I met recently with Warren County Executive Herschel Wells Sr. at his office to discuss county progress. The topics reviewed were highlights, challenges, and disappointments of last year and major projects under way for the new year.
This is particularly pertinent as there has been no property tax increase for Warren County for 14 years. That’s almost unheard of in this day and age. The Warren County Commission should be thanked and recognized for this extraordinary track record.
A major highlight of the last year is the nearly complete school additions at Bobby Ray Elementary and Irving College, plus completing the new wellness center/weight room facility at WCHS. These major projects ($5.7 million) are scheduled to be done on time and on budget. All construction was viewed as desirable and functional for Warren County Schools.
The new wellness center is especially needed by varsity sports for athlete conditioning. In a broader context, Warren County has accomplished much over the last 10 years with new construction for Warren County Schools.
Warren County was recently recognized by Tennessee state auditors with a formal “outstanding” review for department budgeting and accounting. This is not the first time to be so recognized, but it requires continued professional effort to achieve. The audit made one suggested area to improve versus a normal four to five.
Warren County prospered by forming a county jail/ state of Tennessee corrections partnership over the last year. The partnership provides valued inputs on how best to operate the facility. The state of corrections also moved certain prisoners to other jail systems which had advantages for all involved. This was the first year of this collaboration.
Another achievement noted by Wells is naming the county highway building to honor Harold Glenn (longtime county leader) and the new section of four-lane state Highway 70 to honor retired state Sen. Jerry Cooper.
Disappointments for last year include the loss of Commissioner Billy Earl Jones and the continued high illegal drug use across our citizenry. The latter results in continued high jail occupancy, with an inmate population well over 200.
A challenge is a state lawsuit involving in-state railroad diesel fuel tax and distribution thereof. A Tennessee Appeals Court has retained a significant treasury balance in this matter that could affect the local rail lines. The RR ties and rails are viewed as “OK” here, but major bridge work would be a monetary issue if it arose.
I asked Herschel about Warren County’s share of state sales tax revenues. Per Herschel, these revenues are running slightly ahead of budget/forecast. I then asked about the outlook for a county tax increase with the next year’s budget to be developed this spring. It is simply too early in the budgeting process to predict this outcome. The decision will depend on several factors.
The large project planned for this year is a major expansion of Warren County Jail to approximately double the current size and inmate holding capacity. This project is in the preliminary stage of acquiring an architect. What is needed is a 30,000-square-foot expansion adding 250 beds. There is adequate land available for this purpose. A projected cost for the project is $7.5 million. Herschel and Sheriff Jackie Matheny have communicated with the Tennessee Department of Corrections with this project planning.
I did ask Herschel about the status of expected new National Guard Armory for Warren County. The land was purchased and set aside for this project quite some time ago. We are waiting for the funding to be made available from the federal government. The most recent advisory is funding is expected during 2017. That is not a firm commitment, but a forecast. The outlook for length of construction is one year once fully funded and started.
The new armory would be near Kidd Ford on Highway 55 near McMinnville Country Club. The existing armory would be turned back over to Warren County. The timetable thereof could be as late as 2019.
Herschel said Warren County is awaiting the status of a grant to redo the flat roofing section of Warren County Courthouse via a grant. The county is at the second stage of this grant, so approval looks good. This would/could be a current year project.
In the area of new personnel, it was noted Brian Jennings is no longer the county EMS director. Preston Denny is serving as the interim director. Up for re-election is Commissioner Linda Jones, Property Assessor Beth Martin, and state Reps. Kevin Dunlap and Judd Matheny. Herschel’s current four-year term as county executive has two and a half years to go. Herschel does not have a position on whether he would run for a second term.
One outgrowth of this article/ interview will be the commitment that BRAC produce a periodic (every six month) written update for the County Commission meeting. That effort will be planned.
Warren County benefits from professional leadership and financial stewardship. The track record is outstanding. BRAC congratulates the Warren County Commission and Herschel Wells Sr.