Germantown? There’s an App for That!

At the January 29 Technology Commission it was announced that City would soon be launching the “Germantown on the Go” app. The app is currently available in the App Store for both Apple and Android. The city has been testing the app for the last several months and setting up procedures to address the community feedback expected from the app.

Community feedback? Yes, the app will allow you to interact with the city to address many of the day to day concerns and questions that you see pop up on social media. Who do you call about that pot hole? Well, take a picture of it, tag it on a map and send it to the city. Animal complaints? Tag it on the map, write a note and post a picture. In addition to issues with roads and animals, the app allows you to report issues for Code Enforcement, drainage, traffic and trash.

The app allows easy access to the city calendar, news, contacts and social media posts. This new way to connect to the city gives citizens an easy way to stay informed and address concerns in the palm of their hands. Remember, you can always find more info on the City Web page. Expect to see more from the City in coming weeks as they promote the launch of this new tool.

 

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BMA in Brief – February 25, 2019

To help you stay informed we will do our best to provide high level summaries for the bi-monthly Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meetings. These summaries will be fact based with a focus on key items covered in the meetings and summaries of the votes taken. Where needed we will cover important discussions individually.

The Consent Agenda was amended to move the approval Professional Services agreement of the Golf Course Appraisal to the regular agenda. The commission appointments were moved to the Consent Agenda. There were no Citizens to be Heard.

The meeting can be viewed by clicking here.

9. Consent Agenda – Passed as amended 5-0 (begins approximately 15:14)

10. Appointments to Commissions – Moved to Consent Agenda

11. Contract – Winchester Road Resurfacing Project – 80 % of this project is funded by a TDOT grant of $1.1M. The city match for this project is $296K. The bid came in over budget and the Metropolitan Planning Organization agreed to fund the overage. Passed 5-0 (begins approximately 16:54)

12. Supplement No. 1 – Construction Engineering and Inspection Services – Winchester Rd – This contract is required to make sure that the project meets the state of Tennessee requirements due to this being funded by a TDOT grant. This will be funded as well 80/20 by TDOT grant with the city’s portion being $142K. Passed 5-0 (begins approximately 32:42)

13. Development Contract 1226 and Final Site Plan for New Cell Tower @ Madonna Learning Center – This is a T-mobile tower being moved from a MLGW transmission tower to a new stand alone tower on the Madonna Learning Center property. The Design and Review Commission (DRC) approved a design of a 140 foot mono pole design as opposed to the mono pine design. Alderman Massey moved to send the review the back to the DRC, seconded by Alderman Sanders. The motion to return the proposal to DRC failed 2-3 with Aldermen Massey and Sanders voting yes. Alderman Sanders moved to amend the motion to classify the tower as a Mono Pine, seconded by Vice Mayor Gibson. The amendment failed 2-3 with Alderman Massey and Sanders voting yes. Contract passed as submitted. Passed 4-1 (begins approximately 37:25)

14. Ordinance No. 2019-5 – Amendment to Zoning Ordinance Chapter 23 – Smart Code: Site Standards 3rd and Final Reading – This is the final reading for a change to the code for curb cut widths to address issues with access for emergency equipment. Approved 5-0 (begins approximately 1:10:11)

15. Ordinance No. 2019-6 – Amendment to Zoning Ordinance Chapter 23 – Wireless Transmission Facility 3rd and Final Reading – This change to the ordinance has two parts. First, it allows staff to approve minor changes to existing cell towers. Those types of changes currently require approval of the BMA. Staff updated the language to clarify approvals were only for existing facilities. The second change places process in place for the coming small cell technology. Alderman Massey moved to send the wording back to the Planning Commission and the motion failed due to a lack of a second. Alderman Sanders moved to amend the wording as proposed by staff and that amendment passed 4-0 with Alderman Massey abstaining. Alderman Sanders moved to change the wording to allow for and 18 inch pole and passed 4-0 with Alderman Massey abstaining. The extra two inches allow all the equipment associated with small cells to stay inside the pole. Alderman Massey moved to postpone the vote until staff presents a redline version of the document. The motion to postpone failed 2-3 with Aldermen Massey and Sanders voting yes. The amended ordinance was approved 4-1 (begins approximately 1:13:15)

16. Ordinance No. 2019-7 Amendment to Subdivision Ordinance Chapter 17-60 – Parkland Dedication – First Reading – The amendment changes the wording to address the use of the term “Parks Districts” which the city does not have. The change also allows the Parks Director to review the preliminary plans prior to going to the Parks Commission. The ordinance also addresses the need for Smart Code properties to make land or financial contributions in lieu of park land. Public Hearing date: March 25, 2019 First Reading Approved 4-1 (begins approximately 1:48:19)

17. Ordinance No. 2019-8 Amendment to the Vegetation Ordinance Chapter 22 – Tree Preservation and PlantingFirst Reading –  The ordinance makes two specific changes.  First it establishes the option of payment in-leiu of tree dedication.  Previously trees would have to be replaced or dedicated on public land.  In some cases neither of these options are viable.  The funds from these payment should be used for maintenance or replacement of public trees.  The second part establishes the option of a cap to the fee.  It will be at the desecration of the Design Review Commission and requires a report from an independent arborist, at the applicants expense.  Public Hearing date: March 25, 2019 Passed 4-1 (begins approximately 2:07:19)

18. Ordinance No. 2019-9 Amendment to Chapter 2, Article VI, Division 2 – Purchasing – First Reading – This Ordinance change updated the amount of approvals for items requiring bids to be in line with state approved limits. The changes will help to streamline the approval process for these services. Section 2-328, the ordinance moves the threshold for requiring competitive sealed bids from $10K to $25K.  It also moves the threshold for having three competitive quotes from a range of $4,000-$9,999.99 to a range of $10,000-$24,999.  Section 2-331, this change allows the city administrator or Mayor to approve change orders up to $10K vs. the current threshold of $2,500.  Section 2-337 raised the limit of bids needed for disposal of assets from $2,500 to $5,000.  Passed 4-1 (begins approximately 2:18:07)

19. Professional Services Agreement Appraisal – Germantown Country Club – This is approval for an appraisal for the Germantown Country Club property. The city is interested in bidding when the trustee for the family issues a request for proposal (RFP), estimated to happen in March. The appraisal helps to justify the proposed price when the city makes their potential offer. The offer will need to be reviewed by the Financial Advisory Commission and BMA for approval prior to submission to the trustee. Approved 5-0 (begins approximately 2:41:32)

20. Parliamentarian and debate of timeline of public debate during agenda items. This item was removed as there was not a 2/3 majority to add the item. A vote to reconsider passed 3-2 (begins approximately 2:48:10)

Beer Board Hearing – Suspension/Revocation of Beer License – The Fresh Market – Fresh Market was found guilty of selling beer to a minor and fined $1,500 for the offense. This was the fourth offense at this location dating back to 2006. Fine approved 5-0. (begins approximately 2:55:45)

 

BMA in Brief (Board Retreat) – February 23, 2019

To help you stay informed we will do our best to provide high level summaries for the bi-monthly Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meetings. These summaries will be fact based with a focus on key items covered in the meetings and summaries of the votes taken. Where needed we will cover important discussions individually.

The BMA meet for a retreat session in the Economic and Community Development building on Saturday, February 23. No votes were taken and the meeting was not streamed via the usual methods. The meeting ran the full four hours.

Water Tower Discussion – Public Works Director Bo Mills and Assistant Director Andy Sanders gave a presentation about the need for an additional water tower. The discussion centered around the lack of a back up for the current water tower. Several risks associated with the lack of a back up tower included lack of fire support, air in the water mains causing damage to city and residential plumbing, and health risk associated with air bringing bacteria into the system. Sites were discussed including the new school and Forest Hill Irene south of Winchester. Alternatives were also discussed including an underground pumping system. We will write a separate blog post covering the details of this topic.

Sales Tax Issues – Discussion revolved around the state’s allocation of sales tax revenues. Issues were raised about the allocation of taxes collected via internet sales. The Tennessee Municipal League, a group of municipalities that advocate together at the state level, has submitted legislation to address the concerns of cities like Germantown. Germantown actually worked on similar legislation in prior years but lacked broader support across the state to see it approved. This will be a key item in the city’s legislative agenda in Nashville this year.

Legal Update – This was a closed door session for city officials only. The media and community members were required to step out of the room and remove their cameras.

Germantown Country Club – Parks and Recreation Director Pam Beasley gave a summary of the discussion held by the team that pulled together the Parks Master Plan. They met a couple of weeks ago to discuss the desire of the community to purchase the land and potential uses for the land. The group recommended purchase of the land however, potential uses would be decided after the purchase. The city has ordered an appraisal of the land and plans to respond to an RFP (Request for Proposal or Bid process) from the trustee of the land. This process will happen quickly over the next month or two. The city’s capacity to issue debt to purchase this land was also discussed. The Parks and Recreation Commission and Financial Advisory Commission will meet to address concerns in the coming weeks.

CIP & School Projects – The city has requested departments provide their proposed projects for the FY20 budget. There are 42 projects that have been submitted as part of this process and they will be prioritized in coming budget discussion. There is a work session scheduled for CIP (Capital Improvement Program) on March 27. There are several projects on the CIP list that will be dependent on prioritization by the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization). The MPO is the local government organization that prioritizes Federal funds for municipal project.  As we reported earlier the city has made its list of requests for State and Federal funding and should receive the approved list in late May or June. The initial FY20 request for school projects total $7.2M including an expansion to Houston Middle School. The cost for the expansion at HMS were originally estimated to be $5M but need to be updated as construction costs have increased since the project was first put on the 5 year CIP plan. The city is also funding $200K per year for the next 5 years for the Houston High Field House. Other GMSD requests for FY20 include another $500K for security upgrades ($500K was spent in FY19) and $1.5M for boiler upgrades to Riverdale. To facilitate alignment Jason Huisman, the Assistant City Administrator, sits on the facilities committee for GMSD. The city is working with GMSD to build out their 5 year CIP needs and make sure the budget includes their requests.

Rules of Engagement – The only discussion on this topic was the mention of an orientation session with the new Parliamentarian, which will be on Monday before the BMA meeting.

Moratorium Update – This update was brief as it began with about 20 minutes left in the four hour session. No results were presented. Staff discussed that the focus had been on four major areas: Schools, Public Safety, Fire/EMS and Infrastructure/Transportation Systems. The city has gathered a lot of data and is working to process it into impact by district, not just an all up city level. Legal Counsel advised the Aldermen that any actions taken should be in line with or supported by the data. The Attorney cited that courts recently held that Covington’s apartment moratorium violated the Fair Housing Act as it wasn’t supported by the type of analysis currently being done by Germantown. Staff stated that the goal is to present the results from the study in April or May.

BMA in Brief – February 11, 2019

To help you stay informed we will do our best to provide high level summaries for the bi-monthly Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meetings. These summaries will be fact based with a focus on key items covered in the meetings and summaries of the votes taken. Where needed we will cover important discussions individually.Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 8.04.25 PM.png

The video recording for this meeting is not currently available via the usual Youtube links. The video can be accessed through the City web page by clicking here and scrolling down “Archived Videos”.  Simply click on February 11, 2019 meeting to watch the video. The “Consent Agenda” was modified to remove item “a.” and make it item 15 on the regular agenda. There were no “Citizens to Be Heard” submissions and no citizens spoke in any of the public hearings.

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9. Beer Board:

a. Leadership Germantown Trivia Night – permit for the sale of beer at the annual fundraiser to be held on February 23 at the Great Hall. Passed 4-1, Alderman Massey voting “No”

b. Exxon Food Mart (1300 South Germantown Rd.) – permit for sale of off premise consumption beer. Passed 5-0

10. Consent Agenda – Passed 5-0

11. Ordinance 2019-5 – Amendment to Smart Code Site Standards 2nd reading – Wording change to allow for driveway widths of 30.  This addresses an issue in the wording and allows for curb cuts that accommodate emergency equipment. Staff will research potential wording changes for the 3rd reading to address potential issues with TDOT and curb cuts on Poplar. Passed 5-0

12. Ordinance 2019-6 Amendment to Wireless Transmission Zoning 2nd reading – Amendment addresses two issues. The first issue is around existing macro towers requiring BMA approval for routine upgrades (e.g. antenna replacement, 4G to 5G upgrades). The second part of this amendment is placing rules around the placement of “Small Cell” technology in the city. Passed 3-2 Aldermen Sanders and Massey voting “No.”

Staff comments:Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 8.32.57 PM.png

13. Telecommunications Franchise Agreement – XO Communications – Ten year franchise agreement to allow XO Communications, a Verizon subsidiary, to install fiber optic communications underground in right-of-way. Passed 5-0

14.Wireless Equipment Upgrade Verizon @ OLPH – Approval of antenna upgrades to the existing tower at OLPH. Passed 5-0

15. Shelby County Schools Facility Usage Agreement – Extension of the agreement to allow Germantown Middle and High to use Germantown Parks and Recs facilities. The agreement also allow Germantown Parks and Rec to use school basketball courts for youth leagues. Passed 5-0

Processing the Questions

Scott Sanders has hit the ground running. While we may not always agree politically, it is worth noting that he is doing things the right way so far. Covering the city has had us out and about attending commissions and other public meetings. We are used to seeing certain Aldermen at most of these events and glad to add Alderman Sanders to that list. I even noted that Alderman Sanders was in the Economic Development office meeting with City Staff while I was meeting with staff to discuss the MPO list.

In discussion about the changing structure for the city’s billing agreement with the law firm that provides legal counsel to the city it was clear that Mr. Sanders had done his homework. He had questions about the impact of the process and went to the City Administrator to address those one on one.  As a result, he spoke confidently and cast a vote reflecting what he believes is in the best interest of the citizens of Germantown. The aldermen are encouraged to do this. While the agenda packets are quite detailed it is difficult to anticipate every question that may come up given the diverse personal and professional backgrounds of the Board.

The work of governing is done in the lead up to meetings, not in the debate from the podium. We wholeheartedly believe in the value of healthy public debate. However, it is important to be prepared for those meetings. Generally, policy doesn’t just show up on an agenda a few days before a BMA meeting. Most items on the agenda have been in the works for some time and have moved through one or more of the commissions prior to being voted on in the BMA. Some are even called out in the annual budget approved at the beginning of the year. That is why staying involved is important.

In some cases, citizen volunteers and staff put hours, months and even years into developing proposals that get voted on in the BMA. Respect for those efforts means engaging early and addressing questions prior to votes.  Good timely questions actually help shape policy, especially when they are part of the development process. That level of engagement should be present with all of our Aldermen.

Staff should certainly be ready to answer questions but aldermen should be engaged in the process early and often. The Executive Sessions are open to the public and held 30 minutes prior to the BMA meetings. If you ever sit in one of these Executive sessions, you are likely to hear Aldermen ask the same questions in both meetings. They do this so that the responses will make it on the recordings for citizens that only attend the BMA or watch online. At most meetings you will see department heads sitting in the audience ready to address questions from the Board. Staff works hard to makes sure the Aldermen can make well informed decisions.

5-0 votes shouldn’t happen all the time. They should happen most of the time and not because people are blindly agreeing. They should happen because our leaders are engaged and have had their concerns addressed earlier in the process and the result is something that reflects their input and what is best for our community.

GMSD Tuition: Good Idea?

I have seen a lot of comments along the lines of “Pay your fair share” in the brief but intense discussion about the proposal to charge tuition for GMSD. Sounds like a reasonable argument to me. But when you go beyond the surface of that statement it quickly gets a lot more complicated. That is why I am asking for the Board of Education to postpone a vote on this subject until we see a solid analysis of the potential impact.

Let me show you where my questions arise. Contrary to popular belief, the City of Germantown does not provide the majority of funding for the district. In the FY19 budget, only 4.2% of GMSD’s revenues were projected to be from the City of Germantown. Nearly 90% of funding comes from the State and County sources. Did you know that those funding pools are based on student enrollment, to the tune of around $8,500 per student? Every transfer student into the district brings those funds with them.

First and foremost, GMSD is for the education of Germantown Students. Don’t confuse any of my discussions of school finance or transfers to be anything else. My concern is that we offer the best district for our community and to do that we need to make decisions that are financially responsible. We are talking about specific schools where we have some excess capacity. We should never allow transfer population to drive need for an additional facility.

The proposal I have seen is for tuition not to exceed $1,000 per family. Admittedly, I have not had time to do the level of research I would like in order to write about something like this, but given the vote is Tuesday I feel a need to share my concerns. If we charge $1,000 per student, more than 8 students have to sign up to pay that tuition to make up for the lost state and county funding of just one student leaving the system. In other words if more than 12% of transfers opt not to pay the fee and leave GMSD, the district loses money. If you charge a lower tuition fee that number just gets worse. At a $400 tuition level, only 5% can leave before the financial impact is negative.

This math looIMG_7495.jpgks break even at best to me and detrimental at worst. The upside potential is marginal and more analysis is needed to determine if it is worth the risk of losing the State and County revenues associated with these students. We potentially put programs like our Leadership, Fine Arts and Honors academies at risk. From what I am told there are over 200 transfer students in these programs at HHS. If the families of these students are unwilling or unable to pay tuition how will it impact these programs? The students in these academies are also high achieving and required to meet higher academic standards to transfer in.

Is this a good decision? I don’t know. We need more analysis on the financial and programmatic impacts of this proposal. Please join me in asking the board to hold off on approving this until we see a real analysis of all of the potential impacts of approving this proposal.

Additional thoughts on Financial Impacts:

For years I have professionally worked on costing and pricing. If you think back to those high school economics classes, you will remember conversations about fixed and variable costs. For the school district the fixed costs are buildings, administration, utilities and support functions that don’t vary materially based on student population.

The variable costs for the district are basically teachers salaries and other forms of direct student support. My quick analysis (like I said I would like more time to review this) shows that the district’s expenses are roughly 60/40 variable to fixed. The budgeted cost for “Regular Instruction” is $84k per teacher for salaries, wages and benefits. So, just ten transfer students cover the cost of a teacher and while class size varies based on grade, our lowest targeted optimal class size is 18 students for Kindergarten.

If 90% of our funding is tied to student enrollment and we know 60% of our cost is variable, that means each student who transfers in makes a positive contribution to the fixed costs of running our system. These are the funds that help make our academies and extra curricular programs available. Losing these students potentially shifts financial burden to the City of Germantown and your property taxes. If these are decisions we want to make as a community, then we just need to be sure we understand the impact before we cast a vote.

I am concerned that we don’t have the research to understand potential unintended consequences of this decision.

Germantown Road Realignment?… DOA until 2023

Almost a year ago, Germantown Voice began blogging as a way to engage in political conversations. Our first blog was about the Germantown Road Realignment Project.

This topic continues to pop up, usually as a part of an argument that the “current administration” doesn’t listen to citizen input. Even as late as October last year, there were social media posts saying the Germantown Road realignment project wasn’t dead.

Officially, it is dead until at least 2023. Why 2023? This is where it gets a little complicated. Every 3-5 years the city submits a list of proposed projects to the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization). The MPO is the organization that prioritizes Local State and Federal funding for road and transportation projects in the Memphis Metro area. See the map below for the area covered by the MPO.

The list submitted this year is for projects between October 2019 and September 2023. The prior list was submitted to the MPO in 2013 and that was the list that included the Germantown Road Realignment project and McVay Road Realignment, both of which were not pursued due to community feedback. This year is the first opportunity for the city to submit their new list of priorities for funding of major road projects. Noticeably absent from the list is the Germantown Road Realignment. This is even after claims that last year’s resolution to kill the project were potentially just election year placations.

The time frame for MPO requests is long range due to the long range nature of projects. In many cases, it can take years for design, review, Right of Way acquisition and construction. These projects are important to the city as the majority of them are funded primarily or even wholly with State and Federal funds. In other words, these projects don’t impact your property tax rate.

Road projects are paid for a couple of different ways. First, is the paving of residential streets. The city pays for that as part of the Public Works budgets, roughly $2,000,000 a year. Next, is the work on major roads. These projects are funded with combinations of Local, State and Federal funds. This is where the MPO comes in to play.

When I saw the list of projects I had several questions about the priority of the funding and the MPO process. I sat down with City Engineer Tim Gwaltney last week to discuss the list and how the MPO works.

The MPO funds come from 3 to 5 main buckets. Traditionally, it has funded projects under three main categories, Bridges, Paving and Signalization. Germantown usually sees at least one of each of these types of projects funded. For example, even though the new traffic light at Houston High School is number six on the list it is the highest prioritized signalization project on the City’s list so it is likely to be funded. There are two new categories this year with funding for Safety Improvements and Plans & Studies. The prioritized list is below:

  1. Wolf River Blvd Mill/Overlay from Riverdale to Western City Limits $2.0M (80% Federal)
  2. Forest Hill-Irene Safety Improvements Poplar to Wolf River Blvd $5.0M (80% Federal)
  3. Poplar Culvert Replacements – Phase 5 $550K (100% Federal)
  4. Update City Major Roads Plan $200K (80% Federal)
  5. Intersection Safety Audits $200K (80% Federal)
  6. Signalization Wolf River Blvd @ Houston High $500K (100% Federal)
  7. Signal Upgrades $2.5M (100% Federal)
  8. Neshoba Road Mill/Overlay from Germantown Rd to Exeter $1.5M (80% Federal)
  9. McVay Road Bridge Replacement (just north of McVay and Messick) $600K (80% Federal)

The city will not get official word on which projects are approved by the MPO until near the end of the budgeting process for the city. We will keep an eye on the process and let you know what gets approved from the MPO as soon as we find out. You can find out more detail about each of these projects by following the link below.

https://gtown.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=c75ea4248dc44953b9dcc2287f85670a

For even more information on the City of Germantown’s Transportation Improvement Program funding requests for 2020 to 2023, please attend the public meeting  January 9 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Economic and Community Development Building, 1920 South Germantown Road. Learn more here.