Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto's administration entered the 2010s with three major focus areas: education, public safety and quality of life.
As the county enters the next decade facing the effects of continued growth, those three things are still serving as guideposts. Hutto sat down with the Lebanon Democrat on Monday to discuss some of the county government's goals for 2020.
Wilson County Schools and the Lebanon Special School District have both received high marks from the Tennessee Department of Education, so the county's major priorities have more to do with staffing than curriculum.
"The things that are issues for us right now in education are teacher funding and that we need more bus drivers," Hutto said. "Being able to obtain and retain the best teachers is important, and therefore the county commission put out the sales tax for a vote and earmarked that for teacher raises."
Voters will be able to weigh in on that potential half-cent sales tax increase in March. The proposal would be used to boost pay for the school system's certified positions, which require a teaching license.
While some teachers are seeking employment in other counties' school systems, Hutto attributed the bus driver shortage to the number of logistics companies in the area.
"A lot of the people that have commercial driver's licenses are driving for companies and have full-time jobs, while driving a bus is a part-time job," he said. "We are reaching out trying to find different organizations where maybe that person could be working another job. We're reaching out
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to see if there are retirees out there, since people retire now in their mid 50s, to try and recruit someone from that area, and they've raised the pay last year about 30%."
Being able to offer enough bus routes is also a concern for the county because of growth in the area. Green Hill High School is set to open in the fall, and there are already sites in place for future schools in case the population continues rising.
"When you look at the building program on the educational side, we feel like our county commission is keeping up to date there," Hutto said. "We are prepared going forward in that we have land already purchased for an elementary and middle school beside Mt. Juliet High School."
The county also plans to put leftover funding from the Green Hill High School project toward additional properties.
"We're planning to buy land for an elementary school down in the Cedar Forest area and some land for a high school between 109 and 231 in the northern part of Wilson County to stay ahead of the building process there," Hutto said. "If the growth happens and schools have to be built, we're prepared for that and we're working towards it."
Expanding the Wilson County Jail is one of the first things the local government looks to accomplish this year, and the goal is to start construction in April.
"We're looking at a 400-bed addition to the jail that we have today," Hutto said. "That will allow for future capacity, hopefully, for many years to come. We are at capacity right now, and have been for quite some time. There's no impact right now, but we know that since we've stayed close to full for quite some time that it's important to make the addition."
Bid documents are going out to contractors starting Wednesday, and the process will run through Feb. 18. The Wilson County Commission and its committees hope to determine funding during March after bid amounts come in so construction can begin the following month.
"The funding mechanism for that project, we hope, was addressed with the adequate facilities tax increase a year ago," Hutto said. "We're hoping that will help to offset the cost of the jail addition."
In addition to adding beds to the jail, the county has purchased a 6-acre church property behind the building that may be used to put its entire court system under one roof. That project is still in its planning stages, so a timeline and funding plan have not been determined.
That project could also include a catwalk linking the jail and the courtrooms to cut back on inmate transportation, and an underground parking area for judges.
"Putting all the courts together under one room will also allow for expansion of government offices in the areas used today for courtrooms," Hutto said. "College Street will be freed up, and we'd like to turn that into a one-stop ship for our builders -- moving everything down there you'd need if you wanted to build a house."
Other future goals for public safety include building fire stations east and west of Mt. Juliet and reducing the frequency of convicted criminals to commit further offenses through programs helmed by the sheriff's office.
Quality of Life
Wilson County is home to a variety of local services, from a hospital and university to an event center, and its residents are working with officials on service groups to further enhance quality of life.
"We have Wilson Volunteers, which is a group that's come together to try and provide an app that can connect people that want to volunteer with the people that need volunteers," Hutto said. "Senior Rides Wilson is another group that's been put together … that's providing rides to seniors over 60 through volunteers that are willing to carry them, maybe to the store, to get their hair fixed or to Walmart."
The Lebanon Wilson Chamber of Commerce's Non Profit Roundtable has taken over that project, and they are currently developing an app to facilitate those rides as the program readies for launch.
"Wilson Works, a workforce development initiative headed up by the Lebanon Chamber, is another new thing," Hutto said. "That will put a liaison to help coordinate efforts between the educational world and the workforce world to develop quality employees."
More recently established groups also continue to build up, such as the DrugFree WilCo Coalition aimed at battling opioid addiction and the Homeless Coalition that works to address homelessness in the county.
"We also have our Aging Matters series that's in its second year," Hutto said. "That's where a group of people come together and put on seminar series in the courthouse once a quarter to address different issues on aging with seniors and their caretakers."
Hutto also meets regularly with mayors in the Nashville area to discuss solutions to regional problems, primarily transportation and trash buildup brought about by landfill closures.
"I think our overall goal, really, is trying to be the best county in the state of Tennessee so that people will feel proud to call Wilson County home," he said. "We gear everything around that. We're the fastest-growing county in the state right now, but we're also No. 1 in century farms, so we feel like we have the best of both worlds in that we're populated but preserved at the same time."