Clarksville, TN – The Clarksville City Council met in its usual first Thursday of the month session on March 7th. It was a long meeting lasting until 11:00pm. Here is Part I on the results of some important decisions.
Ordinance 73 (Councilman Burkhart Rezoning Request) – This was the second time this request has come before the council as the initial review was denied by the council last year. The main issue and reason for that denial was the property is next to Trenton Road.Trenton Road has a rating of “E”. That is one level above “F” (the scale is A – F), which basically means the road is a slow moving parking lot. The council approved the request this year in a 7-yes, 5-no and 1-abstain (Burkhart). Interestingly, the mayor voted “yes” even though there was no tie to break. I voted no.
There seems to be a recent trend by this council to undo the efforts of the past 3-4 years. The previous two councils had voted more to control growth and expansion based on factors of not expanding offices and businesses into residential areas or compound already heavy traffic issues on specific roads. The mayor, by evidence of her Burkhart rezoning vote (when not needed to determine the outcome) and other actions and comments related to the previous Burkhart effort, shows traffic must not be a major concern.
The recent reversal of a zoning denial behind the new Madison Street Publix is another example. A home was rezoned into an office on its resubmission this year, where the council had denied it last year. The mayor broke the tie vote to provide the approval on this resubmission. This runs counter to goal of the 2030 Plan, which calls for increasing residential populations in that area.
Ordinance 74 (Cluster Housing)
If you will recall, this issue has blown up due to issues in the “cluster” language that could be interpreted in different ways. The Planning Commission made changes and the council approved the changes in an 11-yes & 1-no vote. I voted yes. One more change needs to be made and that would give the city council final approval of cluster options. Councilwoman McLaughlin made that request, which I support.
However, to do this additional change a resolution by the whole council will be required. The need for a resolution versus asking the Planning Commission seemed unusual. The mayor was able to direct the Planning Commission to do the changes we voted on. Yet, when a council member requested an additional change, it seems a resolution is now needed.
Some of us are not sure why the mayor could not just direct the Planning Staff to review the option. The councilwoman will present a resolution to that effect.
Ordinance 72 (The million dollar question)
This was the action I had alerted readers to last week. A $190,000 (cash-in-hand) air conditioning project was increased to $1,000,000 (borrowed money) project so that a higher efficiency unit ($384,000) and over $610,000 in high efficiency lights could be installed at 8 buildings.
A bond would pay for the project with a projected payback of 15 years and interest would be rebated back to the city. This would be a good deal except for the timing. We are less than 120 days away from a new budget, Hemlock officially cut almost 300 workers, Fort Campbell is looking to furlough 8000 workers the equivalent of one month’s pay between now and September 30th, Fort Campbell contractors are being alerted to cuts, a 2% payroll tax increase started January 1st, the state is looking at over $100 million in federal cuts, the city is spending more and the sale tax collections have dropped 5-months in a row compared to last year.
We first heard about this higher priced project on Thursday, February 28th and received a continuing stream of reports and statistical and financial data this past week to study before the vote. I ask that you read the rest of my report on this spending ordinance and consider what I have provided for your review. I received several dozen emails, calls and face-to-face meetings on this topic and while many like the idea, not one has supported doing it at this particular time in this budget and economic period.
I, and five other council members, fought this hard at the council regular session. The vote was 6-yes & 6-no. I voted NO. Mayor McMillan had to break the tie with a yes vote. The effort to change a project that has cash on hand for payment to a “borrowed money” project (even if it does pay back in 15 years) at this time in the budget year seems very reminiscent to a financial maneuver the mayor did in 2011.
If readers recall, back in 2011 the city has set aside cash to pay for the new airport terminal. Mayor McMillan tried to convince the council it was better to borrow that money and provided an ordinance to do so. The council said no and it was defeated. Then the mayor tried to sneak borrowing the airport money back into the budget that was worked about 90 days later.
Several council members (including me) caught this maneuver and asked the City Attorney to review the Mayor’s actions. We believed it was illegal since the council had already addressed the matter and voted to deny the mayor permission to borrow the money previously. The City Attorney concurred with the council.
The mayor knew that upcoming budget was going to be rough when she proposed that borrowing plan (twice), but said nothing to the council in detail beforehand. As you will remember, the Mayor decided to borrow about $3 million just to balance that budget and pay for everyday equipment such as computers and police cars.
Indicators for the near future economics again look poor as of this date. The mayor has not said anything concerning where we stand or needs for 2014. The mayor wants to replace a cash project with a borrowed money project that is 5-times bigger. As Yogi Berra said, “This is like déjà vu all over again”.
I have received information from Senator Green’s office as to where they think the $100 million in federal cuts will hit the state. Some of that may filter down and impact Clarksville (I will report that under a separate article later).
If you share my worry with this spending at this time, I ask that you email the mayor and all council members with your concern. Unless you convince one of the council members that voted “yes” to reconsider, this late budget-spending spree will take place. Those council members that voted to spend the $1,000,000 at this time were Lewis, Guzman, Harris, Grubbs, Wallace, Burkhart and Mayor McMillan.
You may even wish to call them, as some council members do not seem to review emails on a regular schedule. You need to take this action before this coming Monday’s final vote. Their contact information can be found at the city website “www.cityofclarksville.com”; under the City Hall tab click “city council”.
During the council session on this topic, one member touted her support for spending $1,000,000 as being a good stewardship of the taxpayer dollar because of the payback and interest rebate. I agree the math and “green” efforts look good and if it were any other time but now I would support it.
However, with all the economic variables/issues I mentioned, saying we are being good stewards of taxpayer money at this time, with this project, would be the same as saying I just booked and wired payment for a special reduced price return trip on the Titanic, as I admire the view of the oncoming large “white thing” bobbing in the ocean ahead.
I also pointed out that two of the buildings receiving the new lighting are not the financial responsibility of the city general fund (you taxpayers). I alerted readers to this also. During the session, I asked why the city was paying for them. The answer was the package and funding breakout was done so fast they didn’t have time calculate the breakout, but these separate financial functions would pay their part. Those two buildings were Gas & Water and Clarksville Department of Electricity.
As near as I can tell from the discussions, the answer was NO. Unless the Board approved it, the city has no legal authority to obligate CDE to any outside spending. The mayor sat mum on this which would seem unusual because as a lawyer she always points out real or imaginary legal issues when a discussion appears to going against something she desires accomplished (more on that point in the Ethics Ordinance recap in Part II).
The Finance Department stated that if CDE did not approve the funding the city had other buildings they could add to make up the difference. That answer opened another angle I took that left some scrambling. If we had other buildings that could replace the energy savings requirement, if CDE dropped out, why couldn’t we wait on the light upgrades for 90-120 days to see what happens with incoming revenues/budget and replace the air conditioning unit now with $190,000 we had on hand?
My thinking here was CDE will pass the budget change to make the mayor’s “green” project continue and the loss in the chiller energy savings could be made up by adding these other available buildings. The chiller only made up around 16%-17% of the total energy savings in 15 years, while each building would be in the ballpark of 10% each (all things being equal).
If we added two or three additional buildings to make up for the chiller energy loss/exclusion of this project, we could still get the required 20% savings and be able to use the interest-rebated bond in 90-120 days. Basically, I was offering a swap in which assets to use and the timetable to use them. Fix the immediate problem of air conditioning and wait until the budget clears up and then have a plan to spend the $1,000,000 (or less) on new lighting if the finances are right on all the economic concerns listed.
The counter to my proposal was it would take 9 to 12 weeks (which they then stated equaled 3-4 months…. I countered that that was 2-3 months as there are 4.3 weeks in a month which any engineer should know) to get the $190,000 unit in whereas, the higher price unit was only three weeks away. They stated the unit we currently are using could blow up any day and we need to get it ordered.
I countered again that the $190,000 in cash had been sitting available since July 2012 so why had we been waiting and now everything is in a hurry. If management was worried about breaking a sweat by May 2013, they should have taken care of this months ago.
I’ll stop here and report on the ethics battle in a follow-up report. Remember, your input to the mayor and those council members that voted yes is the only thing that may change the outcome of the Monday vote to spend a $1,000,000 at this time.
Editor’s Note: This article contains the view points of Councilman Bill Summers and may not represent the views of the rest of the City Council, the City of Clarksville or ClarksvilleOnline.