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May Update

May 1, 2020

As I write this, I am listening to chain saws cutting up trees that are blocking streets and lying on the roofs of my neighbors’ houses. It is hard to imagine what else could be added to what Nashville is currently enduring. We’ve learned a lot about resilience and the importance of planning for disasters. Many people are still recovering from the storms that came through Nashville in the last two days. Nashville Electric Service crews are working around the clock and have brought in teams from other cities to restore power as quickly as possible. After Sunday night’s storm there were a peak of 130,000 homes without electricity. By Sunday night NES had restored power for 50,000 homes. More storms on Monday night knocked out more homes, and the count as of 2pm Tuesday morning was 52,000 without power and 147 broken poles. Crews will continue working non-stop until everyone is back online, which could take up to 14 days for outlying areas and individual homes that have downed lines. Homes whose electrical connection is overhead should check to be sure that the pole that connects at the meter on the house (the weatherhead) is still upright and firmly attached to the house. If a tree falling on the incoming line has bent the weatherhead or pulled it away from the house, NES will require the owner to fix that part before they will re-energize the line.

A hotline to help Davidson County residents affected by the March 3 tornadoes is available to assist in recovery. Those experiencing an unmet need as a result of the tornado are encouraged to call the Tornado Recovery Connection at 615-270-9255. The line is open 24/7, and unanswered calls will be returned within 24 hours. Translation services are available for non-English-speaking residents. The hotline is made possible through the efforts of the Long Term Recovery Group, which is composed of dozens of Nashville-area nonprofits that have convened to assist in rebuilding the lives of tornado victims.

In addition assistance may still be available from FEMA/SBA. The deadline was set for May 4, but advocates have been asking for an extension. Any Middle Tennessean who suffered damage from the March 3 tornadoes can register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) to qualify for financial recovery assistance. FEMA disaster assistance was offered to any homeowner, renter, nonprofit, or business owner whose personal property was destroyed or damaged as a result of the tornadoes. Anyone who is approved for disaster assistance does not have to repay the amount, nor does it have any effect on individuals who are on Social Security, TennCare or any other safety-net program. Applicants register online here, download the FEMA mobile app or call the helpline at 800-621-3362 or (TTY) 800-462-7585 from 6 am to 9 pm daily. Multilingual operators are available.

The SBA’s loan programs provide disaster loans for homeowners, renters and businesses to repair or replace disaster-damaged or destroyed real estate or personal property. SBA customizes loan amounts and terms based on each applicant’s circumstances, easing the burden of recovery. Individuals and businesses may apply for an SBA Disaster Loan online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via the SBA’s secure website. For more information, call the SBA Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 (800-877-8339 for the deaf and hard-of-hearing), or by send an email to disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

Another important program available to homeowners impacted by the tornado is the TORNADO MORTGAGE MITIGATION PROGRAM, which provides free mortgage mitigation services to help defer homeowners’ mortgage payments for 6-12 months for those who are paying to live elsewhere while the home is being repaired or rebuilt. Unlike other mortgage relief programs, this does not impact credit scores, and it has advantages related to the accompanying tax and insurance payments that are often part of the mortgage. Homeowners can apply through the following non-profit agencies:

The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee continues to award grants to area nonprofits and organizations helping victims affected by the deadly tornadoes of March 3. The grant application is open and continuing to accept applications for immediate relief needs (food, shelter and short-term housing, clothing, clean up and debris removal, and financial assistance). The Fund is also now accepting requests for recovery assistance (legal, mental health/counseling, permanent housing, rebuilding/construction, and case management). To date, 98 grants to 88 organizations have been deployed from the Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund, totaling nearly $3.1 million ($3,099,900). For more information, go to the CFMT’s tornado response website. These grants are made possible by the generosity of foundations and of individuals who are still in a position to help. To make a gift in support of Nashville and Middle Tennessee recovery efforts, visit the CMFT’s website.

Now on to Coronavirus related information – Health Insurance Help: If you have lost employer health insurance or your income dropped but have young children, you may qualify for Marketplace or TennCare. Call 844-644-5443 or 615-310-3285 for local volunteer help.

Mayor Cooper has announced a four-phase approach to ending the corona virus shut-down as soon as the health department data indicates that we have the medical capacity to keep up with and treat new cases. Hospitals have begun allowing some elective surgeries to allow some of the past months’ backlog to dissipate. After May 8, if the number of daily new cases is trending dependably downward, then the Health Department is expected to announce the first phase of reopening, allowing restaurants and retail stores to open at half capacity. If health metrics continue to stay within the specified range for two weeks, then we could move to the second phase, allowing all elective surgeries and gatherings up to 50 people, partially opening hair and nail salons, and allowing restaurants and retail to operate at ¾ capacity. It is unlikely we would get any further than that by the end of May. For the full plan, click here.

Mayor Cooper has proposed a $2,450,000,000 Operating Budget, which will maintain services and avoid lay-offs of Metro employees. This includes a $1 increase in the tax rate to make up for revenue lost due to the Corona Virus shutdown. The new rate continues to be lower than Tennessee’s other major cities’ and lower than Metro’s historic average of $4.58/ $100 of assessed value. Detailed information is available by clicking here. The Council will begin our budget hearings on May 11, and then we will make amendments to the proposed budget. A public hearing will be held June 2. Understandably many people are concerned about such a significant increase in the tax rate so we will look for any additional possibilities to cut unnecessary spending. The current breakdown in spending is

  • Public Schools – 37% – $906 million
  • Public Safety – 21% – $489 million
  • Debt Service – 14% – $343 million
  • General Government – 12% – $268 million
  • Infrastructure – 8% – $98 million
  • Recreation – 8% – $98 million
  • Other – 4% – $48 million
  • Cash Reserves – 8% – $98 million

Schools have already trimmed $100 million from their original request, when we should be giving teachers raises, so there is no place to cut there. Public safety includes police, fire, and emergency services, all of which are short staffed. We are delaying the purchase of body cameras until we understand how to manage the data in an economical way. Debt Service is fixed by past decisions, and we are delaying much of the city’s capital spending this year to avoid adding to the debt further. General Government and Other are the areas that will get a lot of scrutiny. Most departments have had hiring freezes for the past two years, so any reductions in personnel will probably mean reductions in services to citizens. Infrastructure is largely Public Works’ – trash and brush pick-up, sidewalks, paving, and traffic management. Recreation includes Parks and Libraries. We have worked for years to get libraries back open on Fridays and Community Centers opened on Saturdays, but there could be cost savings there if people are willing to give those up again. Replenishing cash reserves is a prudent financial practice, one that has been neglected in past budgets, leaving us with little reserve to help us through the current crisis. This line item will probably be a topic of discussion to ensure that this is the appropriate amount to set aside in a difficult year.

Metro Council Meetings will still take place on-line and will be viewable through live streaming on Nashville.gov, by watching on cable TV (Comcast channel 3, AT&T Uverse channel 99), or by watching on the Roku Metro Nashville Network Channel. The May 5 meeting will include our first virtual public hearing. The public can call in to speak on a bill on public hearing once that bill has been announced by the Vice-Mayor. As each specific bill comes up for discussion, people who wish to speak can call (629) 255-1931 toll free. (Callers who dial in before their bill is up will be asked to hang up and call back at the appropriate time so the queue can be managed.) Go to the Nashville.gov website for detailed instructions on how to call in. At this first virtual public hearing, the council will try to move through zoning bills that are not expected to be controversial but will probably defer those that would have extensive public input. The call-in option worked well at the last Planning Commission meeting, but we want to give the public ample opportunity to adjust to new meeting formats. The council is looking at other ways to address the backlog, possibly by having public hearings at the second meeting of the month or by adding council meetings.

Neighbors need to be aware of the impact of the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive insect that is arriving in Nashville this spring. This shiny little bug attacks ash trees and causes them to deteriorate rapidly, creating a risk of the entire tree toppling suddenly. It is expected that the entire ash inventory in the city will be wiped out in a couple of years except for trees that are treated by a professional arborist. Recommendations are to identify large healthy specimens that are worthy of the cost of treatment and get professional treatment immediately, and to keep a close eye on smaller or unhealthy trees. Owners can remove ash trees preventively and replace them with other tree types that are not affected by the borer. For more information, contact Jennifer.smith3@nashville.gov at Metro Public Works.

I-440 reconstruction is now almost complete. Lighting has been energized along the length of the interstate. The deadline to notify TDOT of lights that are shining unobtrusively into homes is early May, so please send me your address if you have a problem light that needs to be addressed.

While ridership is low due to the pandemic restrictions, WeGo (Metro Transit Authority) is completing capital projects that will enhance the rider experience. These include improvements to the cars, locomotives, fare payment, and parking of the Music City Star train. In addition ten new regional commuter buses are being outfitted with wifi, new fare boxes, and smartphone validators.

In Conclusion

What a spring this has started out to be. We will get through all these concurrent disasters by helping each other, which Nashville has proven good at. Please let me know about your ideas and concerns by contacting me at burkley.allen@nashville.gov or 615-383-6604.

Regards,
Burkley Allen
Metro Council At-Large

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