Around Town

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Riebeling: Metro Finances are A-OK Despite Credit Downgrade

Posted By on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 2:39 PM

Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling says not to worry about Metro's finances, despite news yesterday that Moody's Investor Services had downgraded the city's credit due to an "above average debt burden."

In a letter to the Metro Council, Riebeling says the decision was disappointing, but expected due to Moody's new rating methodology.

"I would point out that Nashville's bond rating is now exactly where it stood when Mayor Dean took office in 2007 as the rating was upgraded in April 2010 when Moody's undertook a ratings methodology analysis," he says. "I would strongly suggest that Nashville is in the same, if not better, financial condition today than it was in 2010 when the ratings upgrade occurred."

In the coming fiscal year, Metro expects to pay a little more than $209 million in debt service, around $20 million more than the $189 million it paid this year. The growing percentage of Metro's annual budget that goes to paying off $2.3 billion in General Obligation debt is concerning to some on the council, but Riebeling has maintained that the city's is in good shape, noting, for instance, that debt service payments accounted for a lower percentage of the budget this year than it did when the year Dean took office. Until now, he had also routinely cited the city's credit rating.

Read his whole letter to the council here, in PDF form.


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Dean to Announce 'Update on Amp' At Press Conference This Morning

Posted By on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 10:38 AM

Mayor Karl Dean will announce an update on The Amp at a press conference scheduled for 11:30 this morning, his office has just announced.

The announcement comes ahead of a House Finance Committee vote on Amp-related legislation, and amidst the mayor's annual Metro budget hearings. The administration release did not include any details about what the mayor would announce.

That said, there have been issues raised with various parts of The Amp's proposed route along West End / Broadway and into East Nashville, and speculation in recent months has pointed to a possibility that the project could be open to some alterations. Could that mean a reduction in the use of dedicated lanes along the route, or perhaps abandoning them altogether on the route's western end from 440 to St. Thomas? Both have been discussed in theoretical terms by people involved with the project.

Of course, pending state legislation could still have significant effect on the future of The Amp. Last week, the Senate passed legislation that would block the project as it's currently proposed. The Dean administration and The Amp Coalition are supporting the House version of that legislation, which is less strict and would effectively maintain the status quo.

More after Dean's press conference later this morning.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sebelius Joins Dean In Last-Minute Health Insurance Push

Posted By on Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 12:46 PM

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made an appearance in Madison Thursday morning alongside Mayor Karl Dean in a last-minute health insurance enrollment push before the looming March 31 deadline.

With only five days left before the insurance deadline for 2014, Dean and Sebelius spoke at the United Neighborhood Health Services Madison clinic, encouraging the uninsured in Nashville to enroll immediately. The fee for not having insurance this year is $95 per adult or 1 percent of your taxable income, whichever is greater, with fees scheduled to increase in the coming years. However, the March 31 deadline has been more or less extended, with the Obama administration announcing this week that individuals who had difficulty signing up can say so as part of the application process to secure an extension.

Sebelius and Dean championed the benefits of affordable insurance as improving community health while reducing the impact on taxpayers. Hospitals are legally prohibited from denying emergency health care to anyone, regardless of a patient's ability to pay, ultimately forcing hospitals and communities to bear the costs of the uninsured, an issue the ACA seeks to solve through the insurance mandates on individuals and employers.

"Taxpayers are picking up a lot of those costs today, when people come through the doors of the emergency room and have no way to pay their bills," Sebelius said.

Hospital companies — including those based in Nashville — aren't complaining. Most are calling the ACA a net positive since it increases the percentage of insured patients, which translates to a solid increase to their bottom lines.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

'He's Not Homeless Anymore': Community Remembers Philip Radican

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2014 at 3:15 PM

Strictly speaking, Philip Radican didn't die because he was homeless.

By chance, just about anyone could have been sitting on that Church Street bench when that car jumped that curb. But, sadly, odds were good it was going to be him. Not just because he lived on the streets, but because he spent a lot of time on that street, and on that bench.

Indeed the initial release from the Metro Nashville Police Department said Radican was known to Central Precinct officers who patrol the area and that "one sergeant recalled enjoying a talk with Radican while driving him to a convenience market during this year’s cold snap to get coffee."

On Wednesday afternoon, some 25 people gathered at the small park across from the downtown branch of the Nashville Public Library to hold a memorial service for their friend Phil, who died February 27 when a collision at the intersection of 7th Avenue and Church Street sent a car over the curb and into the bench where he was sitting. He was 56.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

AP: Despite New Law Aimed at Tempering Rates, Tennesseans Still Face Flood Insurance Hikes

Posted By on Tue, Mar 25, 2014 at 1:45 PM

A new law signed last week by President Barack Obama reins in some of the steepest increases in the cost of national flood insurance. But the Associated Press reports that "7,780 flood insurance policies in Tennessee still face soaring insurance rates."

According to the AP, Nashville property owners still reeling from the 2010 flood have the most policies in the state that could be affected by the new law, which dials back portions of a 2012 overhaul of the flood insurance program but still "allows homeowners receiving subsidies to get hit with rate increases of up to 18 percent each year" until the program can make up a $24 billion shortfall.

Not surprisingly, it's the shortfall that is top of mind for fiscally-concerned Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, who represents Nashville, supported the original legislation that aimed to bring the National Flood Insurance Program into balance. The new law represents a step back, he said.

"This bill unraveled a compromise that Congress passed in 2012 to start moving the NFIP toward solvency," Cooper said in an email. "It is so rare for this Congress to do anything constructive, I thought it was a big step backward to start retreating."

The federally subsidized program has payed out $146 million in insurance payments to Nashville policy holders, the AP reports, with overall flood insurance premiums of $5 million per year.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Has The Amp Debate Jumped the Yard Sign?

Posted By on Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 11:46 AM

If The Amp Coalition has a song, we'll happily add it to this post.

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Jon Meacham Goes To BrickTop's

Posted By on Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 11:29 AM

Jon Meacham's writing about our nascent It City-ness for Time in a piece titled "The South's Red-Hot Town."

From the top:

It was, I think, the hum. At Midday recently at Joe Ledbetter’s BrickTop’s restaurant in Nashville—a busy spot on West End Avenue near Vanderbilt University and the city’s Music Row—the Tennessee state commissioner of economic development was lunching nearby, at a table adjacent to the head of a private K-12 school. The rector of the city’s largest Episcopal church sat in one corner near the general counsel of a huge privately held technology company that migrated to town from the West Coast a decade ago; the head of a major private-equity firm was in a booth across the way, debating between the bistro chicken and the Cobb salad. Absorbing the scene, a visiting out-of-towner looked up from his iced tea and shook his head with an admiration that bordered on envy. “This place,” he said, “just sounds prosperous.”

I like Meacham, a lot. (Go read American Lion.) But anytime you write a piece about a city from 30,000 feet, as he does in this one, there are going to be issues: looking at music in this town through the eyes of Sony's CEO and Taylor Swift misses a lot about why Nashville's scene is substantially better than it was 20 years ago; using Tommy Frist to describe the city as more "soulful" than Charlotte is damning by faint praise (if we don't have more soul than the bankers, we're screwed); there's an implication that we should be lucky that the Frists, Ingrams and other Captains Of Industry deigned to live and keep their money here.

And for crissakes … BRICKTOP'S?

There have always been power lunches at that spot. More than 20 years ago, you could pop into Houston's — in the exact same location where BrickTop's is now, with the exact same style of menu — and see the city's power brokers sitting down over lightly battered chicken tenders or a Cobb salad. If half of the legislative leaders and cabinet heads could be found at either Hap Townes or Arnold's, the other half were grazing West End for spinach dip and five-nut brownies.

But "Meacham finds rich and powerful in the same place rich and powerful have been eating for decades" is a lot less sexy than "The South's Red-Hot Town." Meacham's piece does get some of the big picture correct, but ending up at BrickTop's for an illustration of the city makes it feel, as one colleague suggests, that he ended up in the first restaurant he found on his drive in from Belle Meade.

At least when The New York Times' Kim Severson comes to town, she has the good sense to eat at City House.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Arcane Message Sign of the Month

Posted By on Fri, Mar 7, 2014 at 11:41 AM

And the winner is ... Bernard Health, a Nashville-based insurance advisory firm with three locations in town (as well as a few in Texas, Ohio and Indiana). That message in the photo is on the streetside sign at their retail location at the intersection of Harding Pike and White Bridge Road. Will many (or even any) of the throngs of Nashville drivers who pass through this busy intersection grasp the semi-arcane "Dewey & LeBoeuf" reference?

Indeed the lawyers might. Dewey & LeBoeuf is the largest U.S. law firm ever to collapse into bankruptcy. The New York headquartered firm, which once had 1,400 attorneys, went Chapter 11 back in mid-2012. Just yesterday the Manhattan D.A. unsealed a 106-count indictment charging four key D&L leaders with grand larceny, securities fraud and falsifying business records. (The New Yorker ran a terrific piece by top-flight business journalist James B. Stewart last October chronicling the firm's downfall.)

So, the sign on Harding: How does Bernard Health's braintrust imagine that it can drum up some business advising lawyers on health insurance by warning them not to mimic the most spectacular law-firm failure in U.S. history? I posed that question to Ruthie Dean, director of communications at Bernard.

Continue reading »

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After Legislative Push, Stop Amp Offers Plan B

Posted By on Fri, Mar 7, 2014 at 9:45 AM

A day after a state House sub-committee gave initial approval to legislation that could force substantial alterations on The Amp, opponents from Stop Amp have released an alternative transit plan.

On Wednesday, Rep. Vince Dean — with the support of House Speaker Beth Harwell — proposed an amendment that, as of right now, would only affect Mayor Karl Dean's proposed 7.1 mile bus rapid transit line along West End. The amendment would prevent any metropolitan government (Nashville) from constructing or operating a bus rapid transit system using a dedicated lane (The Amp) on a state highway (West End), without approval from the General Assembly, the commissioner of Transportation and the local legislative body. (The state will already have the ability to say no to funding The Amp, but this bill would mean The Amp's current design needs approval as well.) The committee approved the amendment, but Dean postponed a vote on the amended bill for one week.

Now, Stop Amp has released just the sort of transit line that would be allowed under that legislation. Their "Plan B," unveiled last night at a forum in Belle Meade, is a two-part, 19.6 mile plan similar to the BRT Lite lines already running on Gallatin Road and Murfreesboro Road.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Three Things to Know From the Mayor's Amp Funding Press Conference

Posted By on Tue, Mar 4, 2014 at 4:44 PM

Hours after the news that President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2015 budget proposal recommends $27 million in federal funding for The Amp, Mayor Karl Dean held a press conference hailing what he called a "vote of confidence" from the president and federal transportation agencies "in Nashville and in this vital project."

"The significance of this news is that it validates that The Amp is the right project on the right corridor to start Nashville and the Middle Tennessee region on a path to having a robust mass transit system that makes moving around our city easy for everyone, with or without a car," Dean said, flanked by chairman of the Amp Coalition and chief executive officer of Saint Thomas Health, Dr. Mike Schatlzein, and Transit Now Nashville board member Kenya Stevens.

After the jump, here are three things to know:

Continue reading »

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