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Press Release from the Office of Justin P. Wilson, Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, April 2, 2019:

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office is making it easier to understand the technical terms and jargon of public finance with its new glossary entitled Defining Tennessee Finance: A Glossary of Public Finance.

The Comptroller’s Office has many responsibilities related to Tennessee’s public finances including managing the state’s debt programs and working to maintain and monitor the financial health of state and local government entities.

This glossary will be a useful tool for government leaders, policymakers, government employees, and Tennessee citizens who are interested in learning more about Tennessee’s finances and understanding many commonly-used terms.

The glossary contains more than 180 entries covering many areas related to public finance. Sample terms include:

  • Amortization
  • Issuer
  • Balloon Indebtedness
  • Municipal Bond
  • Bond
  • Negotiated Sale
  • Commercial Paper
  • Note
  • Investment Grade
  • Par Value

“Tennessee is nationally recognized for its financial health and stability,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “We are grateful that our state’s leaders remain committed to fiscal integrity, and we hope this glossary provides them with an easy-to-use reference.”

The Public Finance Glossary can be found online by clicking here.

Follow the Comptroller’s Office on twitter @TNCOT

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, March 28, 2019:

Link: https://www.tn.gov/workforce/general-resources/news/2019/3/28/unemployment-rates-drop-in-every-county-across-tennessee.html

NASHVILLE– The unemployment rate for each of Tennessee’s counties improved in February according to new information released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD).

Eighty of Tennessee’s 95 counties have an unemployment rate less than 5 percent, a marked improvement from January’s jobless numbers.

“It is encouraging when unemployment rates drop in every county across the state,” said TDLWD Commissioner Jeff McCord.

Williamson County leads the state with the lowest unemployment in February. The county’s 2.2 percent rate is 0.2 of a percentage point lower than the previous month.

Both Davidson and Rutherford counties have the second lowest unemployment rates at 2.3 percent. That marks a 0.3 of a percentage point drop for Davidson County, while Rutherford County is down 0.4 percent of a percentage point when compared to January.

With a rate of 5.9 percent, Lake County has the state’s highest rate of unemployment for February. The latest statistic represents a decrease of 3.4 percentage points from the previous month’s rate.

Hancock County recorded the second highest unemployment rate at 5.8 percent, which is a 1.5 percentage point drop from its January rate.

“It is heartening to see unemployment rates in some of Tennessee’s rural counties rebound from last month,” McCord said. “We will continue to align our efforts with the state’s rural counties to support economic growth.”

Tennessee’s seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment rate reached an all-time low of 3.2 percent in February. That figure bested the previous record low of 3.3 percent, which was the state’s unemployment rate between October and January.

Nationally, unemployment dropped to 3.8 percent, a 0.2 of a percentage point decrease from January’s revised rate of 4 percent.

A complete analysis of Tennessee’s county unemployment data for February 2019 can be found here.

Tennesseans searching for new or better employment opportunities can access more than 150,000 current job openings, as well as other job search tools on the state’s workforce development website, Jobs4TN.gov.

The state of Tennessee will release statewide unemployment data for March 2019, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at 1:30 p.m. CT.

In wake of the blockbuster news that Robert Mueller’s two-year collusion investigation turned up no proof that Donald Trump illegally coordinated or improperly communicated with the Russian government during the 2016 election, a pair of Republican Tennessee congressional lawmakers took the opportunity to take a swipe at one of Congress’s most visible and vocal proselytizers of the conspiracy theory.

Freshmen Reps. Mark Green of Clarksville and Tim Burchett of Knoxville collaborated this week on a video lampoon jeering California Rep. Adam Schiff, an unremitting and unapologetic Trump-Russia collusion-monger.

D.C.-based political website TheHill.com picked up the social media send up:

In a video posted by Rep. Mark Green, the congressman and fellow Tennessee GOP Rep. Tim Burchett pretended to unveil an exclusive copy of the “Schiff report,” or the evidence that Schiff has asserted exists to prove collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. “I got the Schiff report!” Burchett, dressed in a brown overcoat, tells a grinning Green in the video before handing over a manilla envelope marked as such.

“Holy cow, he’s got the Schiff report,” Green exclaims in response. “There’s gotta be proof of collusion, evidence in here, right?”

The two then open the envelope, revealing it to be empty.

House Republicans have been calling this week for Schiff to step down from his post as chairman of the chamber’s intelligence committee.

“The findings of the special counsel conclusively refute your past and present assertions and have exposed you as having abused your position to knowingly promote false information, having damaged the integrity of this Committee, and undermined faith in U.S. government institutions,” the nine Republican members of Schiff’s committee wrote to him in a letter delivered March 24.

They concluded, “we have no faith in your ability to discharge your duties in a manner consistent with your constitutional responsibility and urge your immediate resignation as chairman of this committee.”

Schiff maintains he’s done nothing discreditable, and that when Mueller’s full report is made public it will substantiate accusations of wrongdoing against Trump and his family.

Democrats hold a 13-9 majority on the House Intelligence Committee.

The Republican letter calling on Chairman Schiff to step down followed a notice to Congress from U.S. Attorney General William Barr declaring that Mueller’s “special counsel investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election.”

Press Release from TennGreen, March 15, 2019:

Link: https://www.tenngreen.org/single-post/2019/03/18/Fall-Creek-Falls-Expansion

The Tennessee Parks & Greenways Foundation (TennGreen) and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) are thrilled to announce the protection of two significant inholdings in Fall Creek Falls State Park, located in Van Buren County.

These two properties, which total around 27 acres on the northwest side of Fall Creek Falls State Park, have been areas of interest to TDEC for decades. Prior to TennGreen’s acquisition, both tracts were privately-owned and the landowners planned to sell them at auction. However, in order to ensure that these lands would be available to the public, the landowners agreed to work with TennGreen directly.

In early 2019, TennGreen purchased both properties on behalf of TDEC. Acquisition of these forested lands, located near the meeting point of Camps Gulf Branch and Cane Creek, will protect wildlife corridors and enable parks staff to more effectively maintain the park’s boundaries and highly-used amenities.

“Fall Creek Falls is already a natural gem,” said David Salyers, Commissioner for TDEC. “We are grateful to TennGreen and the landowners for making this wonderful expansion possible. This is an excellent example of what partnerships like this can achieve, and I’m excited that we are adding this beautiful forested area to a park that is already such a special place.”

We are pleased to see this important step,” said Jacob Young, Park Manager at Fall Creek Falls. “We are honored to be stewards of this property and we are glad this expansion can be enjoyed as part of Fall Creek Falls State Park for generations to come.”

Fall Creek Falls State Park is one of Tennessee’s most visited state parks. Named after the highest free-falling waterfall east of the Mississippi River—the 256-foot Fall Creek Falls—the park is home to a variety of activities, with more than 56 miles of trails, caves, overlooks, and waterfalls.

This expansion of Fall Creek Falls State Park represents one of TennGreen’s many successful partnerships with the State of Tennessee to protect lands in the Scotts Gulf region. Since 1998, TennGreen has assisted in the conservation of more than 8,000 acres—including Buzzards Roost/Millikan’s Overlook and the Cane Creek Crusher Hole in Fall Creek Falls State Park, Welch’s Point, and Virgin Falls State Natural Area.

“This acquisition will protect water quality and scenic views in the Camps Gulf area,” said Steve Law, Executive Director of TennGreen. “It will also protect habitat in this important area of Fall Creek Falls State Park where both state- and federally-listed endangered species have been documented. TennGreen is grateful for its partnership with the State of Tennessee to protect the beauty and natural assets of the Upper Cumberland for current inhabitants and future generations to enjoy.”

TennGreen is grateful to Dr. Stephen Stedman, Gloria & Ted LaRoche, Ann & Clark Tidwell, Louise Gorenflo & Dennis Gregg, and Nita Whitfield for their generous contributions to this project.

PRESS RELEASE from the Brewers Association of Small and Independent Craft Brewers, July 19, 2017:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (July 19, 2017)Tennessee Brew Works has partnered with the Tennessee State Parks by creating a new Tennessee State Parks Beer, “State Park Blonde Ale,” with a portion of sales benefiting the mission of Tennessee State Parks.

The Tennessee State Parks and Tennessee Brew Works teams met almost two years ago. Sharing ideas over a common bond of craft beer with aims to better our land and community, they quickly became friends. Since then, they have been actively discussing projects and possible ways for the two organizations to optimize their synergies.

“Together we have found a way to make delicious Tennessee Brew Works craft beer and support Tennessee State Parks with our State Park Blonde Ale. We proudly support the mission of Beer StylesTennessee State Parks as they preserve and protect our natural resources,” said Christian Spears, founder and owner, Tennessee Brew Works.

Fans of Tennessee Brew Works will recognize the beer’s distinctive label artwork, created by Nashville native Bryce McCloud. The State Park Blonde Ale features the image of State Naturalist, Randy Hedgepath. Randy has served the park service for more than 30 years, working as a Ranger Naturalist at South Cumberland and Radnor Lake State Parks. He was appointed State Naturalist by the Tennessee State Parks in 2007. As a former National Park Service Interpretive Specialist, Randy is also one of the most sought after interpretive specialists in the southeastern United States.

Tennessee Brew Work’s State Park Blonde Ale is light, crisp American blonde session ale with subtle floral notes, created with high quality grains and hops. The new beer will be distributed throughout Tennessee and served on draft and in bottles at the Tennessee Brew Works Taproom, 809 Ewing Avenue in downtown Nashville and the Tennessee Brew Works kiosk at the Nashville International Airport.

“Tennessee Brew Works and Tennessee State Parks have combined our mutual appreciation for local craft brew, spectacular landscapes and the great stories of our state. Utilizing Tennessee Brew Works craft beer sales for the benefit of our Tennessee State Parks system is a perfect pairing.

A portion of the sales of the State Park Blonde Ale will be provided to the Tennessee State Parks Conservancy, our non-profit partner, and used to support efforts to preserve and protect our state’s natural and cultural assets. We look forward to the release of the State Park Blonde Ale statewide this month,” said Brock Hill, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Deputy Commissioner.

About Tennessee State Parks

From its beginning in 1937, Tennessee State Parks were established to protect and preserve the unique natural, cultural and historic resources of Tennessee. The public interest has also been served by a variety of benefits for citizens and communities produced by our state park system, promoting stronger communities and healthier citizens across the state through diverse resource-based recreation while conserving the natural environment for today and tomorrow – preserving authentic Tennessee places and spaces for future generations to enjoy. There are 56 Tennessee State Parks to explore.

About Tennessee Brew Works

Tennessee Brew Works was born from a love for craft beer. A startup which began over a home-brew session, they ultimately celebrated their first professional brew in August 2013. Tennessee Brew Works is 100% owned and operated by folks in Tennessee. They are guided by their motto: “We work hard to create high quality craft beer that makes Tennessee proud. Our culture places importance on family, friends, and community, and we hope you’ll be a part of it.”

TDEC adding ‘amendment’ to ongoing RFP; Attorney general says process legal

Officials in the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam have postponed the deadline for private companies to submit proposals for operating a new $22 million hotel at Fall Creek Falls State Park.

The state Department of Environment and Conservation, which supervises state parks and natural areas in Tennessee, is planning to amend the “Request for Proposals” process that it launched last year, according to Eric Ward, a spokesman for the agency.

Prior to the delay announcement, March 2 was the scheduled deadline for companies to submit first-phase operational proposals for running the future restaurant and lodging facility, which would remain owned by the state.

The construction funding for the project has already been approved by the Tennessee General Assembly. The new facility is expected to replace the existing inn, built in the early 1970s, on the banks of scenic Fall Creek Lake.

Ward said “content revisions to the RFP” are currently in the works by TDEC planners.

In an emailed response to inquiries by Center Hill Sun, Ward said that because the companies bidding are engaged in a “competitive procurement process,” the specific nature of the changes will remain under wraps until their formal public release.

“The amended language will be available soon,” Ward wrote on Thursday.

Originally, the state was scheduled to finalize an agreement by July 1. The “concessionaire” firm that wins the contract would also take over management of the state park golf course in addition to the new inn facilities, expected to be completed in 2020.

A statement issued in January from TDEC asserted that the ultimate goal of the hospitality-service privatization initiative is to “more effectively steward taxpayer dollars by better protecting the park’s assets.”

The department also predicts an economic bounce to surrounding communities as a result.

The 26,000-acre park straddles Van Buren and Bledsoe Counties, both of which are considered “economically distressed” by the state and federal government. The same is true of White County to the north and parts of Warren County to the west.

TDEC officials say the existing hotel tends to run occupancy rates below 40 percent. The average hotel occupancy-rate nationally was 65.5 percent in 2016, according to industry estimates used by the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association. In the Southeastern United States, the average was 61.4 percent and in Tennessee it was 64.5 percent.

“Increased occupancy and visitation with a new Inn will provide increased tax revenues for the local government and reliable employment for local citizens once the rebuild is complete,” according to the TDEC statement from earlier this year.

Unhappy Union Employees

The plan isn’t without its critics. Government employees at the hotel and restaurant worry they won’t enjoy the same benefits and job protections under a company intent on turning a profit.

Randy Stamps, executive director of of the Tennessee State Employees Association, would rather see the existing inn renovated and repaired and remain operated by public-payroll workers.

“Or, if poor structural conditions require we demolish and rebuild the inn, we should run it with state employees for a few years to raise occupancy rates and then reassess the value of a new inn running at its peak,” Stamps wrote in a January op-ed for The Tennessean.

An effort in 2015 by the Haslam administration to entice an outside company to run the inn failed to draw any interest because of the facility’s poor condition.

One bureaucratic peculiarity involving the project didn’t go unnoticed by opponents of a private company running the hotel.

Up until last week, the Haslam administration was seeking to approve plans for designing and constructing the new hotel itself, outside the customary review-and-oversight processes for publicly owned structures. Typically, that is supervised by the State Building Commission.

However, the administration has now apparently agreed to seek consent of some form for the new hotel design from the commission.

The Building Commission is made up of high-ranking officials from various arms of state government — including the speaker of the House, the secretary of state, the comptroller, the treasurer, the Department of Finance commissioner and the governor himself.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, who also serves on the Building Commission in his capacity as lieutenant governor, told reporters at the Capitol last week the RFP holdup is “somewhere between a bump in the road and a roadblock.”

“It’s not a roadblock, but it’s not as insignificant as a bump in the road,” according to McNally.

The Tennessee attorney general’s office has released an opinion declaring that, provided the State Building Commission agrees to the terms, the state may “enter into agreements concerning state-owned or state-controlled lands and facilities, such as the proposed RFP and Concession Contract for the operation of Fall Creek Falls State Park.”

(Editor’s Note: This story was updated March 7.)

Window Cliffs area offers yet another scenic attraction to region

Outdoor enthusiasts will soon have another remarkable Upper Cumberland landform to behold and appreciate.

Located in Putnam County — southwest of Cookeville and a bit north-northwest of Burgess Falls — the newly designated Window Cliffs State Natural Area is scheduled to open to the public Friday, April 7.

The trailhead address is 8400 Old Cane Creek Rd., Baxter.

The 275-acre haven of Highland Rim splendor promises yet another splendid hiking getaway for a region already brimming with robust outdoor recreation opportunities.

“It is a spectacular area in terms of scenery,” said state naturalist Randy Hedgepath, who leads tours and directs nature-education programs on public lands around Tennessee.

“You have a bluff that separates the upstream and downstream parts of the creek there,” Hedgepath said. “The bluff has eroded from both sides causing an opening to develop — hence the name ‘Window Cliffs.’ It is also a beautiful area of native forests. The stream that runs through the area and the rock formations are really pretty.”

The eight-mile trail at Window Cliffs — which crosses Cane Creek a number of times within the area’s boundaries — will supply visitors with ample opportunity for birdwatching, flower-gazing, woods wandering, animal observing and vista viewing.

The gemstone of the natural area of course is the age-hewn limestone pinnacle hemmed in by an oxbow bend along Cane Creek, which empties into Center Hill Lake a couple miles downstream.

“At the narrowest point, the cliff is only about 50 yards wide at the base with the clifftops just a few feet wide,” according to a survey-description by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which oversees state parks and natural areas. “However, the stream distance separating the two cliff-faces is about 0.8 mile. The narrow cliffs have resulted from erosion and natural bridges or ‘windows’ appear within them.”

The area will compliment Burgess Falls in superb fashion, said state park manager Bill Summers. Like Burgess Falls, Window Cliffs will be a day-use area only.

Whereas the foot trail above Burgess Falls is relatively easy and short, the trek from trailhead to the Window Cliffs is a “fairly strenuous” four miles each way, said Summers.

“You start the hike on the Highland Rim, then descend into the Central Basin, then back up onto the Highland Rim,” he said. “We are rating it strenuous because of the elevation change and the nine creek crossings.”

“There’s a steep ascent toward the top of the Window Cliffs,” he added.

Summers does not doubt that the area will draw crowds, though — both because of the landscape and “a rare botanical area along the cliffs and on top of the cliffs,” he said.

The area is special for “the uniqueness of the scenery and rarity of the plant species,” said Summers, who has headed ranger operations at Burgess Falls State Park since 2004.

Plans have been in the works for the state to acquire the area for many years, but didn’t come to fruition until the last three years, with the help of the Land Trust of Tennessee, he said.

Summers noted that visitors to the area won’t be allowed to climb the distinctive rock formations due both to safety and conservation concerns. “The window cliffs are limestone, and the limestone is very fragile. Just by touching it it falls apart,” he said. “The trail doesn’t go through the windows because the rock will fall apart and the trail would become very unstable.”

A grand opening ceremony for the Window Cliffs State Natural Area is tentatively scheduled for April 7.

Emily Parish, who works for the nonprofit Land Trust, describes the limestone crags and window-arch as “a one-of-a-kind thing.”

“As you’re hiking along it almost feels like they appear out of nowhere,” she said. “It is a nice surprise when you get to the end when you see those cliffs. It will just be a really pretty place for people to visit.”

Parish said the Land Trust is just recently putting the finishing touches on the property purchases to complete the area. She noted that locals have been visiting the cliffs for years, despite it being private property.

“A lot of people have been going there for a long time, perhaps not legally,” she said. “But now they will be able to go see it without trespassing.”

Repairs planned, but not for popular old metal stairway

Storm-damage last summer to scenic observation decks and the unique gorge-descending staircase are keeping prime Burgess Falls viewing points inaccessible this spring.

A notice on the state park’s website declares, “Repair work should begin on the overlook shortly, but the stairs down to the main falls will remained closed.”

Visitors may still hike along the Falling Water River and view various smaller cascades in the park.

“Extensive damage” to the metal staircase and overlooks in July resulted in both being “compromised and badly damaged,” park officials say.

Repairs are planned for the main falls overlook, which will cost around $55,000, and the middle falls overlook after that, said Kelly Brockman, a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman.

burgessclosedsign

Storms last summer blew out two overlooks and the staircase into the gorge at the popular state park along Falling Water River.

Federal money has also been earmarked for park upgrades by way of the Americans With Disabilities Act. “That should help as well,” she said. “We do have funding for that, and we are in the early design process.”

However, no plans are in the works to fix and reopen the staircase, which is fastened to 90-year-old concrete pillars.

“That’s more of a capital project, and we don’t have funding for that right now,” said Brockman.

Located on the Falling Water River southwest of Cookeville, Burgess Falls State Park is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.

“A lot of folks come from all over the United States to see this, it’s unbelievable,” said Mike Jeffers, whose family runs MMKM Family Produce on Burgess Falls Road.

Jeffers’ business is noticeably off this spring, as it was last year after the overlook and staircase closings.

“We’re down 50 percent, easy,” he said. “People go down there and they come out mad. They drive a long way and they can’t see anything.”

Jeffers, who’s been in business 13 years, figures he can weather the financial doldrums, though. When the Window Cliffs Natural Area opens, “we’ll be right in the middle of both parks,” he said.