Commission rejects funding request for Soil Conservation District position
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
In a surprise move Tuesday, the Obion County Commission gave the Soil Conservation District a thumbs down on its request for funds for a staff position.
The request, a leftover from the November meeting of the commission, sought a commitment of $5,000.
However, the commission approved 21-0 a motion by commissioner Jerry Grady not to appropriate the funds.
The action came at a regular meeting of the Obion County Commission at which several items of public business were processed. All 21 of the county commissioners attended; commissioner Ralph Puckett presided.
Prior to the meeting, commissioners had been furnished a copy of a Nov. 20 letter from state conservationist Kevin Brown of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Nashville to Congressman John Tanner.
NRCS is a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
By request of Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire, Tanner had inquired of Brown about USDA funding a technician position in the local Soil Conservation District office.
In the letter, Brown told Tanner that the local Soil Conservation District office has had a reduction in staff from eight to four in the last 20 years and the reduction is representative of an overall decline in such employees statewide.
“The current budget does not allow (Natural Resources Conservation Service) to fully fund the Obion County Soil Conservation technician position,” Brown wrote. “In order to fund this position and others like it in Tennessee, we have developed a unique agreement with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. NRCS and TDA will fund two-thirds of each technician’s salary if the Soil Conservation District picks up the remainder.
“Due to our operating under a Continuing Resolution, we are prohibited from making new hires even if the budget allowed it.”
Grady and others questioned that statement, saying that if the federal government doesn’t see fit to provide adequate funding for its operations, why should local government be expected to pick up the tab? Besides, the county is already contributing $17,500 a year to pay for a secretary’s position at the local district office.
In essence, commissioners said, enough is enough, and endorsed Grady’s motion to deny the funding. Commissioner and budget committee chairman Danny Jowers said the Soil Conservation District Office can renew their request in July during the fiscal year 2008-09 budget hearings.
In other business, the commission:
• Approved a request by the Obion County Highway Department to add Deer Haven Road in District 6 to the official county road map. The road is one-third mile long.
• Delayed, pending a legal opinion by county attorney Steve Conley, a request by the Hudgens family for the county to fund $175,000 worth of installation of sewer and water lines and curbing on a proposed road that would link West Reelfoot Avenue and Old Rives Road.
Obion County Highway Commissioner Gary Lofton said under the terms of a proposal with the family, the county would gain ownership of six acres of a 50-acre plot adjacent to the county highway department facility on West Reelfoot Avenue, and it would be used to expand the acreage of the highway department facility.
“We would use it to store rock and stuff. We have completely run out of room here,” Lofton said.
Jim Rippy of Union City explained the situation.
“It’s a family that owns the property,” he said. “Bernita Hudgens and her daughter, Martha Alice Truell, both of Franklin, and the estate of Bascom Cooksey, who is deceased. The daughter, Martha Alice, owns a controlling part and her mother owns a part. There’s 50 acres in the whole field. The county wants six of them. The other 44, she wants to develop into an office park for business use, not residential.”
Mrs. Hudgens is the widow of Union City attorney Paul Hudgens and is a former resident of the city, as is her daughter.
Hudgens Drive, which is a short road between Herman Jenkins Motors and the county highway department, is a dead-end road. But it would be lengthened to a distance of 2,750 feet and intersect Old Rives Road. The road would run between the 44 acres and plots, each 1 1/2 acres, would be sold to interested buyers.
“The county would get six acres to add to the highway department. What she is proposing is, if they’ll put the road in and the water and sewer, she will repay them out of sale of the lots,” Rippy said.
How does Rippy feel about it? “Sounds like a good deal to me. Property in that area is not cheap, no matter how you look at it,” he said.
Malcolm Cook, a senior commissioner of the Obion County Highway Commission, told the commission this has been an ongoing project for 20 years and now “everything’s on the go.”
“This is something you don’t need to miss,” he said. “The Hudgens family is ready. They’re willing to pay that money back as they sell those lots.”
Jowers said a legal opinion is needed “so we know where we stand legally.”
“I don’t think we can use county money to enhance property that private landowners would benefit from. However, that’s something we need to ask our attorney to research,” he said.
Published in The Messenger 1.24.08