Follow Us On:

Split commission eventually passes $10M projects bundle

Posted on Wednesday, May 22, 2024 at 8:00 am


After a contentious Board of Commissioners meeting on May 14, the resolution to pass a $10 million capital outlay note to fund several county and school projects was passed.

The resolution on the agenda grants the county mayor and financial management director authority to borrow, and to not exceed $10.4 million, as a capital outlay note for capital projects.

The projects and their estimated costs under that note are: the Liberty School expansion – $3,364,859; Juvenile Facility construction – $6,049,550; Surplus Facility construction – $600,000; Public Safety Training Range (firearms range) – $154,000; NCRS (Natural Resources and Conservation Service) Office Expansion at the Ag Center – $25,000.

Commissioners voting for the package were John Boutwell, Jason Boyette, Janice Brothers, Scott Johnson, Sylvia Pinson, Julie Sanders, Tony Smith, Mark Thomas, Greg Vick, and Linda Yockey.

Commissioners voting against were Bill Anderson, Anita Epperson, Eric Maddox, Diane Neely, and Adam Thomas.

Commissioners Biff Farrar, Drew Hooker, and Troy Thompson abstained from voting.

Several commissioners voted against the package because they did not like the process of the items being bundled together and being brought before the commission for vote.

In a statement released by the Bedford County Mayor’s office last Thursday, Chad Graham said, “There were some commissioners that expressed dissatisfaction that their committee had not approved a particular project and therefore, they said, the commission rules had been broken.

“The suggestion that the item/resolution before the commission had not been before a committee is inaccurate.”

During the Sept. 12, 2023, commission meeting, the 16 commissioners present at the meeting unanimously approved of the motion to authorize the design and cost analysis phase specifically for the Liberty School expansion, the Juvenile Detention Center, and a surplus property facility with the understanding the projects would have to come back to commission for funding (which was the purpose of the May 14 meeting).

In the same statement, Graham also said, “For the record, the request before the commission Tuesday night was a financial management matter, to borrow money, and had been approved by the Financial Management Committee on April 23.”

But some commissioners, as well as some citizens during the public comment section, said the $10 million package was akin to the “shady” dealings that go on in Washington D.C.

“As some of the gentlemen in the audience said, the resolutions run contrary to our democratic processes of transparent government,” said Commissioner Biff Farrar.

Commissioner Eric Maddox put it this way, “Regarding this particular bundle capital outlay note resolution, I don’t agree with it. But I understand why you did it. The Liberty School was the perfect item to lump with the other items, and several other of you knew would not fly in the eyes of us more conservative commissioners.

“This is what’s going on in Washington.”

Commissioner Greg Vick, however, saw it differently. “They’re claiming this is like Washington. Well, I agree with them. It is exactly like Washington where people stand up, scream and yell, posture, and make all these crazy accusations because they don’t want to govern. They want to campaign all the time,” he said.

Juvenile Detention

Some of the commissioners also questioned the necessity of building a juvenile detention center–a project that has been analyzed and discussed for over five years—versus sending them out to other facilities.

Commissioner Maddox said the concept of sending juveniles to the facility in Memphis, versus somewhere closer like Rutherford County, was a “scare tactic.”

Commissioner Julie Sanders, who is chairman of the Courthouse and Property Committee, has been studying the juvenile center issue, along with several other commissioners and court officials.

“A lot of commissioners don’t stay for our committee, so you really don’t know what is being sent from our committee on,” said Sanders, replying to the accusations that these projects had not been discussed in committees.

“I can tell you, we’ve been studying juvenile detention. We had a special committee that was formed, maybe five or six years ago.

“The cost of it has continued to rise because of inflation. If you look at housing, that has happened. We have even cut part of the juvenile center out to save some money to make it as minimum as we can.”

In the past, the juvenile detention study group concluded that sending kids out to other facilities would cost just as much as running a local facility and would require officers to take time of their duty to drive juveniles back and forth for court dates and doctors’ appointments.

You can read The Post’s article, “Update on Juvenile Detention Facility,” from the Feb. 28 edition, for more information about the proposed facility’s design.

Judge Charles Rich also spoke during the public comments section and recounted how, in the past, juveniles had to be handcuffed to chairs for six or more hours due to the lack of space in the current facility, located on Lane Parkway.

Rich added that they had 59 kids in February, 74 in March, and 71 in April.

But Commissioner Drew Hooker made contrary statements to the data Judge Rich gave.

He said in his studying of the issue, Bedford County dropped 46% in the amount of juveniles they take in. And that the Rutherford County Juvenile Complex was accepting juveniles from other counties.

However, other commissioners argued the Rutherford County complex is understaffed, and with increasing growth coming to Middle Tennessee, the issue is only going to get more critical with the number of juveniles.

Sanders said, “I understand spending money is the last thing we want to do. But I tell you what, I’d rather see us take care of our juveniles and have less crime in our county. We are growing. If we are not proactive, we’re going to have big problems.”

Two more items

The other two items—the firearm range on Frank Martin road and the agriculture building expansion on Midland Road–have been budget requests “year after year” that the county has not been able to fund, according to Mayor Graham.

In the statement, he said, “The law enforcement training range and NCRS building expansion items had been requested at the financial management committee level through multiple budget requests but had been put on hold due to lack of a funding source.

“The county commission, when in session, has the full authority to override, approve, deny, defer, debate, or question any request or action on the floor and certainly could send back any item to the committee of their choice, should the majority of the body wish to have future review.”

Commissioner Mark Thomas, who also serves as the county fire chief and served with the Sheriff’s Department in the reserves for 30 years, said, “I understand the need of that facility [the training range] being there. This is an engineered facility. It’s built right with sound barriers, property bullet catching mechanisms in place. Whereas the facility they’re using now does not have.”

Why bundle?

Bundling the projects allowed the county finance office to do an RFP (Request for Proposal) and apply a fixed rate of 4.33% to pay off the $10 million loan, according to county finance director Robert Daniel.

Graham concluded, “My administration is committed to addressing the needs of our county, and I am grateful for those commissioners who support a better Bedford vision.”