Redistricting, rural hospitals and Ag center top topics of Cepicky town hall
By MIKE CHRISTEN firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted Aug 14, 2019 at 2:51 PM
Updated Aug 14, 2019 at 7:08 PM
As a thunderstorm passed over Columbia Central High School, Scott Cepicky, R-Columbia, took questions from both supporting and dissenting constituents on Tuesday in the first of a series of town hall meetings scheduled for the remainder of the year.
Cepicky, who represents District 64, the majority of Maury County, in the state House, was the sole representative to attend the meeting, after District 69 Rep. Michael Curio, R-Dickson, called out sick, and state Sen. Joey Hensley was requested by Gov. Bill Lee to attend a rural opportunity summit in Perry County.
During the extended meeting, a relatively intimate affair with no more than 40 attendees, the freshman state legislator took questions on his plan to build a new, potentially state-funded agriculture center in Maury County and the future redistricting of the region among other topics all surrounding the county’s ongoing transformation.
“People are moving to Tennessee because of what we have here,” Cepicky said, as he vowed to avoid any tax increases.
“I have my principles and beliefs,” Cepicky said. “There will be a point in time where the values and beliefs will not be valued but until that happens I will stand on my principles.”
Some members of the audience shared an interest in redistricting the representative districts of the state House.
“We will see the districts in Middle Tennessee get smaller and the districts in rural communities will get bigger because they have to maintain a certain percentage of representation” Cepicky said.
As a representative, Cepicky said he cannot make any decision in determining the lines of his own district but, with an increasing population, he expects to see the county share more of its voters with the surrounding regions.
“I will be willing to bet that the district that I represent is going to get a little bit smaller,” Cepicky said.
James Dallas, an active member of the local Democratic Party and a resident of District 69, spoke to representation in his district, calling it a product of gerrymandering.
“I am in one of those weird little fingers where it is easy to be overlooked,” Dallas said, following the town hall meeting. “As a Columbia resident, I would prefer to be in the same district with the rest of Columbia and Maury County. I wish that in the future they were a little more cognizant.”
District lines for all levels of government will be redrawn following the completion of the United States Census in 2020. Parts of Maury County have previously been a part of the 70th and 74th House Districts in recent decades.
The local representative said he would not support an expansion to Medicaid, optioning to pursue a block grant system in which the state would receive a lump sum and manage the funds itself.
Tennessee is one of 14 states that have not joined the Medicaid expansion.
“It sounds great to take the federal money,” Cepicky said. “Is the federal government solvent? We know that enviably that cash cow is going to run out and we are going to have to pay for that ourselves.”
He says the block grant system would be more efficient for saving the state’s funds.
“I am going to do my best to protect your money,” Cepicky said. “I believe in keeping more money in your pockets and letting you make the decisions about how you want to run your life.”
Tennessee’s rural hospitals continue to close and consolidate creating health care deserts throughout the state’s less populated regions. Since 2010, 12 hospitals have closed across the state.
Cepicky told attendees that federal and state insurance options like TennCare put a financial burden on the care centers by only funding a portion of the services cost.
An estimated 1.3 million Tennesseans are on the state program.
Cepicky said improved technology is also decreasing the cost of services and the length of a hospital stay, making them less profitable and leaving the regional care centers unable to stay in business.
“It is a challenge that Tennessee is going to face,” Cepicky said. “There is not enough business to sustain the hospital.”
He shared support for hospitals like Columbia’s Maury Regional Medical Center and its plan to expand into underserved regions with smaller facilities, providing a basic level of care and transporting those in specialized services to larger operations.
“We need to make that model sustainable,” Cepicky said.
New agriculture center
Cepicky, a former Maury County Commission chairman, has pushed for a proposal to build a new agriculture center in Maury County.
Originally planned for Maury County Park, the revised and expanded effort is projected to be built on 471 acres off of Highway 50 toward Lewisburg, about six miles from an interchange with Interstate 65.
The land is part of 12,000 acres acquired by the Tennessee Valley Authority to build the abandoned, uncompleted Fountain Creek Dam and now home to the newly opened Yanahli Park operated by Maury County Parks and Recreation.
“The Duck River Agency has said that Fountain Creek will not be built,” Cepicky said. “In the original agreement that said Maury County could request up to 1,000 acres of that land. That is 3 percent of that land that could benefit Maury County and its residents for a long time.”
Cepicky says he is now working with TVA and the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency to finalize the transfer of land to the county if the project moves forward.
Some attending the meeting shared concern that the project would take land from the greenspace.
“We are trying to figure out the best facility that we could build for us,” Cepicky said. “In September, the parks department will make a presentation to the county. We are going to give everyone a chance to speak.”
Cepicky says the site was specifically chosen because of its proximity to Highway 50. It is also within walking distance to a historic Civil War crossing and a deteriorating antebellum home.
“The TWRA is supposed to take care of it and they are not,” Cepicky said. “We believe we can generate enough to pay for the project but also create a revenue stream for Maury County that we can use to pay for our parks and help out our infrastructure.”
He says the site could be prime location to host the Tennessee State Fair.
“I think one of the jobs of a representative is to come back to the district,” Cepicky told The Daily Herald following the meeting. “Sometimes we are going to disagree on philosophy and that is Okay. I was elected to do a job and I will do that job to the best of my ability.”
Five more meetings scheduled, more legislators to attend
During the ongoing series of town hall meetings, the representatives will discuss legislation impacting the region and take questions from the public.
“I regretted not being able to be there,” Curio said.
Although Curcio was previously scheduled to only appear during the Tuesday meeting, Curcio said he may be able to attend another town hall in Hampshire which is also located in his district.
“I hated to miss the town hall,” Hensley told The Daily Herald, stating that he is set to attend all of upcoming meetings.
Here is a full list of the remaining town hall dates:
◆ Sept. 3: Spring Hill High School
◆ Sept. 24: Mt. Pleasant High School
◆ Oct. 15: Hampshire Unit School
◆ Oct. 22: Santa Fe Unit School
◆ Nov. 5: Culleoka Unit School