Jeff Syracuse Metro Council District 15
August 2nd Election, FY 18/19 Budget Challenges, Donelson TOD and Library Update, Floodway Buffer Legislation and Much More
Dear Friends –
Well, I must start this newsletter with an apology. I try hard to send out a newsletter every 4-6 weeks or so. My last one was sent April 30th. It’s been an extraordinarily busy 2018 with some big challenges in Metro Government. I was very happy to see David Briley win the special Mayoral election with enough support that meant we did not need a run-off election, which would’ve cost the tax payers an additional $1 million. Very frustrating that we even needed to spend the $1 million. Now that the Mayoral special election is behind us, we now turn our attention to a special election for Vice Mayor, which thankfully is being included in the normal August 2nd election.
In a consistent manor that I supported David Briley because of his strong institutional knowledge and much needed stability he brings to the Mayor’s Office, I’m also supporting Sheri Weiner for Vice Mayor, who is currently already in the seat because Council elected her as our President Pro Tempore last year, who is there to serve as Acting Vice Mayor in situations like the one we are in now. As a new Council Member, Sheri was always there to support and encourage me as I learned the intricacies and operations of Metro government. She is a strong leader who asks the tough questions, gets to the bottom of challenging issues and knows how to take decisive action. Get to know Sheri and join me in supporting her.
I’m also supporting Bill Beck for re-election as our District 51 State Representative. Bill is all about people over politics. The main residential portion of our 15th District for Metro Nashville that is in Bill’s State House District is the west side of Pennington Bend Road. The rest of the 15th District is in Darren Jernigan’s House District 60. Darren doesn’t have an opponent and I believe that is a reflection of the fantastic job he is doing representing us. Let’s keep both of these good public servants in office.
Early voting will start July 13 for the August 2nd Election Day. Below is the voting schedule for August 2nd.
One of the biggest (and most frustrating) challenge we’ve been facing is with the FY18/19 budget. These should be the good years with revenues flowing as we grow faster than most cities in the U.S. and third in job growth. So, why are we experiencing a revenue shortfall? We have roughly a $34 million revenue shortfall. $26 million of that is due to the fact that property values have gone through the roof as evidenced by the every four-year appraisal we just went through. There were many successful challenges to the appraisals that were decided by the Board of Equalization and most of the budget revenue associated with the successful appeals were from large commercial properties. About $8 million of the revenue shortfall is because of decreasing enrollment in our schools, therefore reduced State funding. I cannot in good conscious vote for a property tax increase, although that was one of the budget proposals before us. There are no easy answers. I am equally frustrated that the budget I supported is not able to fund the promised Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) to Metro employees. It’s not right, but that hard decision that I chose to make was to not fix these budget challenges on the backs of Davidson County property owners. Generally what happens after a regular property appraisal and the rate drops to make the process revenue neutral (per State law), the Mayor and Council will raise the rate up a bit to take into account appeals and additional city expenses associated with growth, schools, new infrastructure, etc. That did not happen last year. Perhaps it should have. We certainly have work to do in improving our budget forecasting processes. Our budget challenges will not go away. We have a few challenging years ahead of us I believe.
The Donelson Transit Oriented Development District was recommended for approval by the Planning Commission on June 28th. It is currently scheduled for third and final reading on July 17th, but it first has to go to the MDHA Board for approval of an amendment I put forth regarding the structure of the Design Review Committee that reviews development proposals. Currently, the DRC is managed by MDHA for the 12 current redevelopment districts downtown. My proposed amendment to the MDHA Plan would give our community a solid seat at the table with the DRC and make it function like any other Board or Commission with nomination by the Mayor and oversight by Council. I think this is fair and follows the spirit of the intent of the State authorizing legislation by State Rep Daren Jernigan and State Senator Steve Dickerson to make this more of a partnership between MDHA and the local community where the TOD is. They have written a letter to MDHA to that fact as well. I also have an amendment that differentiates non-owner and owner-occupied short term rentals. Non-owner short term rentals should appropriately be in the prohibited use. Owner-occupied would still be allowed. I’ve been taking the slow and steady approach to this legislation, especially because it’s the first of its kind. I believe that approach is paying off and tweaks and updates to it have improved it. If the MDHA Board approves my amendment, it may need to come back to Council for a public hearing, so I’m still figuring out what dates for future Council meetings that would be. I’ve been very patient with this and committed to getting it right. Additionally, as part of discussions, a MOU was signed between MDHA and Metro Planning to take time and further study the Design Review Process of all redevelopment districts in Nashville by hiring a consultant to review best practices across the U.S. Any further improvements to the process to help streamline red tape would then come back to Metro Council and the MDHA Board for approval.
Now that legislation for our new Donelson Branch Library has passed that detailed the purchase of a portion of Donelson Plaza where it will be constructed, the surrounding infrastructure and financing arrangement as part of the Plaza master plan with Holladay Properties, we’re ready to start the community engagement process to discuss the new library, its design, programming, etc. I posted on Facebook to begin to solicit community members who are passionate about the library and want to be at the forefront of community engagement. I received great response. If you’re interested, please let me know. There will community wide meetings towards the end of September. Stay tuned for more info.
Over the past couple of years, increased interest in developing along the Cumberland River in the Pennington Bend area has resulted in variance requests at the Board of Zoning Appeals and Stormwater Committee to build larger. Variances are required because there are two buffers next to the floodway – Zone 1 (50 feet from the floodway) and Zone 2 (75 feet from the floodway). Zone 1 is designated as a “Do Not Disturb” area but the Metro Code allows variances to be decided by the Stormwater Committee. In my opinion, this is a dangerous and irresponsible practice to try and secure a variance in an area that is directly next to the floodway and designated a “Do Not Disturb” zone. As your Councilman, it’s my job to look at how our policies and laws impact our community 10-20 years out or more. If we allow variances and rebuild to the level of density we had pre-May 2010 flood, we will be enabling the level of destruction we saw. That flood also resulted in large amounts of shoreline to be destroyed, reducing the level of developable property. This is an inherent risk of owning riverfront property. Therefore, I have legislation that will make the 50-foot buffer permanent without option to receive a variance to build in the “No Disturb Zone”. Here’s an article in the Tennessean about this. Below is a map that illustrates the floodway, buffers and more. You can access this information from Metro Property Maps. Turn on the Stromwater filter and you’ll need to adjust the opacity to better see the buffers.
Thanks to everyone who participated the Lebanon Pike Study, focusing on future growth and preservation along Lebanon Pike from Spence Lane to Briley Parkway. As “Downtown Donelson” begins to grow, it’s very important for the transitional area between downtown and Donelson to be well planned and guide proper growth and development. All information is at the link above. It passed the Planning Commission on June 28th.
I’m pleased that we will finally be cutting the ribbon on the McGavock Pike Boat Ramp at the end of McGavock Pike where it intersects with Pennington Bend Road. It will be on Saturday, July 28th at 10am. Mayor Briley, Vice Mayor Weiner and other community leaders will join us to cut the ribbon and open the boat dock to the public to start using if to launch non-motorized boats on the Cumberland River.
Metro is putting together a Davidson County Long Term Solid Waste Master Plan and is looking for feedback. Please review all information here and there are survey links on the website. This is an important aspect of ensuring we manage our growth sustainably.
I have been gathering facts and discussing what we all recently learned about as it relates to emergency medical services operations at three Nashville Fire Department stations in Davidson County. I have discussed this with Mayor Briley, Chief Will Swann, IAFF Nashville Local 140 President Mark Young and stopped by Station 28 to sit and listen to the perspective of those serving there as well.
First, I want to address one thing that started this and prompted the media to do a story. This began because of one member from NFD Station 28 violating NFD social media policy by posting on Hip Donelson and venting from his personal Facebook page about NFD operational decisions. His action was inappropriate. I heard from a lot of my neighbors immediately after that post very confused and fearful. I refuse to react emotionally or come to a quick judgment about any issue with which I don’t have all the facts and perspectives. Here are the facts I’ve learned from NFD:
- 1. Our NFD is not phasing out personnel. They are reallocating the Advanced Life Support (ALS) personnel to the outlying parts of the county where there is a greater need for ALS appratus because of distance.
- 2. The program of putting Paramedics on engines was instituted years ago because there was not as many ambulances in service. It was 19 at the time and now we have 28 medic units. The increase of medic units decreases the need for ALS Engines in the urban area.
- 3. All fire companies have EMTs and Advanced EMTs. Every Nashville fire fighter is an EMT or Advanced EMT and they are capable of treating patients with quality care.
- 4. Engine 28’s ALS unit will not transition to a Basic Life Support (BLS) unit in the near future. They will reassign the firefighter-paramedics to remaining ALS Engines through attrition. No one is being phased out or let go during this process.
- 5. Response times will not be impacted by this transition because fire fighters will continue to respond to medical calls.
- 6. This was a decision made several months ago and was not a function of the current budget. This was a plan that would have been implemented regardless of the budget passed recently by Metro Council.
I appreciate the input and guidance from Mark Young, President of IAFF Local 140 on this issue. I agree we never want to see any reduction of service at any station or negative impact to NFD personnel pay rates. Operational decisions should never compromise the level of care we receive and I will continue to support our NFD leadership who are confident this is not happening. I do empathize and have concerns about how this potentially impacts pay rates for certain NFD personnel and stability of being able to stay at the fire hall and community they love to serve. Leading a large county-wide Fire Department is certainly not an easy task and hard decisions have to be made, especially with the growth we are experiencing. That should also mean our budgets need to reflect a consistent top priority to public safety and I will continue to advocate strongly for that.
Nashville MTA is now WeGo Public Transit. The new image is part of a process that started with the adoption of the nMotion plan in 2016, and included extensive interviews and focus group testing of current riders, prospective riders, residents, business, and community leaders in Nashville, all of whom are affected by the ever-growing mobility concerns in a rapidly growing city. It is just one part of their continuing efforts to improve public transit in Nashville as laid out in the nMotion plan, which includes a number of service enhancements as well as improvements to the customer experience. Here’s an image of a new bus.