Sunday, May 14, 2017

What's on the Council agenda for May 16th: Banning homesharing (STRP), electing a judge, curtaining surveillance, creating a new bureaucracy.

The Metro Council will meet Tuesday, May 16, 2017 at 6:30 PM in the Council chamber at the Metro Courthouse.  There are two important issues before the Council, one the election of a new General Sessions judge and the other, proposed action to ban most homesharing (Short Term Rental Property).

Council meetings are really boring and I watch them so you don't have to and yet you can still be a well-informed citizen of our city.  If, however, you are going to watch the council meeting, you really need the agenda and  the Council staff analysis otherwise you will be clueless about what is going on.  Follow the highlighted links above to view the agenda and staff analysis.

There is a special election for a General Session Judge.
This is to fill the vacancy of Judge Casey Moreland who resigned in disgrace and is currently facing federal criminal charges for obstruction of justice including bribery and framing a women. Those seeking to fill this vacancy had to be nominated by a current council member.  The rules committee had to interview the candidates.  I am almost certain the rules committee will report they are all qualified for the position. I have not watched the Rules Committee meeting but if you want to see the Rules Committee interviews with the candidates, follow this link.

When I served in the Council many years ago and there were General Sessions vacancies to be filled by the Council, council members were heavily lobbied. I doubt that has changed. I have no knowledge of who is likely to win this seat, but when I served in the Council, these positions were most often filled by one of the Council's own. Being a current member of the Council gives the candidate a lot of opportunity to lobby fellow members and in many cases, he is the only one of the candidates personally known by other council members. It that still carries the weight I suspect it does, I would but on Sam Coleman.   However, that is just speculation and I don't know.

There were eight nominees but Barry Gearon, a former court officer now a lawyer in private practice has withdrawn his name. The nominees are as follows:

  • Sam Coleman, an attorney in private practice is the current member of the Council representing the Antioch area.
  • Adam Dread,a partner at Durham and Dread PLC is  a former Metro Councilman 2002-2007. He unsuccessfully ran for General Sessions Judge as a Republican in 2014. Being a former Council member may help, but in Nashville's Metro Council, having ran as a Republican may hurt his chances.
  • Ana Escobar, who was an assistant prosecutor at the District Attorney’s Office and was Metro clerk from 2011 to 2013. These are advantages in that she gets known by the Courthouse crowd.  Also, I would suspect that having a Spanish surname and being female would be a benefit.  
  • Michael Clemons, a partner at Clemmons & Clemons PLLC, the law firm also founded by Tennessee Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville.
  • Martesha Johnson, has worked in the Davidson County Public Defender's Office for eight years.
  • Nick McGregor, a criminal defense attorney at the Law Office of Nick McGregor.
  • Tillman Payne, has practiced family law, personal injury and criminal law in the Nashville area for more than 10 also worked as a public defender in Wilson County.
 There are three appointment to Boards and Commissions on the agenda and you can expect all to be approved unanimously.

There is one resolution on public hearing and it is to grant a variance for a beer permit from the 100 foot minimum distance requirements from a church, school, park, daycare, or one-or two-family residence. These usually pass.

There are 32 resolutions on the consent agenda. 
 Resolutions on "consent" are passed by a single vote of the council instead of being voted on individually. All resolution are initially on "consent," however, if a resolution has any negative votes in committee it is taken off of consent.  Also any council member may ask to have an item taken off of consent or to have his abstention or dissenting vote recorded.  Most of the resolutions are routine things like accepting grants, approving inter- agency agreements, approving contracts, resolutions having to do with authoring short-term financing of public works projects and bond sales, and individually allowing signs to overhang the sidewalk. Here are the resolutions of interest.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2017-615 by Councilman Grover would would require that when an agency of the government request Capital improvement funding, to inform the Metropolitan Council at the same time of such submissions to the Director of Finance.  This seems like a wise move.  The Council needs to be involved early in the process of exerting control over the city's debt. This was on the agenda on April 18th and deferred to this meeting at the request of the sponsor.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2017-616 by Councilman Glover would adopt a new policy requiring a maximum limit of 10% on the annual budget as the amount of funds budgeted to service debt. This was also previously on the agenda for April 18th and deferred to this meeting at the request of the sponsor. When the city borrows money, the amount of money it takes to pay the bonds which finance the borrowed money is a part of the annual operating budget and is called "debt service." The city has never had a policy establishing a limit on debt service. My inclination is to support this effort but I have some questions. If the city should have a reduction in revenue, then a debt service that may have been less than 10% could then be more than 10%.  How would that be resolved? Also, how would this effect our bond rating?  Also, the Council cannot restrict a future council's spending.  These questions may very well have been addressed in the Budget Committee meeting, but I did not watch that meeting.

Currently debt service is 11.5% of the budget and in the proposed FY18 budget it is 12.7%.  If this were to pass, some capital proposed capital projects could not be funded. I support the effort to get control of Metro's spending.  In addition to debt service, Metro pension and health insurance liabilities are areas of concern and should be addressed.   The city is awash in money now, but someday there is bound to be a slow down.  While cutting budgets are painful, if parts of the budget are beyond the council's control such as debt service and pension obligations, then budget reductions become much more difficult.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2017-677 approves the execution and delivery of intergovernmental applications by Metro to the United States Department of Labor for the processing of H1-B petitions.  I have read the bill and the analysis but quite frankly do not understand this resolution but think it may be significant. Currently the Trump administration has suspended for six months the processing of H1-B visa applications. I did not know the Metro Government employs non-citizens but according to this, we do. This was on the agenda last meeting and deferred to this meeting.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2017-667  authorize  Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency MDHA) to enter an agreement accepting payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for the renovation of a 208-unit apartment development located at 2715 Whites Creek Pike, known as Haynes Garden Apartments. Up until recently PILOT agreements were used only to entice businesses to locate or expand in Nashville.  This will be the fourth time, this tool is used to support affordable housing.  I am only calling attention to this bill because at the last council meeting the sponsor had it deferred to this meeting. Under this agreement, over the ten year period of the agreement, the developer would pay $4.6 million less in property taxes than he would have paid without the deal, assuming the property would get rehabbed without this deal.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2017-678  request the Metropolitan Transit Authority to provide at least ten percent (10%) of its advertising space to other Metropolitan departments, boards and commissions to provide public service advertisements regarding local government services. I do not see the wisdom of this.  This would be a loss of revenue for MTA. However, this is probably not worth opposing unless MTA lobbies against its passage. It also ask MTA to respond as to the feasibility of this request so if MTA thinks this would not be wise, they do not have to do it, but can explain their opposition in a feasibility study.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2017-682  establishes the certified tax rates for Metro.  This is required by law. Following a reappraisal, the city can not bring in more revenue than it could prior to the reappraisal, so the city must adopt a new tax lower rate that brings in the same amount of revenue as prior to the reappraisal. What sometimes happens is that a local government will pass the new certified tax rate, then immediately pass another resolution sitting a higher rate.  Much of the public will blame the higher taxes on the reappraisal, not understanding what has really happened.  To her credit, Mayor Barry is not proposing to do that. The new certified tax rate will be the new tax rate.  While almost all property was appraised at a new higher value as a result of the reappraisal, those whose property values increase less than the average increase will actually end up paying less property taxes while those whose value increased more than the average increase in value will see a tax increase. Since the largest increases in values have occurred in areas that  were previously modestly prices such as The Nations, Inglewood, Wedgwood Houston,  Woodbine and North Nashville, those areas may experience substantial increases in property taxes.  The more affluent areas that already had high  property values saw more modest increase in their property value so they will likely see a property tax decrease. The current combined USD and GSD rate in Nashville is $4.516; the new certified rate will be $3.115.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2017-685 adopts a new fee structure for animal control. Under the new schedule if you dog is picked up, the impound fee is $50 and the daily boarding fee is $18. Don't let your dog run loose!

There are 13 bills on First Reading. They are lumped together and pass by a single vote. I do not read bills until they get to second reading.

Bills on Second Reading. 
 There are 17 bills on Second Reading but most are routine things. Here is one of interest.

BILL NO. BL2017-608 would be a radical change and would establish distinct land uses for “Short term rental property – Owner- Occupied” and “Short term rental property – Not Owner-Occupied”, and establishing a phase out date in year 2019 for “Short term rental property – Not Owner-Occupied.” This has been in the works a long time. This bill will be substituted and I do not know what changes are in the substitute but assume it will be minor tweaks. This is an outrage and I stongly oppose this bill. A lot of people spend a lot of money to buy and rehab and furnish and set up a Short Term Rental Property.  They registered the property as required and paid the taxes and now they are having the rug pulled out from under them.  Short Term Rental Property is a benefit to Nashville and while there are a few bad players, most of the bad players are operating without a permit. Rather than go after those violating the law now, the Council is going to end this valuable service and punish people who are playing by the rules.  The hotel industry is one of the forces behind trying to ban STRP.

There was a bill before the Senate of the State Legislature that would have stopped Metro from doing this. It passed the House but the Senate deferred the bill to the next legislative session which convenes in January. However the various state legislators have warned Nashville to not pass such a ban.   If this bill passes the Councl and I assume it will since it passed committee, one can expect lawsuits and in January the State legislature may very well nullify this action. To read many other post on the topic of STRP, follow this link.

BILL NO. BL2017-646   would prohibit a company from installing surveillance equipment, such as cameras and 16 other types of technology that captured activity on a public sidewalk or street without prior Council approval.  I understand the civil
liberties implication of constant surveillance.  On the other hand, a lot of crimes have been solved by private cameras that have captured illegal activity.  I do not see much difference between what a camera may capture and what a security guard may witness. However, this has been amended with exemptions and clarifications and I think I would support this.  This was previously on the agenda and deferred to this meeting.

BILL NO. BL2017-705  would establish an incentive program for neighborhood that are in full compliance with codes.  A neighborhood could be awarded $5000.  Under this plan, if a neighbor has an overgrown lot, codes could review the violation but not impose penalties and the neighborhood could exert pressure on the offender to come into compliance. I do not like this.  This would give more power to neighborhood activist. While I am all for citizen empowerment, neighborhood leaders are always the same people who watch for zone changes, and codes violations and other concerns.  They are not your average citizen but busybodies who make it their job to represent the neighborhood. They are not elected unless elected by the neighborhood organization which is usually a handful of activist who may make up a small fraction of the neighborhood.  They may not be representative of the neighborhood at all. I don't want to give these people more power. I don't want a neighborhood deciding how to spend $5,000. This program could cost up to $875K per year and is not in the FY18 budget.

BILL NO. BL2017-706 would reallocate the tax money collected from homesharing (airbnb, STRP) and create a new program. Currently Metro collects a tax on STRP and the revenue is dedicated to the Barnes Fund for Affordable Housing. This bill would create a new Metropolitan Neighborhood Improvement Fund (NIF) and direct that half of the revenue collected from STRP be directed to this fund. This NIF would be a new bureaucracy with an appointed board and various powers and a mission to improve neighborhoods.  I oppose this.  We do not need another bureaucracy. We already have various agencies to deal with the issues that this NIF would deal with.  I also do not think more agencies should operate off their own dedicated funds.  Funding priorities should be decided by the mayor and the council. 
Bills on Third Reading:
These are 33 bills on Third Reading and not much that is of interest. Most are rezoning bill and they have all been approved by the Planning Commission. Here are ones of interest.
BILL NO. BL2017-611 is another anti-homesharing bill. It requires that an STRP application include a statement that “the applicant has confirmed that operating the proposed STRP would not violate any Home Owners Association agreement or bylaws, Condominium Agreement, Covenants, Codes and Restrictions or any other agreement governing and limiting the use of the proposed STRP property.” It would also require that the applicant notify codes if there was any such objection.  I oppose this bill.  Homeowners Association rules are private agreements.  Government has never taken on the responsibility for enforcing HOA rules. This bill has been disapproved by the Planning Commission so will require 27 positive votes to pass. Hopefully it will fail to get the votes.

BILL NO. BL2017-653  this is a bill of minor importance which would add to the list of acceptable documents those documents that a owner may submit with their application for STRP that shows they do in fact occupy the property.  I support this bill.
To watch the Council meeting, you can go to the courthouse and watch the meeting in person, or you can watch the broadcast live at Metro Nashville Network's Government TV on Nashville's Comcast Channel 3 and AT&T's U-verse 99 and it is streamed live at the Metro Nashville Network's livestream site. You can catch the meeting the next day (or the day after the next) on the Metro YouTube channel.   If can stand the suspense and just wait, I will post the video here the day after or the day after that and provide commentary.

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