On Thursday, October 1, Nashville entered Phase Three of our COVID reopening plan. This means retail stores and commercial business operate at ¾ capacity; personal gatherings over 25 people can resume at 1/3 capacity or a maximum of 500 people with a permit. Gyms and salons are open at ½ capacity. Bars and restaurants are open at half capacity up to 100 people per floor, and live entertainment without dancing is permitted. To-go alcohol sale is allowed outside Downtown and Midtown. Metro Parks are open. Metro schools are open remotely through fall break, which ends October 12. After fall break Metro Schools will convert to a hybrid model with families choosing for the rest of the semester to participate in person or virtually. In person attendance will phase in starting with the lower grades. For more information about Phase Three, visit the Metro Health Department’s Phase Three Guidance and Resources page.
Neighborhood Health is now offering free flu vaccinations for children and adults at all eleven of its community clinics while supplies last. In addition, free pneumonia vaccinations are available to all adults who need them. Because of this year’s double threat from COVID, it is more important than ever to get a flu shot. Appointments are required and may be made by calling 615-227-3000.
State and Federal General elections take place next month. In addition to the Presidential election, voters will choose Senator, Congressmember, State Senator, State Representative, School Board member for District 4, and Commissioners for Forest Hills and Goodlettesville. The last day to register to vote was October 5. You can register to vote or check your registration status at GoVoteTN.com. Early voting runs October 14-29. As part of the VoteEarlyTN initiative, I have adopted Oct 17 as my day to bring all my friends with me to the polls (socially distanced, of course). That is “Women’s Suffrage” Day, and I’m sharing the day with great organizations like the Women’s Political Collaborative, Women In Numbers, Women for Tennessee’s Future, and The Mae Collective. If you haven’t already made your plans to vote early on a specific day, I invite you to join me on October 17. (If everyone in your household votes early, the robocalls stop.) Look for more details to come. Those who are reluctant to venture out in person can request absentee ballots through October 27. Tennessee is working to move from having one of the lowest voter turn-out rates in the country. Please vote and make sure all your friends and family vote as well.
Brush Pick-up is already underway for Green Hills, Belmont Hillsboro, Edgehill, and 12th South Neighborhoods. Pick-up for Hillsboro/West End, Whitland, Warner Parks, and Bellevue begins October 6. On October 13, pick-up starts in Bellevue, West Meade, Hillwood, White Bridge, Sylvan Park, Hadley, and Fisk neighborhoods. On October 23, pick-up begins in Whites Bend, Charlotte Park, Cockrill Bend, the Nations, Buena Vista, College Heights, and TSU. October 29 is beginning of pick-up for Bells Bend, Scottsboro, Bordeaux, Marrowbone, Joelton, Haynes Park, and Trinity Hills. Neighbors can confirm dates on the Public Works website here. Remember to put leaves in compostable bags and place brush piles away from utility poles so the machinery can pick them up safely.
The Street Sweeping schedule is published monthly on Metro’s Open Data website. Filter by street to find out when your block will be swept and try to get cars moved out of the way. Moving cars off the street on sweeping day will help Metro Water Services get debris and leaves off the street before they end up in the storm sewer system and clog it up. And since leaves are falling at this time of year, please remember not to blow your leaves into the street. Metro will pick them up if they are bagged in compostable bags, which can be bought at most hardware stores. This is also a great time of year to Adopt-A-Storm-Drain. Pick a storm drain near you and commit to keeping it free of sticks, leaves, and trash to keep our water ways clean and help prevent flooding on your street during heavy rains.
Beginning Monday, October 12, Nashville Public Library is reopening the Richland Park Branch Library for curbside service, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. This branch is joining the Downtown Library, Bellevue, Bordeaux, Edmonson Pike, Green Hills, Hermitage, Madison, Southeast, and Thompson Lane, which have been operating since June, and Donelson, Goodlettsville, and Inglewood, which started curbside September 21. Reserve books online and pick them up a day or two later. Please visit the Nashville Public Library website for more details.
As this newsletter goes out, courts are reviewing the legality of the proposed Charter amendment referendum to repeal the property tax increase passed by the Council last June. While I agree that lower taxes are always preferred, I believe that the provisions of the referendum would ultimately be extremely detrimental to Metro government and to its ability to provide essential services to all Nashvillians.
The proposed charter amendment contains five provisions:
- A retroactive repeal of the property tax increase with a required referendum for any future tax increase over 2%
- Required referendums for long term leases of public property
- Required referendums for issuing bonds over $15 million
- Reversion of sports facilities back to Metro if professional teams leave or don’t play for 24 months
- Open records for “public instrumentalities” receiving more than $250,000
The five provisions must be voted on as a package deal, and each one of them has legal issues. In general, the proposed referendum language has many legal inconsistencies that will have to be interpreted by a court before it could be implemented. Metro governs by our Charter with authority given us by State of Tennessee. Any Charter referendum should have language that explains how it amends the charter, and it should be consistent with state laws. Several of the provisions conflict directly with state law, and there are no references to what parts of the Metro Charter each provision refers to.
In addition to being questionable legally, the provisions will affect every Nashvillian negatively. Services will be cut; it will cost Metro more to build schools, libraries, parks, greenways, community centers, and fire halls; and citizens will be subject to multiple referendums every year just to keep the government running (at a cost of close to $1 million for every special election).
Because the tax repeal is retroactive, Metro is already having consequences on our current spending, which may lead to deep reductions in the few areas where we can cut. Because of state law we can’t reduce our school operating budget from one year to the next. School operating funding represents 37% of our budget that cannot be reduced. But we can reduce school capital cost, which means no new Bellevue High School or additions for overcrowded schools in Antioch. The next biggest category in the budget is Public Safety, which includes Police, Fire, and Emergency services. Each of these departments is already understaffed. Cutting funding here will mean closing precincts, further reducing the number of fire fighters per vehicle, and increasing emergency response times. The next biggest category in the budget is debt service. These are obligations that must be paid and can only be reduced through refinancing when it is appropriate. The finance director saw an opportunity to refinance debt at lower interest rate last month, which would have saved taxpayers $40 million, but the bond rating agencies are already watching the referendum, and the likelihood of downgraded bond ratings cut off that refinancing option. Bond rating agencies have looked at Nashville favorably up till now due to our booming economy and our unencumbered ability to raise revenue. With the proposed constraints, that favorable rating is in jeopardy, and it could cost us more to finance anything in the future.
The tax repeal is based on the incorrect assumption that there is $300 million in wasteful spending that can simply be cut out of the budget. This year’s budget already included every cut available to each department as recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission. Capital projects were put on hold. Hiring freezes have been continued. Economic incentives and grants to non-profits were reduced. Two departments were eliminated. The cuts have already happened, and the budget passed in June was balanced as required by state law.
Making drastic revenue reductions midway through the year is not the same as saving money, and I ask everyone to study what the referendum would actually do to the city before you vote. For more detailed information on the budget and the referendum, please visit the issues page on my website.
This is the final month to get counted in the 2020 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.
Metro Libraries just celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the Nashville After School Zone Alliance, an amazing partnership with MNPS to facilitate quality after school programming for middle school students at twenty-nine schools. There are still spaces available for the current school year. Online registration for NAZA afterschool programs is now live on the NAZA website. Programs are offered at no cost to middle school youth and their families in partnership with non-profit and community-based organizations. Programs that are typically school-based will be virtual until further notice. Some community-based programs are providing in-person programming. They must follow health guidelines, including keeping the recommended small group sizes and providing enough space for social distancing, along with other precautions mandated by the city and the state.
Applications are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis. Once a student’s application has been submitted, staff at that program will review it and respond in about 1 week. Parents with questions can contact the program directly using the phone number or email address provided.
WeGo is rolling out an easier way to pay for bus rides. QuickTicket features a smartphone app, a website to manage accounts online, more durable cards, money protection, and the ability to get passes in more locations. WeGo is still in beta testing phase and looking for volunteers to make sure all systems are a go before we bring the new system to the public. Click here to sign up.
I hope everyone is staying safe and enjoying the onset of fall. I’m hopeful that the change of seasons will bring new opportunities, and Nashville can move forward to being a great place to live and work for everyone. Please contact me with your thoughts and your suggestions at email@example.com or 615-383-6604.
Metro Council At-Large