Officials argue tax base:Industry or agriculture?
Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 8:43 pm
By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter It took a banging of the gavel and the intervention by chairman Ralph Puckett to restore order to otherwise staid proceedings of the Obion County Commission Monday. Commissioners Jimmy Seals and Danny Jowers were at odds with each other. The verbal battleground? Agriculture versus industry. The county commission met Monday in the Circuit Courtroom at the Obion County Courthouse. A quorum of the 21 commissioners in the county was present. Seals contends the four-laning of Highway 45 South, the planned local segment of I-69 and the four-laning of Highway 78 into Cates Landing are just too much, that each acre of agriculture taken for a road corrodes the county’s tax base. “Are we sure we want all these four-lanes in Obion County? I’m not. What if these things don’t work?” Seals mused aloud. “What’s been working for this county? Agriculture. It’s going to come a point where we won’t even need a county commission. There won’t be anything to meet for, in the next 25 or 30 years. Jowers, chairman of the budget committee, fired a volley of rhetoric at Seals. “I don’t know why you’re opposed to people coming in here and bringing industry to make our tax base bigger,” Jowers said. “You’re saying it’s reducing our tax base. I believe, if we had that plant sitting over there in Chattanooga that brought $1 billion into their economy, we’d have a heck of a tax base. We don’t have anything over here.” Seals said Obion County was voted No. 4 in the nation last year in the best places to live. Jowers said there would 5,000 counties that would dispute that claim. “Have you lived anywhere in Florida and Georgia and North Carolina?” he asked Seals. “Those people would probably dispute that. I don’t care if one person says, ‘This is the best.’ That’s an opinion, Jimmy, an opinion.” Seals asked what if all these four lanes don’t work? “What has been working for this county? Agriculture. It works,” he said. “Well, you just said the tax base is shrinking. I don’t know how much it’s working. You just said our tax base has shrunk. Is agriculture going to employ every person in this county?” Jowers said. “It might,” Seals countered. There followed a fiery exchange about hogs and Williams Sausage. Seals asked where the hog came from that the plant processes. Jowers said he didn’t know. “Has he been raised by corn?” Seals said. “I don’t know what he’s been raised by. I just know we used to have industry in this county, and we don’t have it any more,” Jowers said. At this point, Puckett rapped the courtroom bench with his gavel. The exchange continued. Seals said we have plenty of industry. Whereupon, Jowers angrily said, “No, we don’t. No, we don’t. You go tell that to the people in Kenton who just lost that (Plastech) plant. We don’t,” he said. Puckett imposed restraint and called for a roll call vote on the issue that sparked the outburst — a resolution to adopt the strategic economic development plan for a three-star program for the county. A three-star program is used to rate counties in economic development. On motion, the measure passed 18-1. Seals voted no. In a side interview, Jowers refined his point of view in the issue. “The controversy today had to do with the strategic plan for Obion County, that if the Cates Landing project becomes a reality, we would want a four-lane road into it,” Jowers said. “My point is that we must have money to build all these roads. Where’s the money going to come from? The people pushing (the local segment of) I-69 should be asking, ‘Where is the money coming from?’ Why isn’t somebody asking these questions?” Jowers emphasized that he is not anti-farming or anti-business. “We have always been able to balance economic growth, industrial development and farming. We’ve always been able to work together,” he said. He notes that, at one time, there were three thriving industries in Kenton, along with a thriving agricultural community. “Now we have no industry and no jobs,” he said.” In other business transacted Monday, the commission: • Approved a resolution authorizing applying to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development for the Small Cities block grant. The grant is to be used to expand the Obion County Health Department. Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire said the project has been cut and the planned expansion of the Obion County Health Department has been downsized. “The original amount was a total of $650,000. It’s been changed to $500,000,” McGuire said. “The state has cut its funding. Now it’s $300,000 from the block grant, $150,000 from local money and $50,000 from the state Health Department. The state said they were going to fund $300,000 but said later they couldn’t because of the economy. We don’t have the grant yet. (It’ll) probably be September.” • Passed a resolution to apply for Tennessee Industrial Infrastructure funds in the amount of $750,000 to assist Williams Sausage Co. “We are planning on doing an expansion and we don’t have sufficient water supply,” said owner Roger Williams. “We don’t have enough to run a fire hydrant, and insurance companies take a dim view of that. The main purpose of the funds will be to put in an eight-inch (water line). It’ll be for the whole area, from the Lake Road water tower to the sausage plant. Everybody out there will be on this line, as far as I know.” Published in The Messenger 7.23.08