Monday, November 3, 2014

What is on the Council Agenda for November 4th.

Metro Council meetings are really boring if you don't know what the council is voting on.  With a copy of the council meeting agenda and staff analysis they are still boring but a little less boring. Follow the links to get your copy.

There are six appointments to Boards and Commission on the agenda for Council confirmation which always happens without discussion or anyone ever being rejected.

There are 14 bills on public hearing, most of them are zoning bills of interest to no one except nearby residents, however there are two of general interest:

BILL NO. BL2014-908 would impose proximity limits on what are often called predatory lenders, places like check cashing businesses, title loan businesses and and payday lenders and pawn shops. These  businesses, except for pawn shops, could not be located within 1/4 a mile of each other and

pawnshops could not be located within 1/4 mile of another pawn shop.  Now, I do think these businesses are somewhat slimy and they do prey on poor people.  However, they are legal and I do not think we ought to be using zoning to try to drive them out of business.

In my line of work I provide financial counseling to low income people all the time, and I have seen people who get caught in the trap of using payday lenders. It can be horrible. I have seen some people with several payday loans. If you don't know how payday lenders work let me explain.  If a person goes to one of these firms such as Speedy Cash or Advance Financial, they may borrow $250 to be paid back on pay day plus $50.   What often happens is they do not have the money to pay back the loan and they pay another $50 with the promise to pay it back the next payday. Assume they get paid every two weeks, here is the math: 50/250=20%, but there are 26 two-week periods in a year, so 20% x 26=520% interest.

A lot of people feel this is shameful and predatory and should be prohibited, but before we get too outraged over this, consider what a bank charges you if you bounce a check. They may charge you a $30 nonsufficent Fund Fee and so much a day penalty for every day overdrawn. Of course bouncing one check can then cause others to bounce. Assume one writes a check for $30 and is 1 cent short of having sufficient money for the check to clear but they put the money in their account the next day. That is the equivalent to 10,800% interest.  And, the state government provides and promotes the lottery and every convince market sells lottery tickets. Your chance of any substantial winning from the lottery is like getting struck by lighting. And consider the people who claim no dependents with their employer so they will get a bigger tax refund at the end of the year. That is the federal government ripping them off and taking advantage of their stupidity. The government takes the poor person's money and holds it all year and then returns it without paying interest.

I am not defending payday lenders, but in our name the State with the lottery and the Federal government by the over withholding of taxes are ripping people off greater than pay day lenders. I do not like payday lenders but I wonder how far we should go in protecting stupid people. No one puts a gun to their head a makes them go to a pay day lender. Payday lenders are often actually better for people with too little sense or discipline to use a bank. Also, it may be cheaper to use a payday lender than have your water cut off and have to pay a reconnect fee.

This bill has been approved by the Planning Commission. The argument in favor is that a cluster of these type establishments drive down property values. Drive down Nolensville Rd or up Dickerson Rd or Gallatin Pike and you will see these establishments but also ugly discount tobacco stores and used furniture store and tote-the-note used car lots and thrift stores and stores selling used tires. These are all unattractive and indicate an area where low income people live. Often these payday lender type establishments may be among the more attractive building along a section of highway. I don't see that dispersing the payday lender type enterprises is going to make the areas any more attractive. When there is less demand for these establishment, there will be fewer of them.  If I were in the council, I would vote against this bill.

BILL NO. BL2014-909 pertains to Short Term Rental Property often called vacation rentals where one may rent out a room in their home for the night. This type arrangement has become popular due to internet sites like airbnb.com and vrbo.com which act as a third party to connect those wanting a place to stay with those offering lodging. Currently these rentals are unregulated. This bill would define those rental places as having no more than three rooms and guest not permitted to stay longer than 30 days. This would make them legal in residential zoned areas and it would require they be registered with the city and carry a certain level of liability insurance. Certain signage would be restricted and there are a few other restrictions and they would be prohibited from offering food service. People offering these rentals would have to collect taxes. This was rejected by the planning commission over a minor technical matter but they approve the components of the bill. I can see that these places could get out of hand without some regulation and become a nuisance and I think they should be collecting the hotel-motel tax. These regulations appear reasonable. They could have been much more draconian. I support this bill.

There are 18 resolution on the agenda, all of which are on the consent agenda at this time. A bill is placed on the consent agenda if it is deemed non-controversial and it stays on consent if  it passes unanimously the committee to which it was assigned, however, any member may ask that a bill be pulled off the consent agenda. Here is a resolutions of interest:

  • RESOLUTION NO. RS2014-1270  would raise the salary of the Mayor, Vice Mayor and Council. The Mayor's salary would go from $136,500 to $180,000, the Vice Mayor from $17.000 to $22,500 and the Council from $15,000 to $20,600. It would not take effect until the new Council takes office, so no one would be voting to raise their own salary. Compared to what other cities pay, these amounts do not seem excessive, however our 40 member council is much larger than most cities to which we are compared so our Council cost the tax payers a lot more money than most. To see the discussion on this bill that took place in the Budget and Finance Committee see the video below. It is the first item on the agenda.

There are 22 bills on First Reading. First Reading is a formality and bill or not generally examined until after First reading.

There are only three bills on Second reading. This is one of interest:
  • BILL NO. BL2014-922 would prohibit the throwing of free newspapers or advertising into the yard or on the right of way by classifying it as litter. If you recall the Council worked for months to pass a bill to regulate the freebie distributed by Tennessean that litters neighborhoods across the county. What finally passed was so bureaucratic as to have almost no effect. Well, this won't either because it specifically exempts material protected by the First Amendment. I think you can produce something that is almost all advertisement but with just a little news or commentary and then it is protected. Unfortunately, it is hard to stop someone from distributing unwanted newspapers by throwing them on your sidewalk or driveway. This will hardly be worth the effort because the biggest offender will be exempt from its application.
 There are 13 bills on Third Reading. None of them are very interesting and all will pass but these two are worth mentioning:
  • BILL NO. BL2014-910  adds some new storm water management regulations that apply to infill developments.
  • BILL NO. BL2014-911 is the renewal of the tax relief for the elderly program that is passed every year.

Memorializing RESOLUTION NO. RS2014-1252  was deferred twice before and is back on the agenda. It request President Obama and Congress "to select public infrastructure improvements as the priority activity of the United States to upgrade the current substandard infrastructure of the nation, strengthen the national economy, and support healthy and vibrant communities in the United States."  I do not think the Council should be weighing in on national policy issues such as this and I hope the sponsor will withdraw this resolution or it is voted down. The Council has enough to do dealing with local issues. In my view, the Metro Council should not be telling Congress and the President what priority activity of the United States should be.

Below is the Budget and Fiance Committee meeting. 

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