Metro General Elections for Assessor of Property, Metro Trustee, School Board (odd numbered districts), and some judges are August 6 with early voting July 17 through August 1. This is also the primary for the U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, President, State Senate, and State House. Early voting will be at all locations for the whole early voting period. July locations are open at Belle Meade City Hall; Casa Azafran; Goodlettsville Community Center; and Bellevue, Bordeaux, Edmonson Pike, Green Hills, Hermitage, Madison, and Southeast Libraries. Because of the Corona Virus, voting will require appropriate distancing, and disposable marking devices will be available for touchless voting. Absentee voting by mail is available to voters who request them. Applications for absentee voting can be downloaded on the Nashville.gov website. More information is available on the Election Commission’s web page. This is the everyone’s chance to have a say in how our government at all levels is run. The General Election in November will include School Board District 4 to permanently fill the seat vacated by Anna Shepherd when she passed away.
Brush pick-up will begin in Area 10 (North Bellevue, White’s Bend, Charlotte Park, Cockrill Bend, TSU, College Heights, and Buena Vista Heights)on July 24, area 11 (Bells Bend, Scottsboro, Joelton, Whites Creek) on July 31, and area 12 (Bellshire, Goodlettesville) on August 6. Residents should place brush piles away from poles and other obstacles that would impede the cranes from picking them up.
The Mayor’s office has announced the plan for selecting Nashville’s next Police Chief through a robust, nationwide search for a police executive informed by expert advice on recruiting and 21st century policing principles. The goal of this process is to select a new police chief who will make Nashville a model of community engagement and policing innovation. This process will provide for extensive, county-wide community engagement. Starting July 28, Mayor Cooper is inviting all Nashvillians to participate in a brief online survey about their priorities for the next Chief of Police through the on-line customer service portal. The survey includes the following five questions:
- What are the three (3) most important qualities or skills you would like to see in Nashville’s next police chief?
- What would you like to see the next chief accomplish immediately? Over the next 2-3 years?
- What are the most important public safety needs in your neighborhood?
- Please share suggestions you have for improving police services.
- What is your home zip code?
Residents who lack access to the internet will be able to call 311 and complete the survey by phone. In addition to the Hub survey, the Mayor’s Office will reach out to neighborhood associations to better understand the safety needs and priorities in their neighborhoods. The Mayor’s Office will also conduct engagement sessions with community groups and with police officers. Using input from the survey and from these community engagement sessions, the Mayor’s Office will work with the Human Resources Department (HR) to craft a job posting for the position of Chief of Police and to develop interview questions for the review committee and the interview panel. The time line is:
- July 28 - Mayor’s Office announces roadmap for Chief of Police selection process.
- July 28 - Community and neighborhood engagement begins. Consultant begins process of reaching out to potential candidates nationwide.
- Early August - Consultant surveys police officers on job satisfaction, priorities.
- Mid-August - Metro HR and the Mayor’s Office finalize job posting. The position is advertised nationally and posted for 30 days.
- Mid-September - Application period closes
- Late September - Metro HR scores candidates and meets with review committee narrowing the field to the top finalists for interviews.
- Late September - Background checks.
- October - Finalists visit Nashville to meet with interview panel and the Mayor.
- October - Mayor announces Nashville’s new police chief.
COVID-19 News – Nashville’s Corona Virus Task Force and the Metro Health Department continue to adjust the city’s response to the pandemic as new data becomes available to demonstrate what measures are most effective. We are currently in a modified Phase 2 of our re-opening plan, which means stores and businesses can operate at 75% capacity with employees being screened daily; restaurants, gyms and salons can operate at 50% capacity; bars are closed until at least August 16; live entertainment is permitted, but dance floors remain closed; day camps can operate at full capacity as long everyone stays 6 feet apart; Metro parks, dog parks, tennis courts, basketball courts, playgrounds, skate parks, and splash pads are open; gathering size is capped at 25; residents over 65 with underlying health conditions should work from home; all residents must wear face masks outside their homes (except not required inside your own car, outside if you can maintain 6 feet from other people, or in a private working space if you can maintain 6 feet distance).
Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest the use of cloth masks can limit the spread of the virus, particularly by those who are infected but do not have symptoms of COVID-19. Cloth masks should not be worn by children under the age of two or by those who would jeopardize their health or safety by wearing one. In addition to the wearing of masks, the public is urged to follow the following guidance from the CDC to limit the spread of COVID-19:
- Practice social distancing as defined by the CDC (6 feet of distance from others).
- Gatherings are limited to be kept at 25 people or fewer. Intimate gatherings have now been documented to be one of the most high-risk setting for transmission of COVID-19.
- Stay at home as much as possible. People over 65 years of age or whose health is at risk should remain at home if possible.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Metro School Re-opening is being determined by the Director of Schools in consultation with Metro Health and guidance provided by the CDC. The current plans are to re-open in August virtually and re-evaluate after Labor Day. MNPS is working to ensure that each family has access to a computer and internet as school starts and has ordered laptops for every student with funding available from the CARES act. Over 10,000 laptops were handed out last spring as schools went virtual. Metro teachers have contacted their students for the up-coming year to determine who has computers, and who does not so that MNPS can prioritize the distribution of laptops as orders are fulfilled. Teachers will be providing live instruction on a regular basis, using nationally recognized curriculum for on-line learning. Parents will have the opportunity to select between in-person and virtual learning when schools are ready to bring students back into the schools so each family will have options to choose what works for them. For more information visit the MNPS website.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds may be available to assist people who have lost jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are income guidelines and other restrictions. The Emergency Cash Assistance provides two monthly cash payments to families that were employed as of March 11, 2020, and have lost a job or at least 50% of their earned income due to the COVID-19 emergency. Applications for emergency cash assistance will be accepted through August 29, 2020. This program provides:
- $500 for a household of 1 to 2 persons.
- $750 for a household of 3 to 4 persons.
- $1000 for a household with 5 or more persons.
To be eligible, families must have been employed as of March 11, 2020 but have since then lost employment or at least 50% of their earned income due to the COVID-19 emergency, include a child under the age of 18. More information is available on the Department of Human Services website.
Homeowners can still take advantage of a mortgage mitigation program that is available to people impacted by the March tornadoes. This is a 12 month program that covers much of the mortgage payment while a homeowner is repairing or rebuilding their home. This is targeted specifically at tornado damage and COVID related income loss, and it has major advantages, like not affecting credit scores and dealing with insurance and property tax payments. More information is available at:
- AFFORDABLE HOUSING RESOURCES 615-251-0025 ext 229 firstname.lastname@example.org
- RESIDENTIAL RESOURCES, Inc. 615-650-9779 email@example.com
- WOODBINE COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION 615-850-3447 firstname.lastname@example.org
- LEE CHAPEL AME CHURCH email@example.com
The Metro Council approved the Metro Budget in June under difficult circumstances. While it included a $1.067 property tax rate increase, Nashville’s property tax rate still remains the lowest of Tennessee’s major cities and close to the lowest it has been in the history of Metro. Many people have asked why a large tax increase was necessary, why we couldn’t just cut government waste, why we couldn’t furlough Metro employees, and if this tax increase is permanent. Those are all important questions, which I’ll try to address here.
For the past two years, the council has acknowledged that spending was increasing faster than revenues but was not successful in addressing that imbalance. The Blue Ribbon Commission, established two years ago to identify waste and recommend saving opportunities, suggested some efficiencies, which were implemented, and all departments have cut their spending and maintained a hiring freeze for the past three years, but the city has spent down its cash balance to make up the difference. This year the State Comptroller weighed in and threatened to take over the city’s finances if we didn’t restore all of our fund balances to the percentages required by state law. When the coronavirus shut down the economy, that resulted in a $100 million drop in revenue for last year’s budget and worse expectations for the budget we are now in.
This year’s $2.4 billion budget was a “maintain existing services only” budget with no frills. There are no new capital building projects, and where we could, we cut outstanding economic incentives in half. Even with the pandemic, almost all city services were still needed, and therefore all departments continued operating or converted to virtual services. Cutting employees would have resulted in decreased services for citizens so furloughing employees was not seen as a good option.
Almost half of the city’s budget is for schools, and state law requires level or increased spending for schools. Teachers switched to virtual instruction, and bus drivers pivoted to delivering meals and instructional packets.
The next largest sector is Public Safety, consisting of Police, Fire and Emergency Services. Between tornado recovery and extra patrolling related to COVID and civil unrest, these departments were also operating at full capacity. Many people called for defunding the police, but the implementation of that actually means redirecting some police funding toward social services to address poverty and other root causes of crime. That will be looked at as the Community Oversight Board and other groups review police policy, and appropriate changes could be implemented under the direction of the new Police Chief following successful models from other cities, but it will not be an overall reduction in spending, and it could not be done hastily in the course of the budget process.
The next biggest category of the budget is Public Works and infrastructure. Garbage still needs to be picked up, roads still have to be paved, and projects that are underway have to be completed. Debt service is a fixed portion of the budget, and we are still paying the bill for pushing some of our 2009 debt forward to get through that financial strain.
The budget ordinance included a provision for the Metro Finance Director to provide a report on August 15 to update information on revenue in the last quarter of the 2020 fiscal year (April, May, and June) and to discuss revenue projections for fiscal year 2021, which began July 1. If that information supports it, the council could pass an ordinance adjusting the tax levy before tax bills go out this fall. Finally, next year is a reappraisal year, which will automatically adjust the tax rate so this year’s rate is not permanent, and the council will be looking at it again in the not too distant future. We are working hard to be responsible with the city’s obligations and to be responsive to taxpayer concerns.
Council also passed a much discussed and amended Home Occupation Bill that will expand the options for working from home. This is timely given the current stay at home recommendations. The existing Home Occupation regulations have allowed residents to work from their home as long as there were no customers coming to the home and only one employee. The new bill allows a limited assortment of businesses to be operated out of one’s residence as long as all required conditions are met. That includes limiting customers to three cars/hour and six total/day. Business owners are required to have a permit to see customers in their home, and they will need to renew it annually. Because there was concern from council members and neighborhood groups that enforcement could be difficult, the bill has a sunset date of January, 2023. If the program has worked well, and there have been few impacts on nearby homes, then it could be extended for another trial period or made into permanent law. For now business owners should be aware that they are guaranteed this option only for the next two and a half years, so it is in everyone’s interest to work hard to make it work well for all residents - those with home businesses and those next door to home businesses.
I have seen lots of comments on Next Door about water bills this summer being much higher than last summer. This could be a combination of rate change (first in nine years), increased use for sprinklers, for being home more due to COVID, or having family members moving back home due to COVID. The Metro Water Rate increase went into effect in January after an independent study showed that the existing rates, which had not been raised since 2011 and were among the lowest for large metropolitan areas in the United States, were not sufficient to keep the water system in good working order. For a residential customer using 400 cubic feet (3000 gallons) of water a month, this resulted in a 27% increase over the rate set in 2011. Because the new rate increases at higher volumes, customers who use a lot more than 3000 gallons a month will see higher percentage increases. Water bills show water consumption from one year to the next so customers can see if their use has increased. Sprinkler systems can affect water costs in two ways. First, having a very large system may require larger pipes connecting to the city system and therefore a bigger water meter. The meter charge increases significantly with meter size. A 5/8” meter is typical for older homes in the mid-town area, while suburban homes with big yards may have a 2” inch meter if they have a large sprinkler system. The smaller meter has a flat charge of $11.92, while the larger one is $147.83 even if both homes use 1500 gallons in a month. People who use a lot of water in the summer trying to keep trees and other plants alive, automatically get a sprinkler reduction since the city is not treating this water or making room for it in sanitary sewer piping. This should be reflected in April through November bills. Call 615-862-4600 or visit Nashville.gov’s water rates web page for more information.
Less than 60% of Nashvillians have completed their census. Census data is collected every ten years, and the numbers determine the amount of federal funding we receive through 300 different federal programs, including for disaster relief. Given Nashville’s recent tornado AND derecho and the ongoing pandemic, we know how important that is. With everything that is happening, we are in danger of having a serious census undercount. But it’s more essential than ever that our numbers are as accurate as possible. Please take a minute and complete the census TODAY! You can complete it online, or over the phone at 844-330-2020. You can also request a paper census form at that same number. People displaced by the March tornado or the May derecho should be counted at the address where they intend to return, unless their home has been condemned.
The Nashville Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is currently upgrading the all-call tornado warning system to a polygonal warning system. During the upgrade process OEM will continue to set off ALL Siren Sites throughout the county for tornado warnings. After all existing sites are updated, twenty new sirens will be added to the system to expand the coverage footprint into more rural areas of Davidson County, bringing the total to 113 sirens that will then go to the polygonal alert. Metro first installed Weather Warning sirens in 2003. At that time, weather warnings issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) were for an entire county. Weather forecasting technology has improved significantly since 2003. These polygonal alerts are defined by boxes drawn on a map and should be familiar to everyone as the odd shapes shown on the radar screen during television weather warning broadcasts. This upgrade, when complete, will activate only the sirens located inside the warned area, instead of all sirens county wide. The alerts will be immediate, and sirens will activate seconds after a warning has been issued by the NWS.
Help Metro improve our online public services by responding to the Digital Services Questionnaire on the Nashville.gov website. Click on the yellow ribbon at the top of any page.
TDOT has finished the work on I-440 ahead of schedule. In addition to replacing the failing concrete surface with asphalt, there are now three lanes of travel along the entire stretch of the interstate. New LED lighting has been installed. Thanks to input from the neighbors, the original design of 4000 K brightness was reduced to 3000 K, which is a less stark, warmer light. TDOT has made some adjustments in places where the light is intruding into residents’ homes, and this process will continue for several more months. To register an address where light encroachment is still an issue, contact Jon Boghozian at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit the I-440 webpage here.
I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy. Please let me know what is on your mind in these unprecedented times by contacting me at email@example.com or 615-383-6604.
Metro Council At-Large