Sunday, November 17, 2019

What's on the Council agenda for Nov. 19th? Raising water rates, banning aerial advertising, more financial transparency.

by Rod Williams - The Metro Council will meet Tuesday, November 19th 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. If you are going to watch it, it is 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 usually amount to the Council confirming whoever the mayor appoints.  There are five appointees up for confirmation. They will probably all be confirmed without controversy.

Public Comment period is time dedicated to allow members of the public who have registered in advance to speak upon matters related to the Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County community. This was started about a year ago, I believe, and has gone much better than I expected. I thought social justice warriors would use it to advocate but people have not abused the privilege. Watch to see if the newly empowered progressives take advantage of this opportunity.

Resolutions.  Most are routine things like approving contracts, accepting grants and approving signs overhanging sidewalks. I see nothing that would generate controversy. Here are the only resolutions of interest.

Resolution RS2019-99  and Resolution RS2019-100  reallocates $1million in money that was to be spend on the Gulch pedestrian bridge and spends it on other things. The other $17million approved for the bridge does not require Council action in order to be reallocated but the mayor intends to ask the Council to pass a resolution approving the reallocation anyway. That will be presented in a future resolution.  This should not be contentious.

Bills on First Reading are all lumped together and pass by a single vote. I don't read bills until they get to Second Reading.

Bills on Second Reading. These are the ones that I find of interest.

Bill BL2019-4 prohibits aerial advertising.  I see no logic for this bill and if I served in the council I would vote against it.  This was deferred from last meeting.
Bill BL2019-30 bans barbed wire and razor wire fencing in the Urban Zoning Overlay District along arterial and collector roadways. This is one of those bills about which I am conflicted.  I sympathize with those property owners who are trying to protect their property, but this type fencing creates a feeling of living in a war zone. It makes a street ugly and devalues enjoyment of public spaces. On balance, I think I would support this bill. I do not know if one may appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeal for an exemption from the provision. There should be a process to allow an exception in high crime areas or where one has been repeatedly had their property burglarized.
Bill BL2019-31 would require a permit for all new fencing. This was deferred from the last meeting. Unless their is a compelling reason why we need to start doing this, I would oppose it.
Bill BL2019-43 requires certain financial information received from the State be submitted to the Council. As the Staff analysis explains, "During the prior Council term, the previous administrations received correspondence from the state comptroller on several occasions concerning the finances of the Metropolitan Government and Metro water services. This ordinance would require that similar financial communications in the future be submitted to the Council within seven days of receipt. For purposes of this ordinance, “financial communications” means all written and electronic communications pertaining to the financial status, revenues, expenses, fees or service charges of the metropolitan government and any of its departments, boards, commissions, offices, and agencies. The department head for the applicable department, board, commission, office, or agency would be responsible for ensuring such communication is submitted to the Council as required by this ordinance."  This is a good bill. The Council deserves to be kept informed. It is shameful that the Council was not kept fully informed of Metro's financial crisis by the prior administration.
Bill BL2019-45  raises water and sewer rates. It raises several different fees, raising water fees about 63% and sewer by a lesser amount.  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.
Bill BL2019-46   would require more oversight of the Water and Sewer Department. It would have to submit annual reports to the Council which would 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. In my view this does not go far enough. 
Bills on Third Reading. This is the only one of interest.
Bill BL2019-3   authorizes Metro  to opt into the historic properties tax abatement program under state law and would establish a historic properties review board.  I support this. I don't want to require property owners to preserve historic properties but I support incentives that encourage historic preservation.
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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