Month: May 2016

Air Quality Ordinance

This morning, Council members have received a few emails from industry groups talking about the alleged horrible consequences if we pass CM Fabian Bedne’s proposed Air Quality Ordinance.  That ordinance is BL2016-234. The emails are much too dismissive about the legitimate safety and quality of life concerns expressed by many citizens in Joelton and Whites Creek, and in Antioch, about having new high volume gas compressor pumping stations in those parts of Nashville. I would encourage everyone to read Council Director Mike Jameson’s analysis of this ordinance – which starts on page 14 at this link.

Mr. Jameson provides a thoughtful and fair analysis. I won’t repeat it all here. But, in summary, there are two main parts to the proposed ordinance. One part (which would create a new permitting requirement for projects like a gas compressor station) is likely too broad and may need to be amended or deleted. (This doesn’t bother me because I understand that the Health Department already has the power under existing law to regulate or refuse to allow any new pollution source that would push Nashville over applicable air quality standards.)

The second part of the proposed ordinance (which would require gas compressor stations to comply with local zoning laws) is NOT damaging to anything. As Mr. Jameson points out, if we enact the second part, there is a well-established state/federal procedure that would allow the State’s Air Pollution Control Board to decide whether to include our new local law as part of Tennessee’s air pollution control standards. If the State Board says no, I suspect that our ordinance might then have no impact or enforceability.  But if the State Board says yes, then it would be the State of Tennessee and Metro both agreeing that gas compressors need to meet local zoning laws. Even then, the federal EPA would also have to give its approval.

Everyone should agree that Nashville has an interest in having gas compressor stations only where it fits our zoning code.  I am sure all of us would agree that we shouldn’t have a gas compressor station in the middle of downtown.  They just can’t go anywhere. Not only that, we already have an existing zoning law that says we want gas compressor stations only in areas that are zoned industrial. The proposed ordinance simply puts the ball in the court of the State Air Pollution Control Board for them to decide whether our existing zoning law will be included in our state air quality standards.

I guess the bottom line is that this ordinance (once amended to carve back the scope of the permitting part) is not a magic bullet to stop gas compressors, but it definitely is not some sort of existential threat to our economy.  It is simply Nashville giving the State Air Pollution Control Board an opportunity to include a “comply with local zoning laws” requirement in our state air quality regulations.  I am in favor of that.

 

(If you want more information about the concerns our neighbors have, you can look go to this page and click on the PDF by “Project 1. Field Study”.)

FY2017 Budget Ordinance

Here’s the FY2017 Budget Ordinance, BL2016-232. I believe the Mayor’s Office filed it with the Metro Clerk on April 29.

This is the proposed operating budget. The Mayor is expected to propose a capital improvement budget on May 13. And, there will be a “budget book” out (I don’t know when) that has more details on all of this.

Pre-Budget Process Thoughts

As we enter the Metro budget season, here’s where my thoughts are:

$121 million in expected new revenue: Metro is projecting that its revenue will grow by 6.1% in Fiscal Year 2017. That’s an increase of $121 million. You can see some high level details in the Budget Presentation that Finance Director Talia Lomax-O’dneal gave the Council on Friday afternoon. These next observations are not in any particular order – just some thoughts on my mind after seeing the presentation slides. Also, all the numbers (except one) are from the slides.

Keep in mind that the budget proposal is for the city’s operating budget, and does not include any capital improvements. The capital improvements budget is expected to be released on May 13.

While the city’s overall debt load in Fiscal Year 2017 is expected to be 10.85% of the budget (as compared to 10.49% in FY2016), the Mayor proposes that $18.6 million (15.4%) of the $121 million of new revenue will go toward debt service. For me, while I think these numbers are all in the zone of reasonable for a city, it is at least interesting to see a record-breaking $121 million increase in revenue AND also see our debt load increase as a gross number and as a percent of the budget.

You would like to think that if you absolutely kill it on the revenue side, the percentage of your budget that goes toward debt might go down?  If one were a cynic, one would observe that record-breaking revenue increases can’t go on forever, and ask whether we will be able to anticipate when our revenue increases inevitably recede well enough to also pull back on large increases in new long-term debt. If not, when the economy ultimately downgrades from “record-breaking” to “good” or “eh”, we risk seeing that percentage paid to debt bump up a half percent or more in just one year. (To illustrate this, I did some rough math – if our revenue increase for next fiscal year was the same as what we saw in FY15, revenue would go up $51.9 million instead of $121 million next year. If this were the story, the percentage of the budget paid toward debt next year would be 11.2% instead of 10.85%.)

The budget also suggests that $33.3 of the $121 million of new revenue go toward our schools, and $29.6 million for salary increases for Metro employees. (I have a meeting scheduled with MNPS personnel this week to hear more about their budget.) In the proposal, that leaves $39.5 million of new revenue to go toward Metro providing additional or new services.

For that $39.5 million, from looking at several different slides, the Budget Presentation shows us how about $24 million of this new revenue is proposed to be spent. Here’s a list of the spending proposals I saw in the presentation, along with some thoughts about several of them:

  • Barnes Housing Fund, $10 million (This is a lot of money, which is good. At present, though, the legislation that created the fund is barely a page and a half long. I think we need some additional structure and oversight to be created. I trust and like the current Metro Housing Trust Fund Commissioners, but it isn’t good for anyone to have $10 million per year to go to a commission that has almost no formal structure under existing law. To be clear, I think this investment is a good one, but we need more structure for the Barnes Housing Fund.)
  • Youth Programs and Services, $2.6 million
  • Fire Department, $1.5 million
  • Police Department, $2 million
  • Metro Transit Authority, $2 million (This is an increase that, I believe, is smaller than each of the last few years. At first blush, it seems incongruous that we would be squeezing down on increases for MTA when we need more and better transit so badly. I am guessing that the thought is to not provide a dramatic increase before the nMotion plan is done?)
  • Codes and Planning, $492,100 (Our Codes department is so swamped that this number could be twice as high and it would still be reasonable. If someone were to check staffing levels, I think they’d see that Codes is trying to operate with the same size staff they had when the city was a third smaller.)
  • Parks, $1.6 million
  • Public Works, $1.2 million
  • Library, $975,300
  • Health Department, $780,100
  • PIPs (Public Investment Plans), $1 million (I believe that individual departments found out on Friday who won the PIP money. I don’t know of any public announcement about this yet, though. I did see Judge Calloway late Friday afternoon and she was excited that the Juvenile Court PIP was being funded in full.)

I am looking forward to the upcoming budget hearings to learn more about the proposed budget.

Don’t have the actual budget yet: As part of my continued learning curve as a new Council member, I learned that the Budget Presentation doesn’t include a copy of the proposed budget. I have what the public has – the 39 slide PowerPoint presentation. This week, I’ll need to figure out when we see the actual budget.

Election Commission follow-up: In my April 20 blog post, I commented on the supplemental appropriations resolution that the Council considered and passed on April 19. Before the Council meeting, the Election Commission withdrew their request for a supplemental appropriation. I said in my April 20 post:

At the last minute yesterday, the Election Commission withdrew their request for a $314,000 supplemental appropriation. I still need to learn more, but the first report I’ve heard indicates that they didn’t really need any supplemental funds?!? I’ll be curious to hear more about this.

It’s been a few weeks, and I’ve still only heard second-hand information. But that information is that a Council member scheduled a meeting with someone at the Election Commission to learn more details about the need for the supplemental appropriation. And, then, before meeting could take place, the Election Commission withdrew their request for funds. I am probably not going to try a lot harder to figure out what happened, but it will be hard to take the commission seriously when it comes to funding requests. I hope a new director gets their business operations squared away.

Wrap-up: As the budget process moves forward, please feel free to send me whatever ideas and questions you have.