by Todd Herzog
BRAC’s annual review of Warren County shows significant progress with energy innovation, fiscal additions, school construction projects, major improvements with the county jail, and countywide tourism. This progress is being made as the county population and housing is experiencing demand “spin-off” from the build up of Nashville and Murfreesboro.
Also boosted by Gov. Bill Lee’s recent visit, Warren County higher education assets are drawing attention from state and regional leaders. All these considerations support enthusiasm for the future of Warren County.
On the energy front, Warren County did adopt the ESG contract for WC Schools to create significant energy savings, upgrade failing HVAC systems, and repair failing roof structures. This 2019 program has exceeded expectations and was adopted for WC buildings and a preliminary plan for the jail. The latter led to the TCI Board approving a plan of action for state certification.
Fiscal enhancements were made in multiple ways. WC retrieved over $250,000 in unclaimed property from the state of Tennessee, which was added to the General Fund balance with another $93,000 pending. This is “free” money.
WC applied for federal NRCS and FEMA grant funds to offset the cost of past February flood damage, including to the Locust Street county building that will amount to over $500,000 in savings.
WC has conducted several tax sales/ returned property auctions that have added thousands to the General Fund with a large city-county sale planned near term. WC has refinanced several bonds through the assistance of Cumberland Securities Specialist, resulting in $450,000 in savings to the Debt Service Account.
WC school construction projects are nearing completion by year end at Bobby Ray and West Elementary with WCMS expected to be complete during 2020. These projects, along with system- wide LED lighting and new HVAC systems, represent major progress at WC schools.
In 2018, the jail was at a record 337 inmate population for a facility built for a capacity of 251. A concerted effort was made (and will be noted below) over the first six months of 2019 resulting in the population being reduced to a low of 217.
Since then the continuing programs have stabilized the headcount between 250 and 260, in range with the facility capacity. Highlights of the strategy include the following actions.
A Criminal Justice Task Force was created that meets regularly and oversees progress. This group has focused on reducing recidivism, dealing with mental health challenges, and new programs.
A new mental health evaluator is planned for the jail. New wiring & fiber were installed at the jail along with new computers and software for more efficient operations and reporting.
A GED/ Hi-Set Diploma program was established at the jail in partnership with the TN Workforce Development and TCAT at McMinnville. WC is working with TCAT to provide workplace training re-entry programs at the jail. The new 3-Star Grant will add trade certifications to the jail program.
Educating inmates to be able to earn and retain quality jobs is the objective. There are 16 new correctional officers budgeted for the Sheriff ’s Department during 201920. Tasers were purchased to enhance the safety of law enforcement officers.
The Chamber of Commerce and the new Tourism Development Board have concentrated on boosting tourism, which is now recognized as the No. 2 industry in Tennessee, so its value cannot be understated. The Chamber went through a rebranding campaign between late 2018 and early 2019 that included a social media blitz in Nashville and Chattanooga, new campaign videos, and an advertised free weekend in McMinnville.
The campaign resulted in over 1 million impressions and elements of the program won four ADDY awards, including Judge’s Choice. TBD also launched a new WC tourism website highlighting day trips. TBD won a grant to build a concrete boat ramp at Pepper Branch Park. Another grant earned was used to bring the Biz Foundry, a small business accelerator, to downtown McMinnville. It was noted more than 500,000 visitors a year enjoy Rock Island State Park. Cumberland Caverns Live is doing well and has a new marketing director.
WC Executive Jimmy Haley says 2020 will be a year with focus on workforce and economic development. A major project will be the WC census promotion which begins in January. Multi-media will be used to kick off the actual census counting in April
with a hopeful completion target of August. This is extremely important as most funding mechanisms draw from this demographic.
A 2020 project will be the start of the TDOT new road to reach to Magness Drive from the four lane, as well as re-directing traffic on Sparta Street. This is expected to be a two-year project once begun. The project is currently in TDOT engineering.
On the industrial recruiting front, there are two certified sites to recruit new industry. One is the 51-acre tract in north side of the Mountain View Industrial Park and the other is a 26-acre site on the south side. In addition, there is a 213-acre site in West Morrison the IDB is currently involved with infrastructure issues to allow it to be marketable. Having two certified sites is seen as a significant advantage. IDB will begin construction of Spec Building 4 in the Mountain View Park in November.
Haley reported that Jon Flanders of Botanico is chairing a new Agri-Business Task Force that is concerned with supporting the important WC nursery business and other agriculture. Boosted by the nursery business, WC is the largest county in the Upper Cumberland District (14 counties) in terms of agriculture revenues.
State Sen. Janice Bowling is planning to introduce to the Tennessee Legislature in January her medical marijuana bill. Janice is optimistic this bill will pass in session in 2020. If that occurs, that will undoubtedly favorably affect WC agriculture.
This WC outlook would not be complete without noting the huge response the Motlow Automation & Robotics Training Center is receiving from industry across the Southeast and country. Warren County is being recognized as a high education corridor for all the right reasons, including WC High School, TCAT, and Motlow.
BRAC congratulates County Executive Jimmy Haley and the WC Commission for making 2019 a memorable year of achievement with much to look forward to in 2020.