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Jennings requests loan for new mowing equipment

The Johnson County Board of Commissioners had a very busy meeting Thursday night, covering a broad range of topics and issues. The evening started on a solemn note, with the board recognizing the absence of both Commissioners Emily Millsaps and Dean Stout, who has recently been dealing with serious medical problems. As a result Stout was specifically included in the opening prayer, with many on the board expressing their concern and hope of a speedy recovery.
Road Superintendent Tony Jennings had several items to discuss, including a request for a short-term loan from the county general fund to purchase new mowing equipment. Following the breakdown of one of the department’s tractors, Jennings created a set of specifications that were ultimately met by Dickson County Equipment Company of Dickson, TN. Meeting the approval of the budget committee, the total cost of the loan would be just under $100,000.
The highway department’s intent is to pay the loan back from monies secured through working on several USDA stream bank stabilization projects that the commission approved a few months ago. Noting the safety concerns of overgrown roadways as well as the numerous complaints from county citizens, Jennings felt that the need for the purchase was necessary and immediate. Commissioner Jerry Grindstaff made the motion to approve the loan request, which was seconded by Commissioner Huey Long and approved unanimously. Although no specific target date is set, Chairman Freddy Phipps did point out that the money would have to be repaid within a year, which Jennings felt would not be an issue.
The other big issue that Jennings brought up was a request for speed limit changes on three small county roads. By default all secondary roads have a speed limit of 35 miles per hour, which residents on Fire Tower Road in Neva felt is too fast for the narrow roadway. Pointing out that in places it is almost a single lane, Jennings agreed that the speed limit should be reduced, suggesting a 20 miles per hour designation considering the conditions. A similar request was made for Daisy Drive and Lilly Lane in the Shady Meadows subdivision in Cold Springs. Indicating that these roads did meet standard widths, Jennings felt that 25 miles per hour would be more appropriate in this situation. With the requests coming directly from residents on these roads, none of the commissioners seemed to have any issue with the changes, leading them to approve a motion to meet Jennings’ suggestions. However, the board did have some serious discussion of another speed limit change, this time from Mountain City Mayor Lawrence Keeble.
Commissioner Mike Taylor addressed a problem with speed limit signs on Divide Road at last month’s meeting, pointing out specifically that there was no clear signage where the limit increases from 30 to 50 leaving the city limits. As a result a motion was made and approved to place a new sign closer to the changing point. Highlighting a potential safety concern, Mayor Keeble was in attendance this month with a request concerning this same stretch of highway.
One of the reasons that the speed limit sign was moved in the first place was to discourage drivers from speeding up near city water plant, approximately a half mile from the city limit sign. Pointing out that the necessary truck traffic at this site and the potential for accidents, Keeble asked the commission to consider lowering the limit to 40 on this limited section of highway.
While he did acknowledge there is a limited sight issue in driving from the city toward Laurel Bloomery, Commissioner Taylor noted that sight distance was actually pretty good coming from the other direction. The commissioner also explained that the current 50 miles per hour limit is a compromise of its own, dating back to a decision made last year to bring it down from 55, as well as the removal of a passing zone near the plant.
Taylor went on to specifically note the reduction in traffic since the opening of the new 91 bypasses, as well as the desire of many local residents to see the limit remain the same. Regardless, an effort was still made to address the safety concerns, with Taylor suggesting an alternative to Keeble’s request by placing additional caution signs near the water plant. Keeble agreed that this would be a good start and along with the approval of Superintendent Jennings, the board was able to reach a successful compromise.
The last two items that Jennings discussed was the approval of the Laurelwood Subdivision and a request to perform maintenance work at a former county landfill. Laurelwood was tabled last month to give the planning commission time to look into whether or not the development had met preliminary approval in the past. Commissioner Jerry Grindstaff confirmed that the development had met requirements, including a core drilling of a recently paved street to verify the thickness of the asphalt. With no further issues, Jennings recommended the subdivision’s final approval, which was granted through a motion by Mike Taylor.
The second request came from Dustin Shearin with the solid waste department, involving a maintenance issue at a former county landfill. Citing drainage problems from stopped up culverts and overgrown vegetation, Shearin asked that the county road department be approved to do the work. Jennings confirmed that the site has had similar issues before and that it would not be much of a problem for his department to take care of. As a result the board unanimously approved a motion made by Commissioner Bill Adams to do the work.
The board also looked at a proposed memorandum of understanding between the county and the Doe Mountain Recreation Authority (DMRA) as well as the Mountain Trail Riders Association (MTRA). The memorandum serves as a nonbinding agreement between all three organizations and specifically grants permission for the MTRA to utilize grant money they secured through Yamaha to build a parking area at the county owned Harbin Hill Visitors Center. The memorandum goes on to detail the other uses of the grant, which also includes the installation of signage for Doe Mountain’s trail system. County attorney Bill Cockett confirmed that the agreement has no real binding authority but does serve to clearly identify the relationship between the three organizations as work continues on the Doe Mountain project. The only issue that Cockett pointed out was that although the county mayor typically signs county agreements, his position as the chairman of the DMRA would require the memorandum to be signed by Chairman Freddy Phipps instead. With no further issues Commissioner Rick Snyder made to approve the agreement, which was seconded by Commissioner Jerry Grindstaff and met with full approval.
Having presented information to the commission a few months ago, local GIS expert Tina Delahunty came before the board to present them with a proposal to incorporate GIS services in the county. Essentially an advanced mapping service, the system could be used in the county in numerous ways, especially in the tax assessor’s office which maintains a detailed electronic database of property information.
Pooling resources, Delahunty has been working to bring several local organizations together to increase what GIS services could be provided while cutting individual costs. There is already an identified need in the assessor’s office but also the county EMA, highway department, election commission, as well as 911 and Mountain Electric. As currently proposed, the project would cost $32,600, but Delahunty has been able to secure a state three-star grant for approximately half of that amount. Hoping to receive some assistance from Mountain Electric as well, the county’s portion would be $12,600.
Approximately half of the total would be to cover labor over the next year with the remaining half going toward the purchase of equipment, software, and supplies. Pointing out the many benefits of the technology, Delahunty explained that most counties and cities in the state are trying to develop some form of GIS to help increase their efficiency. Several commissioners had questions about the program, including Rick Snyder who hoped it would allow more public information and services to be accessed online. Noting that with the system the county would actually have access to information even faster than the state, Delahunty confirmed that this would eventually be a possibility. With strong support from the board, Commissioner Jerry Grindstaff made the motion to approve Delahunty’s proposal, which was seconded by Commissioner Lester Dunn and approved unanimously.
County Mayor Larry Potter presented a request to place a new POW/MIA Empty Chair Memorial near the flagpole in front of the courthouse. The memorial would fully funded by Rolling Thunder, a local veterans organization who placed a similar memorial on the veterans walk at the Butler Museum.  The request was approved with full support, but Commissioner Jack Proffit did point out the need to repaint the courthouse flagpole.

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