This was the last night of the current administration and final farewell of four councilmen, an exit overshadowed by the absence of three of them and an historic vote for an additional penny sales tax to back a $110 million spending package on the city schools expansion, high school relocation, and park athletic fields expansion.
A small but concerted protest to the plan came from five Hollywood residents who decried a lack of planning, study, and examination of alternatives, and questioned the council’s choice of increasing a regressive sales tax while not hotly pursuing an overturn of the state’s law that limits taxing property to fund schools. Councilmen agreed in part, but said their hands were tied. Following tonight’s meeting the mayor congratulated the council for “21 months” of work on the school/parks financing decision, work he admitted may have escaped notice by the public.
Tonight’s meeting was preceded by a separate work session called to outline sidewalk construction (details to be posted at a later time).
Members present: Britt Thames, Fred Hawkins, Patrick McClusky, Walter Jones, Alex Wyatt, Peter Wright, and council president Bruce Limbaugh. Also present was Mayor Scott McBrayer.
Absent: Michael Hallman, Vance Moody and Rich Laws.
Staff present: Mike Kendrick, city attorney, Melody Salter, administrative assistant Aimee Lanier, finance director and city clerk, J.J. Bischoff, mayor’s chief of staff, and Greg Cobb, Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.
Audience attendance: 38
Approved minutes of the Oct. 10, 2016, council meeting.
With general consent, voted to drop the following items from committee agendas: Dropped were consideration of 1) Sign regulations for SOHO shopping area; 2) Ways to address problems with downtown street trees; 3) A pedestrian crossing over Shades Creek Parkway from Devon Drive to Brookwood mall and 4) Traffic calming measures on Lancaster Road.
Carried over a measure to rescind the Home Energy Section of the 2016 International Building code:
Carried over, after several previous postponements, a franchise agreement with Level 3 Communications: The company isn’t prepared to enter the agreement, but is working on it.
Set a Nov. 14 hearing before voting whether to establish one-way traffic on Ardsley.
Approved incentives valued at no more than a half million dollars to attract a restaurant development by Patriot Park: After literally years of searching and very little interest from commercial developers, the Respinto family owners of GianMarco’s restaurant on Broadway have entered an incentivized agreement with the city to produce a development plan, build and operate a restaurant on city-owned property at 165 Oxmoor Road, by Patriot Park. The search that has been ongoing since early 2013 is traced in the following linked reports:
Approved an additional penny sales tax following a school board and park board request for additional funding: The vote that raises the city’s sales tax by one penny, to a total of 10 percent including state and county taxes, followed a public hearing in which five residents, all from a single block in the Hollywood area, protested the passing of an additional “regressive” tax, a “forever tax” as one resident put it, for a finite set of expenses. (The tax will back the issuance of $110 million in new debt for school and park expansions, passed separately, below.)
Specifically, tax opponents questioned the haste and absence of public deliberation before borrowing $110 million and approving school construction that will affect all three elementary schools and commence as early as next June. The first speaker, working from notes, said there was not enough due diligence or information available for the council and school board to make an informed decision on such a large scale. He asked why the city hadn’t invited bids to perform a feasibility study and objected to the selection of B. L. Harbert for the school board’s land use study, which was presented several weeks ago as the rationale for schools and parks expansions, saying the use of unpaid professional services violates the board’s own policy. He went on to ask why the decision was rushed into place before newly elected council members were seated, and if any conflicts of interest had been examined or disclosed.
He and others who followed objected to levying a “regressive” sales tax instead of a property tax that targets wealth more proportionately. One resident asked why the mayor and council weren’t working harder at the state level to repeal or win an exemption for the so-called “lid law” that sets a ceiling on property tax designated for schools, or, to remove sales taxes from necessities like medicine and food.
The resident of English Circle said the school board had “asked for a blank check without a plan, while we pay 10% on milk, bread and eggs. It’s a bad decision. Don’t vote for it.”
The speakers seemed led by Hollywood resident and tax opponent Bob Echols, who finally stood up to speak, asking that the decision be put off a year.
Following the public hearing, three councilmen responded that they agreed the tax is regressive, but there was no other choice.
Mr. Jones said Homewood had been working with state representatives to overturn the lid law and allow a property tax increase, however that measure was stalled in the state legislature. “This is all out of our control,” he said.
He pointed out the city’s unwavering support of schools (which draws many if not most of the city’s permanent residents), such as designating one penny of its three-cent sales taxes to schools in 1997 and a property tax increase in 2001.
Mr. Wright joined in to say the schools’ needs are clearly established and sales tax was the only revenue source available. Perhaps when the state constitution was rewritten, he said, property taxes could be raised to replace sales taxes, but that was “pie in the sky.”
Mr. Limbaugh ended the discussion before the vote by suggesting residents contact state legislators and weigh in on their thoughts on state school funding and taxation.
Voted to refinance the city’s 2007 and a portion of the 2012 General Obligation Warrants and issue $110 million in new GOW debt: Refinancing the 2007 warrant issue alone could save $8 million, with more possible savings on a portion of the 2012 issue, according to Mr. Jones. The city attorney explained that the city may opt not to refinance the 2012 issue if it didn’t yield savings of more than $500,000. The multiple deals will be closed by Dec. 1.
Postponed voting to support a state application for a beer and wine (off and on-premises) by the Black Pearl restaurant in North Wildwood: The restaurant owned by Triple Dynasty LLC at 180 State Farm Parkway, had not been inspected/cleared by the fire department, a usual preliminary for a vote of city “no objection” to the license.
Voted support for a state ABC board retail beer and wine (off-premises) license application for a Fred’s store on Green Springs: The chain store at 1780 Green Springs Highway is owned by Fred’s Store of Tennessee Inc.
Approved a $710,000 loan for Capital Purchases: The vote authorizes the mayor to execute the loan in an amount not to exceed $710,000. No details.
Approved additional funding for a third phase of an “odor consultant’s” study to pinpoint the source of intermittent odor problems from the vicinity of Buffalo Rock and/or Mayfield/Barber’s dairy plant: Funds approved for the third phase are $14,716.
COMMITTEE REFERRAL AGENDA
To Finance – Requests for consideration to 1) Set a bid opening date for police uniforms; 2) Amend the current budget(s); 3) Review Investment Policy and earnings from the Cash Reserve for Economic Uncertainty, per fiscal policy; and 4) Declare as surplus property and due to be sold, two International garbage trucks, a sewer truck; a Ford truck; a leaf vacuum truck, and a slag spreader.
To Public Safety – Request to add a street light at 897 Mountain Ridge Drive.
OTHER NEW BUSINESS
Scrapped bids opened to manage Rosewood Hall due to a procedural error: A problem with the Oct. 17 bid opening called the bid(s) into question: Mr. Jones, giving no details, asked that the results be rejected and a new invitation go out.
Awarded funding to the Exceptional Foundation: The budgeted amount in past years has been $40,000.
Entered a contract with BECC, Inc. for site testing at the former Mayfield Cleaners site: The contract relates to a breach of contract lawsuit filed against Mayfield Cleaners over a solvent spill and subsequent monitoring on property the city purchased for the development of SOHO. The state environmental management agency hasn’t released the former downtown property from monitoring at this point. BECC, Inc., was hired to consult with ADEM on the city’s behalf in this legal matter.
Paid the bills: Invoices presented for the period Oct. 10-23, 2016 were approved to be paid.