Monday, June 1, 2015

The public's chance to speak out against the Jail moving to Harding Pl., or other projects: Public Hearings on the Budget June 2nd.

The first two items on the Council agenda on Tuesday night June 2nd are hearings on the budget.  There are two hearings: the first is the hearing on the operating budget  (BILL NO. BL2015-1122) and the second is the hearing on the capital improvements budget for the period 2015-16 thorough 2020-21 (.BILL NO. BL2015-1142 )  The capital improvements budget is not really a budget and it does not authorize any spending. It is a prioritized wish list of what project the city would like to build and how the project will be financed.  If contains everything from sewer replacements and expansions to green ways to sidewalks to schools. Before something can be build it must get in the capital improvements budget and the source of funding identified. If the public does not want something build such as a $100 million flood wall, or a new police headquarters on Jefferson St or a new consolidated jail on Harding Place, then the time to stop it is now! Once a project is authorized, the mayor can build it without additional council input. The way to stop a project is to get it taken it out of the Capital Improvement Budget.

If three hundred people show up Tuesday night with bright tee shirts that say, "Don't Dump all Criminals in my neighborhood" or something similar (you can probably come up with something more catchy than that), and twenty people speak on the issue at the public hearing, then that would go a long way toward stopping it.

Here are some keys to effective use of public hearings and some tips: Don't repeat what the person before you just said. Get together with others and divide up the topic. Signs are not allowed in the chamber but tee shirts with a message are. It is okay to refer to notes or read your message, if you must, but practice your speech and make eye contract and look up from your notes. Be rational and civil in your comments.

Here are some suggested talking points for why one opposes the jail locating to Harding Place: Our part of town has been hit hard- don't hit us again. The next mayor may have different priorities- wait and let the next mayor decide. Give us time to think about it- the first we knew about it was when we read it in the paper. It will cause a proliferation of undesirable neighbors- half way houses, bail bondsmen, payday lenders, and pawn shops and criminals who stay in the area and their families. Inmates released from jail need to be within walking distance of transportation options, half way houses, day labor employers, mental health resources and health clinics.

In addition to opposition to the jail moving to Harding Place, I hope there is opposition to the police headquarters moving to Jefferson. I do not think the police headquarters moving to Jefferson will be detrimental to that area, and in fact I think it could be an advantage. The reason, I think it should not be moved is that I think the jail, the courthouse, and the police station should all be located downtown. Those function need to be in close proximity to each other  and downtown is a central location. That is were they are now, so keeping there there does not imposed them on anyone else. The primary reason however, is that I think this administration has indebted the city enough and we should let the next mayor and council decide future priorities. This mayor has built the Music City Center, the new baseball park, the expanded riverfront park and amphitheater, the gulch pedestrian bridge, the Hickory Hollow ice rink and lots of other projects.  It is not that I think any one of these projects were bad projects, but cumulatively they have added a lot of debt to the city.  Unlike some of my conservative friends, I actually supported the new convention center. I would not have supported it if it was proposed for Knoxville or Memphis and I was a citizen of those cities, but I am bullish enough on Nashville to think it can succeed here.

As a percentage of the operating budget our debt service is no more excessive than in years past, but that can be misleading to judge it by that criteria only.  We have experienced a boom.  We are like a family that pays 40% of their household income toward debt payments such as credit card debt, mortgage payments, car payments and student loans.  Then, the husband starts earning bigger commissions and commission bonuses and and wife starts getting a lot of overtime. The family moves to a bigger house and buy newer cars and charges more to credit cards but their debt service is still only 40% of their household income. What happens when the commission slows down,  there are no more bonuses, and overtime is cut?

I do not think Nashville will always be the "it" city.  We should not base our long term spending on our day in the sun. If our nation experiences an economic downturn, or if their is another housing crisis or tourists simply do not want a repeat vacation to Nashville, we may be in big trouble.  I think we ought to take a break from our breakneck speed of government building and let the next mayor and next council decide priorities.

One thing to be aware of is that if something is taken out of the capital improvements budget, that allows other things that are in the budget to get funded.  Also, one reason to pay attention to the capital improvements budgets it that if one is passionate about a project and your councilman told you he would deliver, you may want to look at the capital improvements budget to insure it is in there. If it is not in the CIB then it is not even on the wish list.

BILL NO. BL2015-1142 is the capital improvements budget ordinance but it does not tell you much. To see what projects are actually included in the 2015-2016 capital improvements budget spending plan, follow this link.  That tells you what is proposed to be funded this year. To see the complete 340-page FY 2015-16 - FY2020-2021 Capital Improvements Budget, follow this link.

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