Monteagle: ‘Positive Policing,’ Budget, and Tree Board

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

Prior to approval of the budget at the May 20 meeting, Vice Mayor Nate Wilson offered a snapshot overview of revenue, expenses, and capital reserves over the past 10 years. Noting increasing expenditures for the Police Department, Wilson commented, “we’ve got good results to show for it. Chief William Raline’s report is telling us we’re moving in the right direction.” Raline attributed the low crime rate and citations to “positive policing, putting citizens first and safety first.”

Monteagle police recently resolved a year-long case working with the Grundy County Sheriff’s Department to “make the situation better for the town and the children in the home.” From April 15 to May 15, statistics on crime were “basically zero,” Raline said. There was only one drug arrest, thefts were down, and speeding had significantly decreased. The department had issued very few citations, issuing warnings to first-offense speeders. The few vehicle crashes were minor, Raline observed, mostly “18 wheelers backing into 18 wheelers.”

In other highlights from the 10-year budget overview, Wilson also cited increasing expenditures for the Fire Department, again with good results. The ISO rating had dropped, meaning lower insurance premiums, and volunteer participation had increased. Wilson stressed the importance of increasing wages for police and fire department employees, not just to retain them, but because, “they do a hard job.” Mayor Greg Maloof pointed out the cost for police and fire protection was not just salaries, but also equipment and training.

On the revenue side, Occupancy Tax revenue had increased since the COVID pandemic, Wilson said. He expressed concern about the decrease in the capital reserve account created when Monteagle sold the natural gas service to Middle Tennessee Natural Gas. Initially regulations required the town replace withdrawals from the capital reserve, but the rule was rescinded when Monteagle built a new fire hall. Wilson recommended the town strive to “rebuild the capital reserve so we have the ability to replace things as they wear out.”

The 2024-2025 budget passed unanimously.

In other business, Wilson brought to the council’s attention the opportunity for grants from the state forestry division. Establishing a “tree board” composed of citizens and officials would increase the town’s chance of receiving the 50:50 match grant money. Meetings of the tree board and time city employees spent on tree care could count as an in-kind contribution to meet the match. Alderman Dan Sargent expressed reservations about the grant. “Anytime the government offers us money, we’re going to be responsible for how we spend that money,” Sargent said, speculating, “Somebody will be standing in my yard telling me I can’t cut a tree down.” Wilson explained the grant money was for planting trees on public property and education about their care. The town currently had trees that needed replaced and the new interstate exit would offer landscaping opportunities for tree planting. The council passed a resolution authorizing the Beautification Committee to serve as a tree board.

During the comment period, resident Dean Lay objected to the Planning Commission’s denial of a second Dollar General in Monteagle because C-3 commercial zoning did not allow that type of business in the proposed location. “A few years ago, the purposes and mission of C-2 and C-3 were reversed,” Lay said. “City Hall is in C-3. Your own city hall is in violation. Twenty-five percent of the population live below the poverty level. Dollar General is vital to the poor to buy groceries.”

Maloof responded, “I share some of your confusion.” Maloof abstained from the planning commission vote. The planning commission will address the commercial zoning question at a July workshop. According to Maloof, the developer is considering asking the Board of Zoning Appeals to override the decision. Sargent said he voted against denying Dollar General’s request. “We get bogged down in zoning,” Sargent insisted. “I’m frustrated, too. We let another [business] go.” Alderwoman Jessica Favaloro pointed out the town was engaged in the planning process but did not yet have a plan. “Healthy growth requires a plan … before we start popping stores and businesses where they don’t belong,” she said. “I don’t want another Dollar General,” alderwoman Dorraine Parmley said, “but I don’t want to tell someone what they can do with their land. We have too many rules.” Wilson said the type of Dollar General proposed for the location was not a food market that carried groceries. He anticipates Monteagle should have the American Institute of Architects final planning recommendations for action steps by the June 24 meeting.

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