The Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Tuesday gave its first OK to a $26 million city budget for 2020, but the funding plan could change before its final reading if Greene County Commission action next week results in a property tax hike only for city landowners.
The Greene County Commission is to consider a budget proposal on Monday that would set a single property tax rate for landowners inside and outside Greeneville city limits. The effect would be an overall increase of about 16 cents to the county property tax rate Greeneville residents pay.
City officials said Tuesday they want to know the reason for an increase and what, exactly, the revenues will fund.
On Tuesday, Greeneville aldermen approved the 2019-20 fiscal year budget on first reading during a called meeting. They also approved a tax rate of $2.1775 per $100 of assessed property value, the same as was assessed in the current fiscal year.
City Administrator Todd Smith described the proposed funding plan as a “strong budget that will provide the high quality services to citizens of Greeneville.”
But Smith and board members expressed concern about the county government’s proposal for a single property tax rate for residents inside and outside the Greeneville limits. They said that such a measure could result in changes in the town’s proposed budget.
Proposed for consideration by the County Commission is a tax rate of $2.0145 per $100 of assessed property tax. This single rate represents a change from the two rates that have been set for residents in Greeneville and those outside the corporate limits in the past.
The difference in the rates is related to education debt service for Greene County Schools, based on a rationale that Greeneville residents should not pay the portion of county property tax used to retire county school bonds, as the town funds its own school district.
The portion of property tax used each year toward retiring county schools’ debt has traditionally been subtracted from the overall county rate to determine the levy for Greeneville taxpayers.
In keeping with that rationale, if the county commission retains two separate tax rates, property owners within Greeneville would see an increase of about 4 cents since one school debt was retired last year.
Instead, the county is considering the bigger increase shouldered by Greeneville residents to achieve one rate for all county residents.
The county property tax rate for inside Greeneville was $1.8551 per $100 in assessed value for the 2018-19 fiscal year. It was at the $2.0145 rate for residents outside the corporate limits.
That proposed 16 cent increase is concerning, said Mayor W.T. Daniels. “I will be honest with you and I have heard from other board members, we are not happy with that,” he said. “It affects only people in the city.”
“Every time there is tax increase I ask ‘what is the reason?’” Daniels continued. “Is it for schools? I haven’t heard a compelling reason for a tax increase, and it is on the backs of city taxpayers.”
The reason for the single tax rate proposal was also questioned by Alderman Buddy Hawk, while Alderman Keith Paxton said that the town has made a commitment to fund its own school system.
“We pay for our schools,” Paxton said. “We have to balance our budget, and it looks like they may be trying to balance their budget with our taxpayers.”
Smith said there is a question of whether that increased tax revenue from city residents would be used to fund joint ventures such as the Greeneville-Greene County Public Library, 911 communications systems and Greene County’s Emergency Management Agency. If so, then the town could reduce its allocations, reducing the amount of property tax it would need to fund the budget, he added.
The town’s budget will be considered for second and final reading at the board’s June 18 regular meeting.
Smith thanked the town’s department heads, City Recorder Carol Susong and Comptroller Crystal Gilland for their efforts in building the budget.
“We have put together a strong budget that encompasses your vision for the town and your priorities,” he told the board. “Putting together a budget is difficult. There are unlimited needs but limited resources.”
The budget total of $26,021,786 is less than the $27.4 million budget for this current year, Smith said. Most of that difference comes from the inclusion of grant funds for the Walters State Community College project that are not included in this year’s budget.
The plan includes funds for the initial construction for the Downtown Redevelopment Project. That first phase involves improvements to the streetscape on Depot Street from College Street to near the railroad depot.
It also includes $150,000 for debt service for the project, Smith said. If the project is financed over 20 years, the $150,000 allocation each year should be doable for the town, he added.
Other budgeted capital projects include funds for the completion of a new inclusive, handicap-accessible playground at Hardin Park and a dog park and disc golf course on Whirlwind Road.
The budget also includes a 2% cost of living increase for employees, a data back-up system, funding for an airport manager, a $20,000 increase for the Greeneville-Greene County Public Library and HVAC upgrades to the Greeneville Police Department, Greeneville Parks and Recreation Department and Greeneville Town Hall.
With the recent authorization of a contract for the design of the new Forest Street fire station, funds for its construction are not included in this budget, Smith said, as ground may not broken until the next fiscal year.
While Greeneville City Schools had requested additional funding, its allocation is unchanged from the current year in the 2019-20 budget plan.
In its preliminary budget, the school system had a projected $191,194 shortfall between in its general operating budget and requested an increased allocation to fund a kindergarten teacher at EastView Elementary School due to enrollment increases, an additional special education teacher based on an increasing number of students that need more individualized instruction and $66,000 to share in the cost for the replacement of the gymnasium floor at Hal Henard Elementary School.
In other business, the board also approved an ordinance to amend the 2019-20 budget year to reflect additional revenues and resulting changes in expenditures that have occurred since the budget was originally adopted.
Greene County elementary students are making gains in their math and reading skills.
School officials offered a report about the end-of-year data from iReady for grades K-8 Monday to the Greene County Schools Curriculum Committee. The committee, which includes school board members and school system administrators, reviews academic data and reports to the full Greene County Board of Education as part of the process to improve overall academic standards.
The iReady system is an interactive online learning tool. Screenings at various parts of the school year measure academic growth in math and reading. The learning tool also provides individualized lessons in reading and math for students based on the screenings to improve skills in weak areas.
In math, growth at each grade level exceeded expectations, reported K-8 Data Assessment and Evaluation Supervisor Leann Myers.
Reviewing both the growth and performance statistics, the goal is for students to be high performing with a high level of growth, she explained. All the grade levels met that goal except sixth grade, which had high growth but just missed the high-performance level, Myers continued.
For reading, each grade level also exceeded expected growth, Myers said. One area of celebration is in eighth grade, where students achieved two or three grade levels of growth on average, she said.
The results will help identify areas that need further work for each grade, she said. The goal is for students to be able to spend 30 to 45 minutes each week completing iReady lessons targeted to their individual needs.
One area for the system to concentrate on next year is making the program more appealing for students in grades 5-8 and help them to greater recognize the value of the individualized lessons, Myers said.
Curriculum Supervisor Dr. Kristi Wallin said the iReady results show the system is moving in the right direction.
Wallin gave a report about Response To Intervention in grades K-8. RTI is a state-mandated program that focuses on identifying students who may need additional supports.
RTI was implemented about seven or eight years ago in the system, Wallin said. It has three primary tiers: Tier 1 is instruction that all students receive; Tier 2 provides extra instruction for students needing extra help staying on or reaching grade-level; Tier 3 provides more intensive assistance than Tier 2.
Ideally, these tiers would reflect a pyramid, with most of students in Tier 1 and successively fewer in the remaining tiers.That wasn’t the case when the system started RTI, she said. Those numbers have improved greatly, the committee was told.
In the beginning, the system was primarily focusing on helping students in Tiers 2 and 3, but educators discovered that Tier 1 is key in improving student achievement, she said.
“We figured out that we needed to fix Tier 1 instruction to see overall improvement,” Wallin said. “Once we started to do that, things have improved.”
Scheduling time for both RTI and iReady activities is a challenge for principals and classroom teachers, and a lot of work by them goes into making sure that students are receiving the help they need, she said.
Reading specialists at each elementary school assist classroom teachers. They provide individualized instruction to students and resources for them to use for all students, Wallin said.
Myers and Wallin also gave a report about the summer school program now underway for grades K-8, which is serving more than 300 students. The programs are designed to help students avoid the “summer slide” in their skills.
One part of the summer school program is provided by the Save the Children grant for grades K-5 in five schools — Chuckey, DeBusk, Doak, Mosheim and Nolachuckey.
During the school year, the Save the Children grant provides resources for academic assistance for students and has a component in which personnel make home visits to encourage parents to help their children’s progress by reading to them and other activities.
In this program, kindergarten and first grade have reading and math enrichment activities and learn about healthy choices like nutritious food and exercising, Myers explained.
Grades2-5 focus on reading and vocabulary as well as nutrition and healthy choices, she said. All the students are participating in science, technology, engineering and math activities, including robotics.
The school system provides funding for a shorter summer program for grades K-5 in the other elementary schools and for grades 6-8 in all the elementary schools. Wallin said these programs ave a strong literacy emphasis.
All the summer programs have a “summer camp feel” with field trips and other activities to make the learning fun. For example, Wallin said the program for grades 6-8 this year has a “CSI” theme based on a popular youth novel series.
In past years, a state Read to Be Ready grant has funded summer school programs, and that grant included funds for students to be able to purchase books of their own from retailer Barnes & Noble.
That practice is continuing this year with students visiting the bookstore in Johnson City to purchase their own books to take home. “It has been tremendous to watch the students’ excitement as they choose their books,” Wallin said.
The summer school program has proven beneficial in not only keeping students from losing ground academically, but has also resulted in growth in their academic skills, she added.
Students in the program receive breakfast and lunch from Chartwells, the system’s food service, and if a field trip results in a long day for the students, they also receive supper.
The case against Greene County residents who were allegedly part of a methamphetamine distribution ring is moving forward in federal court.
Eighteen people living in Greene County and three others living in Hamblen, Hawkins and Jefferson counties who were allegedly part of a major methamphetamine distribution conspiracy were indicted in October 2018 by a federal court grand jury meeting in U.S. District Court in Greeneville.
Law enforcement arrested one participant in the meth network after a man left the drug in his car trunk to be discovered by mechanics doing repair work.
An amended 80-count indictment was filed in January in U.S. District Court. As of Wednesday, 14 plea agreements have been filed in the case.
J. Christian Lampe, an assistant U.S. attorney who is one of the prosecutors in the case, said in an email that the remaining defendants “are presumed innocent and the indictment is merely an accusation.”
“No trial date is set at this time,” Lampe said.
He said the plea deadline for remaining defendants in the case “are typically set by the court for two weeks prior to the trial.”
Defendants initially entered not guilty pleas in the case. On Monday in U.S. District Court, two defendants agreed to plead guilty to the first count of the indictment, conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine.
Entering guilty pleas were David Brock Church and Kimberly Gaye Maples, based on plea agreements worked out recently with defense lawyers and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Sentencing for Church and Maples was set for Sept. 23 before Senior U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer. Remaining counts against the defendants will be dismissed at the time of sentencing.
The offense carries a minimum mandatory imprisonment term of 10 years and a minimum five-year period of supervised release, along with a fine.
The amended indictment alleges that each of the 21 defendants were “involved in a conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of meth in the Eastern District of Tennessee and elsewhere,” a November 2018 news release said.
Some of the defendants were also charged with at least one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
The indictment also alleges other charges related to the distribution and possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances, in addition to money laundering.
The meth conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, and a fine of up to $10 million.
Others named in the superseding indictment allegedly distributed 5 or more grams of methamphetamine. Some allegedly possessed firearms “shipped in interstate commerce.”
According to a “factual overview and background” describing the scope of the case included in the David Brock Church and similar plea agreements, in early 2016 the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives partnered with the 3rd Judicial District Drug Task Force and with other state and local law enforcement agencies to launch an investigation in Greene County.
It centered on a “methamphetamine distribution network that distributed multiple kilogram quantities of (meth) weekly in and around the Greene County area of the Eastern District of Tennessee.”
The meth came from “large trans-national criminal organizations and other methamphetamine suppliers located inside and outside the State of Tennessee.”
The conspiracy involving numerous defendants “is comprised of two overlapping enterprises that had separate primary sources of supply (but) many of the conspirators were, at various times, supplied by both supply chains,” plea agreements said.
Each case includes different narratives prepared by the government to prove that defendants were part of the meth distribution conspiracy. The common denominator is the drug itself, which law enforcement officials acknowledge is the driving factor in many of the crimes being committed in Greene and surrounding counties.
The plea agreements of Church and Maples describe their specific actions. They are generally representative of those entered by some of the other defendants in the case, whose involvement also allegedly involves the distribution of quantities of methamphetamine.
In his plea agreement, Church, 27, of Ashland Drive, admits to distributing more than 50 grams of meth and possessed a firearm “in furtherance of his drug-selling activities,” the plea says.
Church admits in his plea agreement “that he began selling quantities of methamphetamine around March 2017, and continued until his arrest on Oct. 23, 2017.”
Church had prior arrests for methamphetamine possession following traffic stops in Washington and Greene counties in June and September 2017 and was free on bond at the time of his October 2017 arrest.
On Oct. 23, 2017, Church brought his Nissan sports car to a Greeneville Nissan service department to have a clutch replaced. He brought his own parts to have the work done and the parts were in the trunk, a Greeneville police report said.
While pulling parts out of a backpack, a mechanic saw a plastic bag “with a crystal-type substance in it and a needle with a liquid in it,” the report said. He showed the items to others, including a man who is a reserve police officer, who said the substance appeared to be methamphetamine.
Greeneville police were called and took the items into custody, the report said.
At that point, the DTF took over the investigation and evidence was turned over to agents.
The plastic bag contained more than one ounce of suspected methamphetamine, a DTF agent said in a report.
Church was later served arrest warrants on charges of maintaining a dwelling where controlled substances are kept and sold, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, possession of a Schedule II drug with intent to distribute and money laundering.
Church gave permission for agents to search his car. DTF agents found a “large amount of U.S. currency” concealed in the glove box “banded up in colored rubber bands and divided up in specific denominations,” a report said.
The money was allegedly proceeds from the sale and delivery of methamphetamine, according to a report by a DTF agent.
During a search of the Ashland Drive house rented by Church, DTF agents found about 12 ounces of methamphetamine, digital scales and small plastic bags used to package drugs, the report adds.
The DTF report said that Church had just picked up “several ounces” of meth from his supplier and brought to Greeneville.
Church earlier told the DEA he obtained meth from a source in Atlanta. Another defendant said that Church had “additional sources” of meth in Georgia, according to his plea agreement. Church had an AR-15 rifle in his car with loaded magazines. A report added that Church “is a known drug dealer to the agents.”
The plea agreement states that Church “should be held individually responsible for at east 1.5 kilograms but less than 4.5 kilograms of actual methamphetamine.”
Maples, 33, of Pinto Road, “sold resale quantities of methamphetamine” obtained from another co-defendant and others, according to her plea agreement. She admitted to conspiring to distribute more than 50 grams of meth.
Maples was charged with a repeat driving under the influence count in August 2018 and later charged with felony drug possession offenses after Greeneville police found nearly 13 ounces of methamphetamine in her car.
After arrest for DUI-2nd offense, a search of Maples’ 1996 Honda Civic yielded the meth in addition to a gun, pills and drug paraphernalia, a report by a 3rd Judicial District Drug Task Force agent said.
Maples was additionally charged with possession of a Schedule II drug with the intent to deliver, possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony and driving while in possession of five or more grams of methamphetamine.
The case was picked up by the government after the federal grand jury indicted Maples last year.
Maples admitted for purposes of the plea agreement that she was individually responsible for at least 150 grams but less than 500 grams of meth.
In addition to Maples and Church, those indicted by the federal grand jury include:
Greene County Election Commission members on Tuesday selected a mix of Republican and Democratic precinct workers to man polling stations for the Town of Greeneville Municipal Election on Aug. 1.
Many of those selected have worked prior elections.
Commissioners also decided they would, at their next meeting, approve specifications for new voting machines so they can be submitted for formal bids by interested companies.
The new voting machines will include a paper trail that some analysts say provide better security in the voting process. They are expected to be first used in March 2020 balloting.
Meanwhile, commissioners decided to bump their monthly meeting up a week in July, to the first Tuesday of the month, July 2, so that current voting machines can be certified and candidates in the Aug. 1 election notified prior to early voting.
Early voting in the Aug. 1 municipal election is July 12-27. The deadline to register to vote is July 2.
Candidates for 1st Ward aldermen are incumbents Buddy Hawk and Keith Paxton and challenger Cal Doty. Voters will select two for the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Voters in the 1st Ward will also be selecting two representatives on the Greeneville City Board of Education.
On the ballot are current Chairman Craig Ogle along with Pam Botta and Josh Quillen. Botta is a retired teacher, and Quillen was appointed to the board a few months ago to fill a vacancy when Brian Cook resigned after military deployment.
The one citywide race slated for Aug. 1 is an uncontested one. Johnny Honeycutt is on the ballot to return to the at-large seat he has held on the Greeneville Water Commission.
At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners also reviewed new voter registration forms processed in the Election Commission office between April 4 through June 11 to be sure there were no deficiencies. All applicants filled out their forms properly, said Administrator of Elections Donna Burgner.
Training dates for Aug. 1 election workers were set for the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday prior to the Thursday election — July 29, 30 and 31.
Commissioners also discussed results from an annual election law seminar they attended in Nashville last week that was organized by the state election commission office. Commissioners across the state learned about new legislation and existing rules affecting future municipal and county elections.
Burgner, Chief Deputy Justin Reaves, and all commissioners on the local board except William West, who is also secretary, attended the June 2-5 seminar.