Saturday, November 30, 2019

What is on the Dec. 2nd Council Agenda: Raising water rates, permits to build a fence, new transparencies and communication requirements, and recognizing World Aids Day.

by Rod Williams - The Metro Council will meet Tuesday, Dec. 2nd at 6:30 PM in the Council chamber at the Metro Courthouse. Here is a link to the Council agenda and the Council staff analysis.

For those who want to watch the Council meeting and follow along, the meeting are more interesting if you have the agenda and agenda analysis.  It is still not very interesting but more interesting if you know what the heck is going on. You don't have to watch it and yet you can still be informed however, because  I will watch it for you and then a couple days later post a summary of the most important Council actions and I will post a video of the meeting and highlight the interesting parts. Below is a summary of the agenda, highlighting what I deem to be the most important items.

Elections and Confirmations. There are sixteen appointments or reappointments to  boards and commissions to be confirmed, including the appointment of former mayor Bill Purcell to the Metro Development and Housing Agency. I suspect all will be confirmed without controversy. There is also an election by the council of one person for a seat on the Industrial Development Board, from nominations made by council members.  Seats on the industrial board are important to some people and sometimes the Council gets lobbied heavily to favor one candidate over another but the general public pays little attention to this. The Industrial Development Board can help favored parties.

Public Hearing. There is one resolution and 18 bills on public hearing.  These are mostly rezoning bills.  I don't closely examine rezoning bills and don't try to form an opinion of their merits. Usually the only people who care about zoning bills are nearby neighbors.  If I anticipate a bill to be controversial I will call attention to it and will point out a bill that is disapproved by the Planning Commission.  Also, I will point out zoning bills that have wider import than just the subject property, but purely local zoning bills I ignore.  These are the bills on public hearing of interest.

Bill BL2019-67  is one of those bills that changes a community from a zoning that allows two housing units per lot to a zoning that allows only one unit per lot. I understand the concern of those who want to keep their neighborhood the way it is but I oppose all bills of this type.  This has the detrimental effect of decreasing future density which leads to more urban sprawl and less affordable housing.  If we have less density, the cost of available housing will increase at an accelerated rate. I wish the Planning Commission would recognize this and disapprove bills of this type.
Resolutions. Most are routine things like approving contracts, accepting grants, appropriating the money to settle law suits, and approving signs overhanging sidewalks. These are the ones of interest.
Resolution RS2019-100 and Resolution RS2019-116  both involve the reallocation of funds that were originally intended for the Gulch pedestrian bridge to other purposes. These should pass without opposition.

Resolution RS2019-128 recognizes December 1, 2019 as World AIDS Day in Nashville. Last month we had a recognition for a Transsexual Day of Remembrance and of course in the summer we have the gay pride event and a resolution so honoring gays and it wasn't long ago the city erected historical markers honoring two of the earliest gay bars in Nashville. We are giving a lot of attention to gays in Nashville.   Aids, of course is a terrible disease and there is nothing wrong with recognizing a World Aids Day, but if we are going to do so, I think we should have Alzheimer's Day or Remembrance, and a Heart Health Day of Remembrance, and a Cancer Day of Remembrance, and a Breast Cancer Day of Remembrance and Autism Day of Remembrance, and Death due to Drunk Drivers day of Remembrance, and Aborted Babies Day of Remembrance, and Americans killed by Illegal Aliens Day of Remembrance, etc, etc..  There are 365 days a year and there are plenty of illnesses and causes and events worthy of a day of remembrance. 
Bills on Second Reading. These are the ones that I find of interest.
Bill BL2019-46   requires the Department of Water and Sewerage Services to submit annual reports to the Metropolitan Council. The reports include: 1. The Audited Financial Statements, including net position, capital assets, outstanding bonds payable, and other financial information. 2. The Annual Budget Review, including the adequacy of budgeted revenues to cover projected expenses and debt requirements. 3. Any other information deemed relevant by the director or upon request of the Council public works or budget and finance committees.

This is good as far as it goes.  I just hope the Council will read the reports and act if they need to do so. If they do, this might stop a future occurrence of what we are experiencing now, where the water department is out of reserves, needs a lot of infrastructure work and the water rates are insufficient to keep the water system functioning.

The problem with Water and Sewer is that they operate off of their own revenues so when the Council is putting together a budget they pay little attention to waste and inefficiency in water and sewer because even if they can cut their budget that does not free up money to spend elsewhere so as a result they get less scrutiny than other departments. I wish the Council would even do more than this to insure sound financial management at Water and Sewer.

Bill BL2019-77 would require the disclosure of the full cost of a project prior to submission of capital expenditure authorization legislation to the Metropolitan Council. Currently the  New sheriff's headquarters $17M over budget.  This is not cost overrun. We simply started the project $17 million short of the cost to complete it. That should not happen. This bill should prevent it.
Bills on Third Reading. 
Bill BL2019-31 would require a permit for all new fencing.  We have never required this before. I would want to know what problem this is trying to address before voting for it. It seems like more unnecessary government bureaucracy and cost to homeowners. I oppose.

Bill BL2019-43 (as amended) requires than any adverse notification about Metro's finances from the State be delivered promptly to members of the Council. The prior administration did not do so. This is a good bill.
Bill BL2019-45  raises water and sewer rates. It raises several different fees, raising water fees about 63% and sewer by a lesser amount. The rates would raise each year for several years, not all at once.  Unfortunately, this has to be done. We have a consent degree agreement with the Federal government to improve the system and don't have the money to do it and the State Comptroller says we have to do it. Also, improvement need to be made. More than 65% of Metro’s water pipes and 58% of the sewer pipes are over 40 years old.  I hope the Council will pursue changes at water and sewer so this situation does not happen again. Water and Sewer operate off of their own revenues and as a result do not get close scrutiny.  Since efficiency and cost cutting at metro water cannot benefit the general fund, they do not get the same oversight as would a regular Metro department.  In my view, changes should be made such that Water and Sewer has a board they have to report to and a member of the Council should be a member of the board.  
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. It is also available live on Roku. 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 and provide commentary.

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