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Commissioners clash over funding for Mt. Juliet ballpark

Discussion became heated at the Mt. Juliet City Commission Monday night as the board discussed funding for the Mt. Juliet League ballpark.

The commission heard the second reading of an ordinance amending the budget to appropriate funds for lighting at the Mt. Juliet League, Inc. baseball and softball park. If approved, the City would loan the ballpark $450,000, to be paid back to the city interest free over the course of 10 years. The funds would go toward replacing the lights at the field.

Commissioner Ray Justice, whose district includes the ballpark, is also the president of the Mt. Juliet League Board. As such, he abstained from voting on the amendments but remained seated for the discussions. Mayor Ed Hagerty was also absent from the meeting, leaving the board with three voting members on the ordinance.

In a tense moment, Justice accused Commissioner Art Giles of not being supportive of youth sports in the city because Giles had announced he would not support the ordinance. Giles said that while he supports youth sports in Mt. Juliet, he would not vote to approve the ordinance as he’s heard concerns from his constituents about the city acting as a bank.

Giles also noted that the city had just settled a lawsuit with the Wilson County Board of Education, which was voted on earlier in the meeting, in addition to finding funds for the fire stations.

Commissioner Jennifer Milele was supportive of the ordinance because of how many people who utilize the ballpark come from outside the city, which in turn brings more business to the community.

The ordinance was amended four times before it was ultimately deferred. The board voted 3-0-1 to change the loan amount to $435,000 and agreed on a repayment schedule of $45,000 per year over a 10-year period. The payments would go back into the hotel/motel tax, which is where the funds for the loan originate.

In an attempt to clarify final wording of the ordinance, Vice Mayor James Maness made a motion to defer the item for one meeting, but it failed with 2-2 vote. Justice was worried that deferring the vote would have a negative impact on the project timeline and would conflict with spring sports.

Another motion was made to defer it one week and hold a special called meeting, which passed. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 21 at City Hall.

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