Rutherford County Mayor Joe Carr has been in office only since Sept. 1, but he has already laid out four specific goals for the county this year.
First, he wants to find a contingency plan for solid waste.
“If Middle Point (Landfill) closes, Rutherford County doesn’t have any options except trash in the streets; that’s not an option,” Carr said in an interview with the Murfreesboro Post last Thursday in his office. “Rutherford County has never had, but always should’ve had, a Plan B.”
Carr said that he has sought input from three solid waste engineers, including Rutherford County solid waste director Bishop Wagener, and all advised him that Middle Point would reach capacity within two and a half years.
“Our participation in this is that Rutherford County has already secured funding for design and engineering of a transfer station,” Carr said.
He said he expects the design and engineering fees to cost about $200,000 and hopes to get the project started before this summer. Carr said he has instructed his staff to put together a proposal to the county commission where the county would build a transfer station with the expectation that Middle Point will close in the next two to three years unless it can get approval for expansion or can buy the old Rutherford County landfill, both of which Carr opposes.
Carr said he plans to build a forensics center to help with the autopsy demand.
Carr said COVID created a crisis at the facility in Nashville that Rutherford County uses for its 350-400 autopsies annually. The Nashville facility currently services more than half the state, according to Carr. There are only four other forensic centers in the state, located in Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville and Tri-Cities.
“I’ve talked to Gov. Lee’s senior staff, and I’ve talked to our delegation,” Carr said. “Rep. Bryan Terry and Sen. Shane Reeves are going to carry a bill on behalf of Rutherford County for us to build a $15 (million)-$20 million forensics center that we hope will be located in Smyrna.”
Carr said he also hopes the building will house state medical examiner offices. The facility will also service surrounding counties to help alleviate some of the strain of the overworked Nashville facility.
“This is good for Rutherford County. It’s good for Middle Tennessee,” he said. “Essentially what will happen is we’re asking for the state to fund the construction of the building, and then Rutherford County will assume the operating costs associated with it.”
Carr said he plans to expand Recovery Court services. He said there are currently 140 people either incarcerated or on probation who can’t get into Recovery Court because there is not enough room. That’s a problem for Carr for two reasons: he said he believes in second chances and incarceration is more expensive than Recovery Court.
“We’ve got people who are currently incarcerated who want to get into the Recovery Court system, and they’ve demonstrated the willingness and the desire genuinely to want to turn their lives around, and when you do that, the financial payback to the community is like 10 to one,” Carr said.
He said an engineering study has already been done on the Recovery Court building at 525 N. University St. He plans to add 1,500 square feet to the building to house additional case workers. He expects the work to cost around $1.5 million, including $400,000 worth of improvements to the current building.
“There is no greater investment that our community can make than when you have the opportunity to save money and save lives,” Carr said. “That is the sweet spot.”
Carr said he hopes to pass the 2023 Property Taxpayers Protection Act to address the 2006 County Powers Relief Act.
The Relief Act protects a set of financial tools available to Tennessee cities which allows them to continue to fund for expansion of existing services because of growth without having to raise property taxes.
The same act prevents Tennessee counties from doing the same, according to Carr.
“I’m working with mayors all across the state to change the law to say essentially that if the cities have a certain set of tools to fund for growth, the counties should have exactly those same set of tools,” Carr said.
Carr said raising property taxes on everyone to fund services to certain people or entities is unacceptable.
“I’m a conservative, and the one thing a conservative will tell you they believe, or should believe, is this: if you want it, you can have it, but you need to pay for it,” he said.