After a snag, State approves Metro Budget

Mayor Lewis informed the Metro Council that the state approved the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget on Monday night. {File Photo}

It was all a big misunderstanding, according to Moore County’s UT County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) Consultant Melisa Kelton.

In July, Metro Mayor Bonnie Lewis submitted Metro’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget to the State Comptroller office for approval. The State denied (or gave a conditional approval) to that budget based on the fact that the forms sent to state showed a negative fund balance. However, those figures were a mistake. Mayor Lewis’s office submits the budget each each with a piece of accounting software called NextGen.

“When the NextGen report was generated,” Kelton said. “it used amended number for FY 2020 and not actual numbers.”

Kelton says neither she nor Mayor Lewis noticed because the two reports only created a noticeable change in one line item … the fund balance. The incorrect report showed a negative fund balance, when in fact it should have showed “closer to $677,000,” according to Kelton.

Kelton says it’s important to note that none of the FY 2021 budget figures changed and that once the corrected budget was resubmitted, the state approved it.

Mayor Lewis appeared before the Metro Council to explain the mistake on Monday night.

“I just wanted to be transparent and let you know we had an uh-oh but everything is right in the world now,” Mayor Lewis said.

No further action was required. If you have questions, contact your Metro Council member or the Metro Mayor’s office at 931-759-7076. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only independently owned and operated newspaper in Moore County … covering Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, the Lynchburg Music Fest, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

Metro Mayor: No mask mandate in Moore County

Metro Mayor Bonnie Lewis says she and Metro Sheriff Tyler Hatfield are in agreement that a mask mandate would be difficult to enforce in Moore County. {File Photo}

MOORE COUNTY — According to Metro Mayor Bonnie Lewis, she will not issue a mask mandate in Moore County. On July 3, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee issued Executive Order 54, granting Tennessee county mayors and executives the power to issue individual mask mandates in their locations. The Governor’s office official position is that they high recommend but will not require masks.

The following day on Metro Moore County’s Facebook Page, Mayor Bonnie Lewis issued a public statement saying she had no plans to issue such a mandate.

“I do not plan on issuing a mandate in Moore County saying our citizens have to wear a mask,” Mayor Lewis stated. “Sheriff Hatfield and I are in agreement. We don’t have the manpower to police any such action and we don’t think it is the right thing to do here. I understand why the governor wanted to give the decision to the local governments because one size ruling does not fit all. Since the beginning, he has also recommended that we need to be responsible.

“It is obvious that folks are at different levels of comfort with the coronavirus,” she continued. “People are ready to make decisions about what they feel is best for them and their family. I have faith our citizens will be considerate and respectful of others by giving everyone their space – literally and figuratively.”

Larger communities like Davidson County (Nashville), Williamson County (Franklin), Hamilton County (Chattanooga), Robertson County (Springfield), and Sumner County (Gallatin) all issued mandatory mask mandates.

Many officials in southern, middle Tennessee’s smaller, more rural counties choose not to mandate masks. In addition to Moore County, mayors in Coffee, Franklin, Giles, and Lawrence counties have publicly stated that they do no intend to issue a mask mandate.

To express your opinion for or against a mask mandate in Moore County, contact Mayor Lewis at 931-759-7076. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only independently owned and operated newspaper in Moore County … covering Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, the Lynchburg Music Fest, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

Public service won’t take place on Memorial Day

Due to COVID-19 concerns, the local American Legion post will not host a public Memorial Day ceremony on the Lynchburg Square this year. {File Photo}

LYNCHBURG — According to American Legion Post 192 Commander Bill Thomas of Lynchburg, for the first time in 27 years, there will not be a Memorial Day ceremony on the Lynchburg Square on Monday, May 25 due to COVID-19 concerns. But that doesn’t mean Moore County won’t remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Metro Mayor Bonnie Lewis encourages locals to show a public display of respect … even if we can’t gather together. Instead, she suggested that from today through Memorial Day citizens stop by the Lynchburg Square and place a flag, flower, or your choice of remembrance on the Courthouse lawn.

“We are thankful for those that gave their all for our freedom and for our local veterans who usually lead us in our annual remembrance ceremony,” Mayor Lewis state on Metro Facebook page. “Out of respect for all, we can show appreciation this year in a different way and look forward to next year when we gather in our lawn chairs.”

Commander Thomas also suggested that citizens could light a red candle on Memorial Day to “remember those who shed their blood in combat and made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country.” •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only independently owned and operated newspaper in Lynchburg. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

Metro Council rejects another attempt to revise barrel tax issue

They are built from scratch from American white oak then individually charred 20-25 seconds to give Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey its distinct color and flavor. Ask any distiller and they’ll tell you, the barrel is a key ingredient in the Lynchburg whiskey-making process. And that barrel was once again the subject at a recent Metro Council meeting.

On Monday, council member Wayne Hawkins asked to be added to the agenda to seek approval for Moore County to initiate legal remedies against the State of Tennessee for the second time in less than six months. The issue? The language of what the local property assessor believe is 80 plus years of unpaid, whiskey barrel tax by Jack Daniel’s Distillery.

But first a little backstory

To understand the events of Monday night, you must first understand it’s genesis. All Metro offices are audited annually through the State Comptroller’s office at no cost to the county. It also pays third party auditors to conduct individual property tax audits … either randomly chosen or picked by the local assessor’s office.

From talking to multiple sources, the barrel tax issue all started with a third party auditor in 2017. That individual was the first to suggest that barrels were subject to property tax. Initially one individual within the State Comptroller’s office agreed by e-mail that the barrels were taxable, but even in that e-mail, the person said he had very limited knowledge of the whiskey and barrel manufacturing process.

Then, the state auditor’s office even went so far as to estimate that Jack Daniel owed Metro Moore $2.7 million in revenue from fiscal year 2017-18 that was “due but not yet collected” and buoyed by the exact number, the local office mailed Jack Daniel’s Distillery a bill … something they’ve done every year since.

Then in 2018, as the State Legislature considered the law that clarified that the barrels are exempt, the Comptroller’s office learned more about those facts and, ultimately, more senior members of the Comptroller’s office withdrew their support of the original auditor and Metro Assessor’s position.

A few weeks later, the Tennessee Legislature overwhelmingly approved a bill with some telling language. It allowed, “Tennessee whiskey barrels to remain exempt from property tax.” HB 2038 passed in the House of Representatives by a 78-12 margin and it’s companion bill SB 2076 passed unanimously in the Senate before heading to Governor Bill Haslam’s desk.

Hawkins makes detailed presentation

Hawkins made several assertion in his Power Point presentation:

Assertion #1: “Up until the early months of Lamar Alexander’s first term, Brown-Forman paid taxes on the barrels they purchased.”

Not true, said Metro Mayor Bonnie Lewis during open discussion.

“Never, ever has Jack Daniel’s paid a barrel tax to Moore County … ever,” she stated emphatically. “The 2018 law was nothing more than a clarification.”

It’s a fact confirmed by the Tennessee Distillers Guild who in 2018 told The Tennessean they polled the group’s membership and none have ever been accessed property tax on whiskey barrels. The Guild represents over 30 distilleries from Memphis to Knoxville and all points along the way including Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, Prichard’s Distillery in Kelso, Short Mountain Distillery in Woodbury, Southern Pride Distillery in Fayettevile, and the Nearest Green Distillery in Shelbyville.

Assertion #2: “In concert with Brown-Forman’s management, the Alexander administration reclassified the barrels as manufacturing process equipment (or property), which is not subject to sales tax.

This is where the presentation gets a little muddy. Property tax and sales tax are two different things. The law Hawkins asked his fellow council members to sue the state over references barrels as the subject of property tax not sales tax.

Furthermore, Mayor Lewis confirmed with Jack Daniel’s Distillery that it does not pay sales tax on the barrels because it acquires or uses them under a “sale for resale” certificate, which is what any manufacturer uses when buying a component part of a product it manufactures and resells.

In a written statement to Mayor Lewis, the distillery stated, “In other words, for sales tax purposes, Jack Daniels treats the barrels and their parts as materials that will be manufactured into a final product sold to customer, which is consistent with the fact that the barrels are not subject to property tax because they are manufactured items.”

The exact language of the bill then State Representative David Alexander sponsored (HB 2038) is, “As enacted, specifies that aged whiskey barrels, during the time in which such barrels are owned or leased by a person that produces or manufactures whiskey in those barrels, are considered, and have always been considered, “articles manufactured from the produce of this state, or any other state of the union, in the hands of the manufacturer”, for purposes of exemption from property taxation.

“It’s an industry killer.”

Hawkins based his request, in part, on a 2017 Moore County audit that assumed “all equipment used in the manufacturing process has always been considered as property subject to property taxes in both Tennessee and Kentucky.”

In a 2014 interview with Whiskycast, Kentucky Distillers Association President Eric Gregory stated that, “Kentucky is the only place in the world that actually taxes barrels of aging spirit.”

And even Kentucky changed it’s mind. In April 2014, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear rescinded its “barrel tax” calling it an “industry killer.”

It’s an opinion Metro Mayor Bonnie Lewis shares.

During Monday night’s meeting she told the council, “If you want to see to the impact of Jack Daniel in little Lynchburg come sit with me all day, every day since March,” she told the council. “It’s a ghost town. The people who have been allowed to open their businesses … it doesn’t matter. Because until Jack Daniel reopens, we’re Mulberry or Petersburg.”

{Editor’s Note: In March, Brown-Forman decided to suspend tours at the Lynchburg distillery in response to COVID-19. It remains shuttered today. Click here for that article.}

She also reminded the council that the “barrel tax” question was added to the ballot in 2012 and Moore County voters did not approve it. She also asserted that the 2012 barrel tax effort played a part in Brown-Forman shifting part of it’s barrel construction into Lincoln County.

“Drive south on Highway 55 and go into Fayetteville 37334, there’s where all your barrels are going. Those warehouses are built daily.”

She continued that moving forward with never-ending efforts to tax Jack Daniel barrels as property would make Fayetteville Mayor Bill Newman and Lincoln County taxpayers “very happy.”

In the end, the majority of council members agreed: John Taylor, Sunny Rae Moorehead, Meghan Bailey, Keith Moses, Houston Lindsay, Amy Cashion, Denning Harder, Arvis Bobo, and Gerald Burnett voted against approving money to pursue the barrel tax issue. Wayne Hawkins, Tommy Brown, and Gordan Millsaps voted in favor. David Boyce and Sandy Thomas were not present at the meeting. Attending remotely, Patrick Maynard lost connection prior to the vote. It failed 9-3.

When we reached out for comment, both of Moore County’s state legislators agreed with the council’s final decision.

“I would not support any any action to impose a barrel tax on our distillers,” Representative Iris Rudder told The Times. “You have to remember that any such tax wouldn’t just affect Jack Daniel. There would be lots of smaller distillers affected as well.”

State Senator Shane Reeves agreed.

“Jack Daniel’s has been making its world-famous whiskey since 1866 in Lynchburg,” he said. “That 150-year partnership, which has brought a lot of jobs, tourism, and revenue into this county, has only been possible because of the intentional effort by Moore County to have a low-tax, pro-business climate. Let’s not break something that has been working for over 15 decades.”

In a bit of serendipity, Jack Daniel mailed its annual Distillery Report to Moore County homes this week. In it, the Distillery reports that it accounts for one-half of all local taxes collected in Metro Moore County. Additionally, Visitors Center bottle sales contributed another $333,000 to Metro’s debt fund. They also employ over 700 Moore County residents, which is equivalent to 50 percent of all private sector jobs.

In addition, the reports states, that Jack Daniel’s “substantial payroll and vendor purchases ripple throughout the region” to the tune of $100 million in employee compensation and another $182 million in compensation throughout the state.

They also make hundreds of charitable donation to groups as close as the Whiskey Runners Car Club and Lynchburg Youth Baseball and national groups like the Alzheimer’s Association and the American Cancer Society. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only independently owned and operated newspaper in Lynchburg. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

May 5 COVID-19 Update: 4 Things You Need to Know Today

{Graphic Courtesy of the TN Dept. of Health}

The Tennessee Department of Health released new COVID-19 case counts on Tuesday at 2 p.m. and Tennessee now reports 13,690 (119 more than the previous day). Our state has now experienced 226 deaths (seven more since yesterday). According to the state, 6,356 COVID-19 patients have recovered. That’s around 47 percent of reported cases. As of today, 218,795 of Tennessee’s 6.8 million residents have been tested. Here’s the top four things you need to know for today:

1| Lynchburg’s official count remain three. Moore County continues to reflect three cases with 184 Moore County residents tested. Regionally, the counts are as follows: Bedford County (201), Coffee County (45), Franklin County (36), and Lincoln County (16).

2 | State stops updating Mayor Lewis daily. According to Mayor Lewis, the Tennessee Department of Health will no longer update her office daily about new confirmed cases. Instead they will personally update every time that number increases by a factor of five.

3 | Republican officials want COVID restrictions listed. On Tuesday, Republican Party leadership from eight Middle Tennessee counties sent an open letter to Governor Bill Lee asking for a repeal of the state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions. The letter was signed by leadership from Coffee, Giles, Lawrence, Lincoln, Marshall, Maury, Perry, and Wayne counties. Membership from Moore County did not sign the letter.

4 | Mass prison testing begins this week. According to Governor Lee’s Unified Command Group, every Tennessee Department of Corrections prison inmate and state will be tested for COVID-19 this week.

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently owned and operated newspaper that publishes new stories every morning. Covering Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

Pizzeria approved for on-site beer sales

LOCAL NEWS — Well Lynchburg, you can now have a frosty cold beer with that slice of wood fired pizza. On Tuesday, the Metro Moore Beer Board approved the application for off-site and on-site beer consumption for the Stave and Stone Pizzeria and Baking Company located at the Lynchburg Cigar Company. The business is located at 10 Hiles Street, just off the Lynchburg Square.

This does not mean however; that Lynchburg is now a wet county. Metro Moore’s “dry” designation means there are no liquor store in Moore County and restaurant may not serve liquor by the drink. This remains true.

Beer sales however are controlled the local beer board and the Metro Moore Beer Board members. On Tuesday, Chairman Buford Jennings and member Amy Cashion voted in favor of the approval. A third member, Tommy Brown, resigned from the Beer Board at the previous Metro Council Meeting.

With just two members, there was a risk of a tie vote. So Metro Mayor Bonnie Lewis attended to serve as an ex-officio member, should her vote be necessary. It wasn’t. Both Chairman Jennings and Cashion voted in favor and the permit was approved 2-0.

Jim Clinton, who owns the Lynchburg Cigar Company and Stone Pizzeria, attended the meeting and stressed his desire to run a “family-type pizza place” as well as take the “privilege” of serving seriously.

The Board will consider more applications for on-site consumption at their next meeting, which takes place on Monday at 4:30 p.m. at the American Legion Building. At that meeting, the Board will consider applications from both Barrel House BBQ and Lynchburg Winery.•