VOL. 133 | NO. 172 | Thursday, August 30, 2018
Last Word: Oath, Occupancy and Buses
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Mayor elect Lee Harris and the 13-member Shelby County Commission with a majority of eight new members take the oath of office Thursday afternoon Downtown at the Cannon Center. And Harris turned in his resignation as a state Senator Wednesday, urging the county commission to leave the seat vacant for the remaining four months left in his four-year term of office in Nashville.
The legislature is not in session again until January and the commission has no special meeting scheduled between now and Saturday. So that seems a pretty safe bet. There is a chance that the new commission and its eight-vote Democratic majority could decide to give the Democratic nominee for the state Senate seat, Raumesh Akbari, an advantage in the Nov. 6 general election and appoint her. But the more likely scenario is that they would rely on the predominantly Democratic makeup of the Senate district.
Kobi Simmons waived by the Grizz.
As the local tourism industry and others gathered this week for the annual Southern Lodging Summit, the hotel occupancy rate locally cooled off and the delay in the long-awaited renovation of the Memphis Cook Convention Center gets some of the blame. The second round of bids for the work are opened Nov. 1 after the first round came in above the $175 million the city intends to spend on the overhaul.
Public transportation in Memphis these days is seldom just about one specific issue or event. And that’s not necessarily anyone’s plan. Case in point: The Memphis Area Transit Authority is proposing route cuts for next month that include eliminating the very short lived Shelby Farms Park route as well as eliminating a Central Avenue route among the University of Memphis, Christian Brothers University and Southwest Tennessee Community College’s Downtown campus and the successor to the 31 Crosstown route that drew the most vocal opposition in a previous round of service cuts. The criticism for the new proposed changes is familiar. Critics say MATA isn’t marketing the new routes and service. And without such promotion the pitch to get riders to use the new service falls flat every time. Remember the Whitehaven Flyer, which was an early bus rapid transit experiment? It didn’t last a year before MATA pulled the plug on it.
The Shelby Farms Park service may have been the victim of a delay in county funding as the Shelby County Commission questioned the city’s commitment to the service. And U of M president David Rudd expressed surprise at the Central route getting the ax. That comes as MATA has been preparing for a new Downtown-University of Memphis bus rapid transit route with lots of federal funding. The Memphis City Council Tuesday evening, as the public hearing on the MATA changes was underway elsewhere, delayed a $300,000 local match for $10 million in federal funding on the first phase of the BRT route, for questions about why the city should be the first to commit its funding.
Also at City Hall Tuesday, council member Edmund Ford Jr. unveiled a proposal still being drafted for a transportation utility fee to go on your monthly utility bill that would provide a dedicated revenue stream to MATA as well as city road projects. The fee would be structured like a stormwater fee – based on how much traffic a home or commercial space is estimated to generate. Ford has scenarios for raising $30 million to $62 million a year. The range of the monthly fee on single family residential ranges from $4.75 to $13.90 a month. The range for multi family residential is $3.80 to $11.12. And the range for non residential 1 to 1.5 times the residential rates. Nonresidential would generate 52 percent to 68 percent of the revenue annually.
And yes, Ford does intend to pursue this from his council seat while he takes office at the end of this week on the county commission, using at least some portion of the 90 days he has to resign at City Hall upon taking his new office.