TLDR: Zero-based Capital Spending

February 21, 2023

We have a Metro Council meeting tonight. You can review proposed amendments and analysis of the agenda. There is a public comment period. Note that tonight includes a special pre-budget public comment period for input on the Capital Improvements Budget (CIB) and operating budget.

One of the most important items on the agenda tonight is the Capital Spending Plan (CSP).

This is basically money we're choosing to invest into large capital projects. Things like schools, equipment, and infrastructure. It's worth taking a look at what's on the list.

Before we gavel in tonight, I want to give you a brief reminder and primer on how money moves in Metro.

These moments where we allocate capital come almost entirely at the discretion of the mayor's office. There is no fixed scheduled according to which Metro must appropriate money for capital investments.

And yet, every year, we are required to approve a Capital Improvements Budget. This is primarily a planning document indicating what items are eligible for appropriation later. Council typically prioritizes items that can be used by any mayor's office to inform a Capital Spending Plan.

But some projects have been in the CIB literally for decades. When I was first elected, I identified a variety of projects in District 19 I thought were worthy of investment. Very few have had any capital allocated toward them.

In a few weeks, we'll kick off our other important annual tradition, which is approving our operating budget. This is the money that is used to operate the Metro government year-in, year-out. It's where we pay our personnel and generally cover all the operating costs of our local government.

We are fortunate in Nashville in that not only must we create a balanced budget, we also have a requirement that an operating budget goes into effect Jun 30. If Metro Council doesn't approve the mayor's budget or offer our own substitute, the mayor's recommended budget goes into effect by default. So there are no political games that get played with missing deadlines or having anything other than a balanced budget.

So back to the current Capital Spending Plan. There's plenty to like in here. I see meaningful progress on critical projects like Fort Negley, other key parks, a new fire station #2, and the long-suffering riverfront dock.

But I'm also frustrated. Over the past three years, we've allocated about $1.5b of local capital, and we've invested so little in transit that it repeatedly doesn't even merit a mention in the press releases.

Here's the hard part: I'd love to invest $1.5m more in transit stops and shelters. I'd love to invest $8m in replacement buses to keep our fleet in good shape. But in looking over the existing investments, there's nothing I'm actively opposed to. In the past, I have been willing to fight over spending I object to. Unfortunately, the finance director has indicated she would not sign a plan that goes a penny over the current proposal.

Just a bit more on how this works: with the year-over-year operating budget, they typically have some amount of momentum based on the status quo of the previous year. Typically the Office of Management and Budget doesn't start over from scratch each year to create a brand new template for the operation of the Metro government.

For the capital spending plans, however, they are built from scratch each time. And I want to get to the point where we're intentionally treating this as opportunistic funding opportunities for our transportation plan, and specifically its transit elements.

We're not there yet. But we will be.

What's Happening

  • Public Hearing
  • We have two distance waivers for beer permits in Germantown. Each has generated some community conversation, and I believe we've resolved the most pressing concerns, including some conditions applied to one of the applications. [RS2023-2012, RS2023-2013]
  • The aforementioned Capital Spending Plan will be considered. I'm broadly supportive, but I do wish it had about $10m more in transit investment. [RS2023-1978]
  • Sometimes, things come in under budget. It's worth noting when that happens. [RS2023-1979]
  • As we have discussed overcrowding and occupancy in housing, CM Cash has introduced a resolution requesting that Codes get landlords on record. [RS2023-2032]
  • I'm working with NDOT and the mayor's office to understand how the Vision Zero task force might accomplish some of the goals of what used to be the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), so I will be deferring this bill. [BL2022-1449]
  • I support CM Parker's work to make sidewalk dining a more permanent and structured feature of life in Nashville. [BL2023-1689]
  • I'm supportive of a newly proposed stormwater capacity fee. The intent of this fee is to ensure developers have a predictable mechanism for understanding the costs of new development with regard to its impact on future infrastructure needs. [BL2023-1690]
  • We're still working on the occupancy and overcrowding issue. What I need is alignment and certainty from multiple Metro departments—Legal, Codes, Planning—about what is allowed and what is enforceable. Generally speaking, I want to make sure that available bedrooms can be used as part of dwelling units while also ensuring that neighborhoods designed for families remain available to families. [BL2022-1471]

What's Coming

What I'm Hearing

  • I continue to hear that access to downtown in the vicinity of the entertainment district is unpleasant, particularly on weekends.
  • I continue to hear multiple complaints from all over the urban core about construction noise, as well as a lack of coordination that results in unexpected street closures and contributes to a sense of chaos.

What I've Been Up To

What You Can Do

Mayor's Race

Thank you, as ever, for your curiosity, ideas, and support.

See you around the community soon!

My best ...


Freddie O'Connell

Metro Council, District 19

Mayoral Candidate, 2023


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