The Nashville Rescue Plan

January 17, 2023

We have a Metro Council meeting tonight. You can review proposed amendments and analysis of the agenda. There is a public comment period.

Over the past few years, we've been allocating federal funds as part of a localized federal response via the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act.

We're now down to the final few million discretionary dollars.

Probably the best way to understand how we've locally allocated hundreds of millions dollars is to use our legislative search tool and look up [cares act] and/or [american rescue plan].

At some point, I think our spending deserves a true evaluation.

Toward the end of the first year of CARES Act spending, for instance, I objected to a mechanism that socked it away for later use because I had had to oversee two mass displacement events—a tornado and a bombing—in District 19 and knew how many people were in desperate need of tenant/rent and other housing relief.

As this discretionary period winds down, I'm still working toward trying to negotiate spending that will be truly transformative rather than leaving us wondering in a couple of years where all that money went.

To that end, one of the proposals I've requested is an allocation to kick start WeGo Ride at our four historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Today, all of Vanderbilt, Belmont, Lipscomb, and Trevecca participate in WeGo Ride—which allows any of faculty, staff, or students to ride using their IDs with the institution covering the fares at an agreed rate. Sadly, none of Fisk, Meharry, TSU, nor American Baptist College participate.

We have the power to change this!

If you explore the history of endowments and financial performance, it should be an absolute imperative for us as a city that we use specialized funding sources to make these sorts of long-lasting, transformative, equity-driven investments.

For months, I've been working with Walk/Bike Nashville toward a proposal modeled on Denver's e-bike rebate program. During COVID, Nashville bike shops saw a surge in demand, and within that surge, we've seen an independent surge among e-bikes. Last week, I spoke with Mike Salisbury in Denver, who launched their program, and they've observed that participants replaced 3.5 vehicle round trips per week. This is a huge change! That's why I'm delighted that CM Sledge went ahead and filed an allocation modeled on Denver's.

Again, we've had the capacity to transform the city's future, but we've struggled to create comprehensive plans to do so.

As we think about the Infrastructure and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act opportunities we'll have, we should be thinking both bigger and longer.

What's Happening

  • Tonight, I expect we will consider and probably adopt new fund balance policies. While I specifically do want to avoid repeating mistakes of the past, which have left us needing a fiscal corrective action plan to satisfy the state comptroller, neither do I want us to wind up in the position of making poor revenue choices that mean we have to short public employees or commitments to education funding. Based on increases in the number of full-time employees in Metro over the past two fiscal years, I'm increasingly concerned that fiscal years 2024 and 2025 will be considerably tighter from a cost of government and service delivery standpoint than might've seemed likely given our extraordinary property tax increase from a few years ago. This is an important policy step, but we need to monitor its impact carefully and be honest on its future impact as the next assessment cycle begins. [RS2023-1901]
  • I have long admired my colleague CM Bedne's celebration of the concept of participatory budgeting, but I'm not convinced the American Rescue Plan Act funds were intended to be allocated in this way, and I'm concerned about the likely tension of a countywide ballot and ensuring a priority for vulnerability in spending. I'm unlikely to oppose this spending, but I think this comes back to my concern about the lack of planning for both projects that should've been shovel-ready from priority but also the clear needs of our residents and businesses that have had various types of struggles directly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. [RS2023-1947]
  • I support CM Sledge's recommended allocation for an e-bike rebate program. [RS2023-1951]
  • I think a bill overhauling the animal portion of our code will be deferred till July. [BL2022-1571]
  • We have a significant overhaul of sidewalk vending downtown being proposed that should both improve public safety but also improve the permitting program. I strongly support this initiative and appreciate the stakeholder feedback we've received. It was particularly important to me to protect The Contributor's vendor population. [BL2023-1647]
  • While I'm excited about a new affordable housing project proposed for Salemtown (my neighborhood), it's been important to me to try to incorporate community concerns. We have a few amendments and a letter of commitment from the project team that I hope should provide some greater certainty and mitigation of concerns. [BL2022-1490]

What's Coming

  • Surprisingly little! But I suspect little legislative work occurred over the holidays.

What I'm Hearing

  • I'm continuing to hear concerns about overall call times and response times as well as the entirety of the law enforcement and criminal legal system in terms of arrests, clearance rates, and prosecutions. It's important that we have as much alignment as we can in terms of the systems that provide public safety, particularly where violent crime is concerned.

What I've Been Up To

  • I enjoyed almost all of the MLK Day Nashville events, most of which took place in District 19.
  • I joined residents of The Rhythm on Demonbreun Hill for a discussion centered on public safety but related concerns of infrastructure and quality of life. I was glad to have the participation of MNPD and the District Attorney's office, and I think we have some real potential for progress on a number of the concerns that were raised.

What You Can Do

As the year advances, we'll have a critically important citywide conversation, but our friends in the General Assembly seem intent on forcing some of that conversation into maximum chaos. Thank you for your steady engagement with me as I close out this period of my public service on the Metro Council.

My best ...


Freddie O'Connell

Metro Council, District 19

Mayoral Candidate, 2023


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