United States Senator Marsha Blackburn joined Mayor Newman via Zoom call to discuss the status of Lincoln County and its relationship to Congress.
The meeting opened with Senator Blackburn giving a rundown of the current issues that she and other Senate Republicans are facing, assuring those on the call that actions are being taken to move forward with President Trump’s agenda.
After this cursory walk through of what’s happening on the macro-level, Senator Blackburn gave Mayor Newman an opportunity to update her on the status of COVID-19 in Lincoln County, specifically as it pertains to the County School system. Mayor Newman led with some levity, saying, “Well, I would say this – Lincoln County is doing better than Washington DC.” Mayor Newman went on, “We are really in good shape. Our sales tax has actually [higher than] last year’s.”
Mayor Neman then offered direct thanks to Senator Blackburn and her peers for assistance with the financial stability of Lincoln Health system during the COVID-19, saying, “I’ll tell you one of the best things that happened to us that came down from ya’ll – our health system is county-owned. We were in a very tough situation even before [the pandemic] hit; we were down to $6 million total and we had a note payment of about $2 million that was coming out of that. And with the $9 million that you sent us, we’re in really good shape… You saved our life on that.” Newman, in further expounding on his thanks, then went on to explain that the total quantity of federal aid passed down to Lincoln County during the COVID-19 crisis is $51 million, a sizable sum whose endowment is largely the result of efforts made in congress.
Mayor Newman then provided Senator Blackburn with the data on Lincoln County’s COVID-19 infection rate, saying, “Our overall [positive percentage] since we started testing has been about 8%. Now, we’ve had some times when we were over 15% positive on a single day. But, in general, we’ve kind of leveled out.” Mayor Newman stated as he has in the past that he is currently reticent to mandate Lincoln County citizens to wear masks, but is keeping the option on the table as he attempts to manage the pressure from both those who are pro-mask and those who are anti-mask.
Addressing the status of the school system, Mayor Newman informed Senator Blackburn that there are three students and two staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19, going on to note that over 100 individuals are in isolation without being affirmatively diagnosed with COVID-19. Mayor Newman’s update possessed a largely positive outlook, however, with its conclusion being praise of Bill Heath and the rest of the school system for their hard work.
Senator Blackburn interjected here to discuss the proliferation of internet access throughout Lincoln County, pointing out that 63% of Lincoln County households have access to a high-speed internet connection; whereas the state average is 75%. Mayor Newman then speculated that the 63% figure is probably accurate, but that there are other limiting factors on citizens’ ability to access the internet, such as whether or not they are able to afford it. While it did not progress much further, this section of the discussion amounted to solidarity between the mayor and the senator to work toward making internet “affordable and accessible” to the citizens of Lincoln County, with Mayor Newman noting some recent progress in the region that contains Ardmore.
Senator Blackburn then gave Lincoln County for its application of federal funding, reading off a brief rundown of how the funds had been spent and noting, “Ya’ll have really done very well.” Senator then appended this statement with a recommendation, however, pointing out Lincoln County’s possession of a rural development grant in the amount of $30,000 and encouraging Mayor Newman to look further into similar federal grants that are available for the taking. “That is money that is already appropriated,” Blackburn said; “Somebody is going to get that money, so it might as well be you.”
As the discussion drew to a close, Senator Blackburn moved on to respond to the questions that had been preemptively submitted by the county prior to the conference call, the first of which regarding the limitations on what regional television stations are available to Lincoln County citizens, a problem resultant of the proximity of the county to the Alabama border and exclusion from the Nashville DMA. Mayor Newman emphasized the significance of the problem, pointing out that it has been elevated from a matter of inconvenience to a matter of public safety, as locals may not be able to watch Governor Lee’s press conferences regarding the state of the COVDI-19 pandemic. Senator Blackburn responded by pointing out that she has been attempting to resolve this issue for some time, and will continue to.
The second question submitted pertains to unemployment in Lincoln County. Senator Blackburn’s recommendation in dealing with this issue was to take advantage of the government funding intended for unemployed citizens and the Payroll Protection Program.