Saturday, June 23, 2018

What happended at the Council meeting of 6/19/18: No tax hike budget passes, most other important bills deferred. (final update)

By now everyone who cares knows the council passed a budget that does not raise taxes. This meeting however is worth watching because it is one of the best meeting I have ever seen.  I thought the arguments were well made even when I didn't agree with the position of the speakers. Also, the Council was attempting to do something never done before and that is to raise taxes when the mayor's office did not propose raising taxes, so that made it interesting.

 If you are actually going to watch the whole meeting, you better get a drink and a snack and be prepared to take a bathroom break.  At six and half hours long, this is one of the longest meeting I ever remember. I watched part of it in real time as it occurred and then watched most of the video. I skipped ahead in the parts where I knew nothing important was happening and watched parts of it in double speed. Most of the meeting is devoted to the budget. Below is a summary of the meeting.
To access the agenda, the Council staff agenda analysis and my commentary on the agenda, follow this link and this link.

Following the prayer and pledge is a ceremonial presentation honoring Franklin Road Academy's wrestling program coach. The Council gets down to business at timestamp 16 in the video. The first item is election of a person to the Industrial Development Board.  There are two candidates and a nominating speech for each and then the council votes, electing Quin E. Segall. I don't know anything about either candidate and had no preference. 

Following that election, the Council votes to confirm mayoral appointments to boards and commissions. There is no discussion or surprises. This is concluded at timestamp 32. The next item is public hearings  on three resolutions all asking for an exemption from the minimum distance requirements for obtaining a beer permit. No one speaks on any of them and they pass.

Resolutions of interest

Resolution RS2018-1253  extends the duration of the water and sewer extendable commercial paper program. I do not know if this is prudent or not but it sounds suspect. It is deferred one meeting.

Resolution RS2018-1262  appropriates $3.5 million from the undesignated fund balances of the MNPS General Purpose Fund to Metro Schools. This was necessary to
finish the current budget year, which ends on June 30. It is unusual. It means the School system spend more money than was appropriated. Director of Schools Shawn Joseph explained this was due to unexpected administrative expenses. To read The Tennessean's coverage of this issue, follow this link. This resolution passes on a voice vote.

Resolution RS2018-1263 is a resolution requesting the Tennessee General Assembly to introduce and enact legislation to allow for online publication, instead of newspaper publication, when public notices are required. Now, these public notices are published in publications that no one reads, that is just full of notices. The committee voted against it 8 to zero and the sponsor deferred it indefinitely. I do not know the argument against it as I did not watch the committee meeting but on its face this seemed like a good idea. 
All bills on first reading are lumped together and pass by a single vote without discussion as is the norm. 

Bills on Second Reading.
Bill BL2018-1189  would require Metro to make an even greater effort to make sure some Metro business goes to minority contractors when Metro has projects to put out for bid. The staff analysis says Metro legal has expressed concern that the bill may contain unconstitutional race and gender based preferences and is inconsistent with the current framework of the Procurement Non-Discrimination Program. It is deferred one meeting.

Bill BL2018-1200 would require that if a  hotels or roominghouses accept cash payment, they must also accept at least one other form of payment such as check or credit cards. I seldom carry cash and would find it inconvenient if I tried to do business with an entity that was cash-only, but why not let the market work this out?  Why must the government try to micromanage every aspect of commerce and our lives? It is deferred one meeting.

Bill BL2018-1201  would tighten animal control regulations. Now, you are not supposed to leave your pooch out if the heat index will be above 95. This lowers it to 85. Animal Control says to enforce this will take more people, space, and equipment and cost $472,617. This is deferred one meeting.

Bill BL2018-1202 are proposed new rules for scooter prompted by the arrival of

Bird Scooter here in Nashville. It would require new fees including a fee of $40 per scooter. This is deferred one meeting.

Bill BL2018-1203  also deals with scooters, in-line skates, and roller skates by removing the requirement for wrist guards, elbow pads, and kneepads and updating audio device references.. This is deferred one meeting.
Bill BL2018-1207 would direct the Purchasing Agent to terminate Contract Purchase Agreement 338266, a project management services agreement between Commonwealth Development Group, Inc. and the Metropolitan Government. Commonwealth Development is the company that did work on the MLS stadium without a contract to do that work and without money appropriated to do that work. The work was authorized by Metro Chief Operating Officer Rich Riebeling. Commonwealth was paid out of a Bridgestone Arena fund. The Metro Sports Authority, which operates the arena, was unaware of the spending.  This  incident let to a deeper look the work of Commonwealth and some in the Council became dissatisfied.  The owner of Commonwealth and Rich Riebelng are close friends and questions were raised about that cozy relationship and how Commonwealth got Metro business and how much they are paid and the provision of free office space to the company. There is less than a year left on the current contract and this bill was withdrawn. Steve Glover says the trust factor has been eroded.
Bills on Third Reading:
Substitute BL2018-1139 (as amended)   approves the Donelson Transit-Oriented Redevelopment Plan. This is deferred two meetings.
The Operating Budget, Bill BL2018-1184 and related items. 
The lengthy deliberations on the operating budget starts at timestamp 1:22:17.  Speaker Pro Tem lays out the process and possible outcomes at the start of the discussion.

There were three possible budgets that could have passed; the mayor's budget, the Vercher substitute or the Mendes substitute. The mayor's budget did not raise taxes and did not fund the promised employee cost of living pay raise or give the schools their budget request. The Vercher substitute did not hike taxes but shifted money, giving $2 million more to schools. The Mendes substitute increased the tax rate 50 cents or 16%, would have generated $150 million, fully funded the COLA for metro employees and fully funded the schools request.

One should realized the budget process to know the limitations of what the Council could do.  We have a strong mayor form of local government. The deck is stacked against the Council. When it comes to the budget, if the Counciil fails to pass a budget the mayor's budget becomes law without council action. It takes 21 votes to pass a budget. If the mayor should veto the budget presented by the Council, then it takes 27 votes to override a veto. So, the Mendes budget had an uphill clime to be passed. Should the Mendes budget have passed, then been vetoed by the mayor, which we can assume he would do, and then the Council failed to override, then the mayor budget would have been the official budget.  There would not have been an opportunity to go back and pass the Vercher budget.

For those who won't to get in the tall weeds of the budget, see Citizens' Guide to the Metro Budget. If watching this lengthy budget debate does not satisfy your desire to understand the budget issues, you may want to watch the Budget and Finance Committee deliberations on the budget which you can watch at this link

Vercher is called on first. As chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee she is the sponsor of the mayor's budget. As chairman, she oversaw the work of the committee that created the substitute and the substitute that was the result of committee work becomes her bill and she moves to substitute the mayor's budget. The Vercher budget is substituted for the mayor's budget by a vote of 34 to 4. 

Next, various amendments are voted upon. Most of the amendments shifted some money from one department to another. All failed but three. One of the amendments shifted a little money.  Another, which I am pleased to see, created a Blue Ribbon Commission, "to identify government inefficiencies, practices, transfer payments, third party payments and subsidies with the targeted goal of achieving budgetary cost savings of $20 million in annual savings." I hope this is successful and am optimistic that some saving will be realized by this commission.

Another, was an amendment to substitute one piece of property for another as one of the properties that will be sold to generate money as part of the city's revenue to fund this budget.  A piece of property on Woodycrest used to park school buses was substituted for the Edgehill Community Memorial Park that was listed as a piece of property to be sold.  I am pleased by this amendment. We should not be selling off city parks. 

Next, Councilman Mendes was recognized and he moved to substitute the Vercher substitute with his substitute which raised taxes. After considerable debate his budget was rejected by a vote of 19 in favor to 20 opposed. The vote was 19 to 19 before the tie was broken by the Speaker Pro Tem Councilman Sheri Weiner. Back on the budget ordinance which is the Vercher substitute, that bill is adopted. There is some very good debate.

After the budget, Bill BL2018-1185 which is the tax levy which did not increase taxes is passed. Following that the Council acts on three resolutions that address the pay plan. If the pay plan had not been adjusted, then to fund the employees pay increases approved in a pay plan last year, a lot of other employees would have lost their job.

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