Governor Bill Lee issued an executive order Wednesday directing all state agencies to find ways to better serve rural counties.
Jackson County Mayor Randy Heady said the governor’s quick action provides some excitement for the next four years.
“Governor Haslam and Commissioner Rolf had put some initiatives out on the table to help rural counties and I appreciate everything they have done,” Wilson said “then you have Governor Lee coming in and he makes this so high of an initiative that he puts an executive order in. That just excites me to no end to know that.”
The executive order is the first step by the Lee administration to accelerate plans to address the state’s 15 distressed counties, including Jackson, Clay, Van Buren, and Fentress.
Clay County Mayor Dale Reagan said he’s not surprised by the move as Lee talked about his desire to better serve rural counties during his campaign.
“Especially those that are at-risk or distressed and I thank the good lord up above that his focus has continued to be on that,” Reagan said. “This is good news and I want to applaud him for his focus on the issues and I look forward to working with the administration on this.”
Governor Lee said the executive order sends a clear message that rural areas will be prioritized across all departments.
“Our state has reached historic levels of prosperity and I want to ensure that the 15 distressed counties in our state benefit from a concentrated mission,” Lee said. “Each department has communicated full support as we move forward with putting this plan into motion.”
Executive departments will be required to submit a statement explaining their impact on rural communities and ways for improving those services. The statement of impact must be submitted by May 31st, 2019 and the recommendations for improvement by June 30th.
Van Buren County Mayor Greg Wilson also expressed excitement about Lee’s order, saying he hopes to see some changes when it comes to 911 funding.
“I hope the state takes a stronger look at providing greater funding for 911,” Wilson said. “As a distressed county, we contribute to the 911 financially and I’m hoping they open up more revenue for the 911 centers across the state. That would relieve some of the economic burden off the counties and cities as well.”
Wilson said he would also like to see some changes with economic development and finding more commercial retail opportunities for distressed counties.
Distressed counties rank among the 10 percent most economically distressed counties in the nation. Each year, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) prepares an index of county economic status for every county in the United States.
The 15 distressed counties in Tennessee include: Lake, Lauderdale, Hardeman, McNairy, Perry, Jackson, Clay, Grundy, Van Buren, Bledsoe, Fentress, Morgan, Scott, Hancock and Cocke.