Clarksville, TN – The Clarksville City Council met on a very cold Thursday evening regular session on February 6th. Once again the agenda was rather light.
Ordinance 44 (Parking Meters): The council approved on first reading, the purchase of new parking meters that can use credit cards and a sensor system that detects when a car has arrived or departed for payment/tracking purposes. There will be one hour free parking at these meters with a three-hour limit on parking. I voted yes and the measure passed with no dissenting votes.
Resolution 24 (Sublease for Liberty Park Restaurant)
The council approved a change/amendment to the Liberty Park restaurant agreement. This agreement would allow the company that will build a restaurant to sublease a piece of the same land for another small restaurant.
I voted yes and the vote was 11 yes – 1 no. The contract that is currently in effect with the city calls for a restaurant to be operational by the end of May 2014. I really hope we see it by then.
As readers will recall from my past reports, the building of this restaurant has not been a timely process. Contrary to the claims and statements made at last week’s executive session, the lease/restaurant developer did not make meet the contract deadline to start construction before the end of December 2013.
This was the third consecutive deadline missed on three straight contracts agreements with the city. As of February 7th, 2014 there had not been the required building permit obtained for construction to begin. This makes the May deadline look questionable.
Mayor McMillan has been unwilling and/or uninterested in including written penalties for missing deadlines stipulated in the contracts. The defense of this practice seems to be that no one else is interested in developing this property so we accept whatever we get.
This deliberate and continued act of ignoring missed contractual obligations sets a poor precedent in city contract and procurement practices. Given that this developer and the city have discussed additional development on the remaining acreage, past actions can be indicators of future results. This concerns some, to include myself, on the council.
I have not been previously associated with any other agreements where deadlines can be missed on leased land without rent or some other form of penalty imposed to retain the lease on that land.
I, and others, also asked questions about the remaining several acre parcel of land by the marina. By contract, if another developer took interest in that land the current restaurant developer has the right of first refusal.
This means the current restaurant developer is forced to either buy that land to preserve the development plans he has, or if he refuses to buy then the new developer gets the right to try and purchase/develop the land.
According to the city attorney, the remaining parcel is available for purchase/development, but the city is not making ANY effort to promote that option. It begs the question as to why not?
I asked the question had any verbal commitments been made by this administration to the current restaurant developer on the remaining land? The answer was no. It seems the administration is content to sit back and not advertise the remaining parcel as this developer has expressed “interest” to do additional building.
While there is no written and no “claimed” verbal agreement to keep this land set aside for the current developer, the actions/inactions by the city imply some “understanding” seems to exist.
The mayor, and the council and public to a very limited extent, know of some of the “proposed” development for this remaining property. Mixed use in the form of residential and commercial development has been discussed.
However, it would seem prudent for the city, for the benefit of the taxpayer, to openly advertise this remaining parcel and let the best development deal come forth. Then whoever presents a best proposal for the city (aka taxpayer) wins.
At each council meeting the mayor can provide reports on different topics or inquiries. During the past week I had requested information on the funding that was to be provided to the Two Rivers Company (TRC) after six months into the FY 2014 budget.
As readers may recall the TRC was established as a nonprofit organization at the end of 2010 and was to be involved in helping redevelop the downtown and river district areas for the city. No in-depth budgeting methodology had been presented to properly fund the TRC in performing the work it could do in the past. The mayor’s proposed budget for FY 2014 would have continued this process.
Studies on and for the TRC stated that proper and steady funding of the organization was a must if the city were ever to derive any benefit from its mission. Much work is needed downtown to turn it into the development and economic engine that it can be.
Without this money the new full time director that was selected, ready to come and be in place by August or September of 2013, would have had very little money on which to plan and work projects for the next year (the Mayor has not bothered to explain to the council why this important position was not filled until January 2014).
Believing in the TRC mission, I looked for ways to try and provide funding for the incoming director to use for the city’s benefit since the mayor was not. My second try to provide a funding source within the FY 2014 for the TRC was successful and approved by the council.
It added no cost to the budget, nor increased taxes. It would redirect money, in an amount not to exceed $350,000, from savings in department personnel vacancies. The mayor stated just over $325,000 in unused personnel money would go to the TRC.
Then Mayor McMillan began a speech lamenting that she is a supporter of the TRC and that we should ensure that the next budget provides proper funding. (She had that opportunity in her current budget but failed to do so).
She further stated the transfer of this unused personnel money from the various departments could cause hardship if it was not available for “other” things, and overtime pay. The spin was to infer that the funding solution proposed for the TRC, and approved by a solid majority of the council, was flawed in the potential harsh consequences it could invoke. The mayor presented no such concern when the proposal was offered to the council back in June 2013.
It was not a concern in the previous year’s budget when unused personnel money was earmarked for another purpose.
As she tried to proclaim why this was not the best solution to funding the TRC it was interesting what information she excluded. She failed to mention that last year’s budget ended with over $630,000 in unused personnel money. This year’s budget is tracking toward that same amount so we should expect to have around $300,000 in unused personnel pay at the end of this year.
So why all the artificial drama when tens of thousands of unused personnel money become available each month? IF we need to redirect some of the newly accrued unused personnel money (January is over so there is a pot of unused personnel money available) then it is an easy management and budget action to do so.
The mayor failed to mention that departments that use overtime such as the Police and Street, already budget extra money for that purpose. The mayor claims that $67,000 in unused personnel money will be taken from the police. The police have FY 2014 budget “overtime” accounts of almost $455,000 to draw from.
The mayor states Street will lose almost $70,000 in unused personnel money. Street overtime budget accounts for FY 2014 show $120,000 set aside. This unused personnel money did not come from the overtime accounts.
She also failed to mention that personnel money is very limited in how it can be redirected to “other” needs in a department. You cannot buy equipment with personnel money as an example. The sky is not falling.
That concludes the council session report, but here is some FYI information that will please drivers that use the Fire Station – Vaughan Road areas of Hwy76/MLK.
Thanks to the tremendous efforts of our Street Department engineers in working with me and the state’s transportation department (remember they helped me in attaining traffic lights for Exit 11 and Sango Road, in getting money and action to rework part of Sango Road which should start soon, and helped with my proposed access road proposal in the Madison Street and Hwy76 area which the mayor loved so much that she claimed as her own and took it directly to the state for approval) it looks like additional help is on the way.
Due to the projects we have worked on in the Hwy 76/MLK area the past 6-7 years, our engineers and TDOT’s are in sync with the issues we face with traffic and growth in our area.
The next project that looks likely to happen are stoplights at the intersection of Hwy76/MLK and Fire Station-Vaughan Roads. This is the answer to many requests for help. In addition to the stoplights it appears that turn lanes for both Fire Station and Vaughan will be provided for drivers coming from either direction on Hwy76/MLK.
There is no definite timetable for this project at this time, but initial work is underway. While it may still take some time to see this come to fruition, it is at least on the radar screen.