's injuries were the reason for the vehicular assault charge.

The Lebanon Democrat reports that Evans and all his passengers had consumed alcohol directly prior to the accident, with the exception of one underaged passenger, according to the case file.

Evans' reckless vehicular homicide charges were downgraded from charges of vehicular homicide. The state dismissed charges of reckless endangerment and driving under the influence of intoxicants.

Perkins Arrested By Sheriff's Department on Drug Charges

April 21, 2007
Dwayne Page

A 33 year old man was arrested on drug charges by the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department Friday morning.

Troy Lee Perkins of Mountain View Drive in Lakeview Mountain Estates is charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of a schedule VI controlled substance (marijuana) for resale, possession of a schedule IV controlled substance for resale (Xanax) and possession of untaxed alcoholic beverages (moonshine).

Sheriff Patrick Ray says officers went to Perkins' home late Thursday night and found sixty two pills in an unmarked bottle believed to be Xanax, more than one and a half pounds of marijuana, pipes, rolling papers, scales, and marijuana cigarette rollers, and three jars of moonshine.

Sheriff Ray says three handguns, two of which were loaded, and six long guns were recovered. Perkins is a convicted felon with a record of previous drug offenses and he is not supposed to have any firearms.

Officers seized $515 believed to be proceeds from drug sales and the Tennessee Department of Revenue was contacted. As a result, Perkins was assessed a $3,000 tax by the state which he has paid.

The Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Agency has also been notified since Perkins is a convicted felon and was in possession of weapons, in violation of the law.

Perkins is under a $90,000 bond and he will be in General Sessions Court May 10th.

Sheriff Ray says more charges are forthcoming in the case.

Three Injured In Saturday Afternoon Crash

April 21, 2007
Dwayne Page

Three people were injured in a two vehicle crash Saturday afternoon on West Broad Street in Smithville.

Trooper Shannon Brinkley of the Tennessee Highway Patrol says Matthew Sullivan was driving a 2000 GMC Sierra east on Highway 70 when he rear ended an eastbound 1991 Chevy S-10 driven by Jackie Lee of 310 Mount View Drive Sparta. 58 year old Johnny McGill of Sparta was a passenger of the Lee vehicle.

According to Trooper Brinkley, upon impact, Lee's truck veered off the right shoulder of the road, went down an embankment, and into a ditch. The vehicle came to rest on it's side and partially ejected McGill.

Meanwhile, Sullivan's vehicle veered across the west bound lanes, went across a field and parking lot, and struck a brick column on the front of a vacant office building, owned by James Ed Rice, damaging the column and overhang of the building.

Trooper Brinkley says Sullivan and McGill were transported to DeKalb Community Hospital but Sullivan refused treatment and left on his own.

Lee was airlifted from the crash scene by a Life Force helicopter ambulance and flown to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga with serious injuries.

Charges may be filed pending further investigation.

Trooper Brinkley was assisted at the scene by Sergeant Billy Prater of the Tennessee Highway Patrol and members of the Smithville Police Department and Smithville Volunteer Fire Department and Extrication Team.

Local Nursery and Crop Producers Feel Affects of Recent Hard Freeze

April 23, 2007
Dwayne Page

Mother nature dealt DeKalb County nursery and crop producers a big blow earlier this month with a hard freeze that may affect them for months to come.

Danny Pirtle of Pirtle Nursery says this freeze was one of the worst on record for this late in the year and it may take a while to assess the impact of the damage. \" This kind of cold caught everybody totally off guard. A lot of the older plants are damaged but they will probably come out of it. We have no past records to base the history on to see what happens but all the nurserymen, as a general rule, feel like the older plants will come out of it but the young tender seedlings and liners, a lot of those are probably gone. This time of year our plants are too far advanced to tolerate the freezing temperatures. The true story will tell when we start having 85 and 90 degree days. They will either bounce out of it or they will get worse.\"

DeKalb County Farm Service Agency Director Donny Green says damage assessments are being compiled by the FSA county committee. \"Well we're just beginning to see some of the affects of the freeze damage that we had. Our committee identified that we had four nights of hard freezing between April 6th and April 10th. We knew that we had some immediate damage because we saw the affects on wheat. We even had one farmer who had about 500 acres of corn that was up about three inches and we saw the immediate affects on that, but what we're seeing now, a couple of weeks later, is the devastating affects that it's had on the nursery crop. In the beginning we even thought that was going to be restricted to basically the smaller seedlings, but what we're seeing now is a lot of the three and five year old stock, that's higher in value, has suffered a lot of damage, mostly because the sap had already started up in the plant during the last couple of weeks in March, when we had those temperatures that were 80 to 85 degrees. The sap had started up and then we had this freeze that hit beginning April 6th. and what it did was freeze the liquid material inside the bark of the plant that sends the nutrients up and down the plant and it froze and busted the bark on it. What we're seeing now is damage mostly in the extremities of the trees and limbs. As the bark is busted, it becomes sort of like an open wound for parasites and diseases into the nursery plant and it's going to be a compounding problem as the crop year goes on.\"

\"Nursery is not like your row crops with corn and soybeans. You're talking about a plant value per plant and we're talking about very high dollar amounts of loss. It's very significant and it's probably more significant than the hail damage we saw back in 2003 because the hail damage was confined to a path across the county and this is very widespread. It's a regional type loss.\"

Green says many farmers have crop insurance and those who don't may quality for assistance.\" A lot of our farmers here in DeKalb County and surrounding counties have crop insurance on their field grown and container nursery. Loss adjusters will be going out to make appraisals, but I haven't heard of anyone who has had an actual appraisal completed yet. If you didn't have crop insurance, either the crop was uninsurable or you chose not to insure it. Our state office has told us at this time, that we are to inform producers of those crops to go ahead and come in and file a notice of loss with us, basically letting us know that you have a crop that's not insured or that's not insurable, that received damage, and we're documenting that now and trying to get some numbers in place in the event that there is a disaster program. I want to emphasize that we don't have any assurance that there will be a disaster program, but in the past we've had these programs and filing timely notices of loss for all the crops that are damaged is important and that's why these people who don't have crop insurance need to come in and let us know that. If you have crop insurance you need to contact your loss adjuster and let them come out and do the appraisal. We cannot take notices of losses for crops that are covered by crop insurance.\"

\"The Governor has declared all 95 counties in Tennessee disaster counties. What that means is that farmers may get low interest loans through the Farm Service Agency Offices. They are called Emergency Loans. They are lower than the normal market rate interest rates. I think it's three and three quarters percent. A lot of our farmers right now, with the situation they are in, feel like borrowing more money is not what they need. They're needing financial assistance in the form of grants and compensations for their losses. We don't have that at this time, but certainly what the Governor has done puts that in motion, sending it on up the line to Washington so that maybe we can get some money appropriated.\"

Green says it appears the wheat, corn, and hay crops have taken the hardest hits in addition to the nurseries. \"Our county committee met the second week in April and we reviewed what loss information we had. The most significant is probably going to be our wheat crops and we don't have a lot of that in DeKalb County, but we have probably 800 to 1200 acres of wheat that was planted and was already up in what they call the booting stage. That was pretty much wiped out. From the wheat producers we talked to in DeKalb County we're going to be fortunate if it's even salvageable to be harvested as wheat hay. That's a secondary use that sometimes can be used.\"

\"Probably the next crop that was affected the most dramatically is the nursery crop, both the container grown and the field grown, that were not in controlled climates. If they were outside as we typically see containers in nursery yards here in DeKalb County and Warren County, then they pretty much got impacted.\"

\"We had about 500 acres of corn that was out and we don't know the extreme affects that it's going to have on our hay and pasture crops, although we can be assured that hay yields are going to be significantly down for the spring cutting because the stop in growth development. We may see some people have to extend their feeding period of hay to supplement the loss of pasture growth that we had because of this.\"

\"We went in last fall into a very dry situation and the fall hay cuttings were basically nothing. We were already short. We pretty much, for the last few years, have had to depend on our spring cuttings of hay to carry us through the year and starting out like this has stunted the hay growth dramatically and will cause a problem for our first cutting of hay. If the weather pattern continues into the summer and fall like we have had in the last few years, hay shortages are going to be critical this year.\"


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