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Business Monthly - County surviving during pandemic
Jimmy Haley says wear your mask.jpg
County Executive Jimmy Haley has shown leadership and encouraged Warren County residents to wear a facemask during the ongoing pandemic.

In the annual review for Warren County with County Executive Jimmy Haley, it is clear the greatest achievement was successfully dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic – truly a “Year of Challenge.”  

Warren County during 2020 continued team building, kept government services open, kept employees safe, and continued working on projects. WC was recently recognized by the Upper Cumberland Development District as the 2020 County of the Year. UCDD covers 14 counties in the Upper Cumberland, including Putnam.  

With the pandemic at its alleged peak, WC appears to have minimized the potential negative impact. One large indicator is our sales tax collections are up an unexpected $346,684 (11.2%) for the first four months (ending Oct. 31, 2020) of the current fiscal year compared to 2019.  

The federal government CARES Act has been a Godsend for WC businesses, allowing ongoing operations in many cases. WC has already received $588,000 from the CARES Act with more expected. These funds have gone into the general fund to enhance WC resources accordingly. The surplus with sales tax collections has also gone into the general fund.  

WC has followed Warren County Schools with doing a contract with ESG, a performance-based contract, to redo building roofs, HVAC systems, etc. in a collective effort at a cost of $5.8 million to reduce energy costs going forward with a guaranteed savings from ESG. This conversion was started about one year ago and should be completed in December. WC expects an annual energy savings of over $100,000, plus reduced maintenance and repair costs.  

Ben Lomand Connect has brought new fiber optics to the county building resulting in faster internet service and now wifi in the county building, courthouse, and jail. This wifi service will start in December.

Also in December, TV monitors, screens, and a new laptop at the courthouse will support hybrid online meetings there. This includes an online interface as need be with jail inmates. 

Planned for spring 2021 is an updated security system at the courthouse and county building with cameras, keyless entry for employees, electronically secured entry doors, and enhanced security for departments handling/keeping cash on-hand.

Armed with a $1 million grant, a new elevator will be procured and installed at the courthouse. There will be an additional drive-thru window at the county building.  There is a need to deal with records storage in 2021 as the existing storage area is overwhelmed.  Jimmy expects the records may be scanned and transferred into cloud storage for ease of storage and retrieval.

WC has received over $250,000 in unclaimed property from the State of Tennessee that went into the general fund. Planned for next spring, WC and the city of McMinnville will do a tax sale on returned properties. This should generate revenue and put properties back on the tax roll.

The 10-year U.S. Census was cut off this past October. WC was calculated to be 92+% complete, vs. Tennessee being 98% complete. Significant efforts were expended to glean as much Census information as possible. No word on when to expect results. The estimated WC population is between 42,000 and 43,000. Jimmy thinks the actual number is over 45,000. Time will tell. This is very important as state and federal funding is headcount driven as is state and federal representation.

With the new and expanded McMinnville Civic Center nearing completion, Jimmy is planning to arrange a Wellness Program there for WC employees. The Civic Center will be a major boost for McMinnville and Warren County.

A major focus for WC during 2020 and beyond is the jail. There are currently 204 inmates vs. a capacity of 251. Inmate count has varied from 230 and 280. A WC Jail Plan of Action was accredited by the Tennessee Corrections Board in 2020, a first for WC.  

A new building addition will be made at the jail in 2021 to expand and improve records storage. During 2020, a new Criminal Justice Task Force was created to help reduce crime and repeat offenders. Coming from our judicial system, there has been a very successful Drug Recovery Program led by Brad Price. The program was set up for a rehab and re-entry of drug offenders, beginning in 2004. The program takes 18 months to complete and is operated with an average of 100 participants in a class.  

There has been a 99% success rate in getting program graduates jobs after completion and release from jail. In order to graduate, a person must have gotten a job. A total of 357 have graduated from this program with 77% avoiding any future drug arrests. DRP is moving from the county building to the lower level of the Chamber building downtown.  

WC was successful in earning a State Workforce Development grant for job training at the jail through TCAT (Tennessee College of Applied Technology). A Three Star grant helped to start a Snap-On Tools training program which has graduated 7 inmates from in 2020. This is aimed at preparing inmates for jobs and living successful in society.  

A TCAT virtual welding training program for selected inmates is expected to begin in the spring 2021. All these programs led to the Jail Plan of Action being accredited.  

Capital improvements at the WC Jail include an improved security system, roof repair, and a new HVAC system. 

The WC Sheriff’s Department has also battled the pandemic trying to keep employees and inmates healthy. WC is working on the procurement of bodycams for all deputies.  All deputies now carry tasers as well at the WC Jail.

With the November election, there is one new county commissioner, a new mayor in Viola, a new mayor in McMinnville, and three new city aldermen.

Construction continues at West Elementary. New projects are expected at Eastside Elementary. With the size and age of WC Schools, continuing construction and/ or maintenance projects are to be expected virtually every year.  It was noted that Motlow-McMinnville is seeking a new grant to build a new facility next to the Robotics Center to house the expanding Mechatronics program and other new programs. The land is already cleared.

I asked Jimmy about two pending projects – the new National Guard Armory and the new TDOT road from the bypass to Magness Drive. Nothing is imminent with either project. The TDOT road access is expected to be 2-3 years away to start and another year to finish. Land for the new armory was donated while John Pelham was County Executive. Both will boost construction activity in WC.

I asked Jimmy about industrial recruiting. He is optimistic with the 200+ acre Elam site in West Morrison and the new 50,000-square-foot spec building at Mountain View Industrial Park. It is also worthy to note that the “old Aquatech building” is being renovated for potential new tenant(s). With the recognized leadership WC has with higher education and advanced skills training, additional businesses are expected to come.  

Ascension River Park Hospital is viewed as a most important community asset, particularly with River Park functioning as a regional hub for other St. Thomas hospitals in Murfreesboro and Nashville.

BRAC congratulates the success enjoyed by Warren County during the pandemic scourge. This has required the attention and effort of Jimmy Haley and staff to benefit all WC citizens. A giant thank you is in order.