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Ask The Mayor: Municipal Consultant Norton On Nashville COVID, Water Utility Needs

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Unknown Speaker
Alright, Hello everyone and welcome to Ask the mayor on WFIU I'm Joe Hren. We're joined this week by Nashville municipal content. DAX Norton. Hello, welcome. Thank you for joining us. Oh, good to be here. Yeah. Well, let's just start where we've started. It seems like every show COVID-19 update, but half naked in the state. But in some ways, it feels like we're kind of back where we started back in January, you're seeing numbers? I hospitalizations cases? What's the reality kind of boots in the ground there in Nashville right now?

Unknown Speaker
caution? I think that we've gone back up and not that, you know, I think it's visible. Caution now was kind of over a little bit for a while. And now it's back on the front front page. And the commissioners have released a statement here in Brown County of they're not necessarily going to do any mandates or anything. You know, they would suggest common sense. counsel kind of followed suit. With the commissioner statement, when the council is also still backing and going to back any business owner that chooses to, you know, require masking their facility. And if they don't, they can be removed for trespass. So that will still be there. abundance of caution, I've seen a lot of masks come back in the county in town, seen some masks come back in town meetings. So there is that rumble now, you know, talking about Oh, see going back but doing things that that the caution level goes up, just like we were a year ago. So

Unknown Speaker
yeah, I'm

Unknown Speaker
sure this is working Yeah. 15% positivity rate, they're in Brown County COVID dashboard is orange. And you mentioned about the commissioner, where they were saying it's up to the individuals to wear masks, and is that sending a good message from leadership to a place that draws so many tourists? You know, this kind of same way last year, there weren't any warning mandates. Throughout the pandemic, people did a very good job

Unknown Speaker
of being cautious and kind of coming together to make sure that everyone was safe. So the things that know a lot of those people are going to go visit these retail establishments that are the bread and butter of Nashville, and so long as we stand behind the business owners and what they individually decide to do. I think that we'll be safe, if if measures need to be taken that you know, enhance the role of the governmental structure. And we'll certainly be paying attention to see what needs to happen. Right now. Yes, up to the individual have common sense that the sign is on a door in a business that says you have to have master walk in here understand that we're going to back that business up with trespass laws, if you're if you're not going to comply.

Unknown Speaker
I did see where school board is reinstating masks, though, despite groups protesting mask mandates, just you know, your background with municipalities and so forth. What you know, what's the message to those who don't want mask mandates? During a pandemic, you know, so dangerous such as that?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, so if we're not going to, you know, think if we're in a community that that truly embraces caution and care and perspective, other brown counties have been the epitome of that. Probably going to be okay. It's not until we start to see mass amount of, you know, disrespect for others. I think we have to step in and put those things in place, you know, schools will different right? Kids or kids are required to be there by law in education. they're required to be in those close settings. And school board's done what they think is best to protect those kids. I can tell you that my youngest daughter has she's not in that school system that she's in the school system in India. So she's she's had from the first three weeks of school she's been home because of COVID issues. Either, you know, exposed or sniffles and It's interesting to see how it's going to progress if this variant progresses. So it is a trick. It's tricky for for municipal, local governments to figure out how you best balance, individual freedom, which we so very much embrace in this country. And the protection of the health as a whole. And so for now, we'll continue to leave it up to the individual will be respectful of their fellow sets.

Unknown Speaker
And to get an update to on the American rescue act money, the town of Nashville, I believe was allocated $230,000. Any update on where that money is going to be best spent for the town of Nashville?

Unknown Speaker
No, I think the council's definitely leaning towards water wastewater projects. At this point, I think that's wise of them. There has not been an official spending plan adopted No need to do that quite yet, but have had discussions with the utility service board. Let's say the biggest challenge facing the town at this point is the funding of utility upgrades to ensure that the water is safe, and that we efficiently take it away and treat it, put it back into the environment. Millions and millions and millions of dollars to be spent just to bring the system up to 2021 standards. What I mean by that is an eye on the leaks, you know, eliminating water loss, ensuring there's no combined sewer overflow issues. And on the sewer side, make sure there's no water, we're not treating rainwater. Those are big issues. And we haven't planned very well across the state and country for those issues. And so I think they're leaning in that direction.

Unknown Speaker
And we've talked about this a few times about the water utility, the aging infrastructure, there was an alarming statistic to and I don't remember what it was about how much water was leaking from the system. You remember that.

Unknown Speaker
And we have a 55% water loss. And that doesn't necessarily mean leaks, there's a lot of things that go into water loss. adjustments to bills, leaks is one of them is the meter not reading properly, is a meter antiquated needs to be upgraded to turn current technological standards is the right meter for the amount of usage, her number of things are going to loss. I think the good thing is this utility staff utility service board has done a great job of seeing that number and finding solutions to fix it. Now. A lot of the solutions are going to be digging up 1947 pipes and replacing them and that's going to be costly. And I'll be probably debt. It has to be you know what we'll try to get as many grants as we possibly can, especially in this environment for the federal and state governments handing out money. One will try out and fire best, those are all really costly endeavors to replace those aging pipes, because it should have happened, you know, gradually over the course of time proper rate increases. And it's hard. It's difficult for municipal leadership. And I completely understand having followed them and work for them for so many years, it's hard for them to have to put that burden on ratepayer. But the burden is high and the cost is as high as new. Right? So try to figure out ways to replace those aging pieces of infrastructure without having a an extremely negative impact on the rate payer who's already strapped or tight. And you know, what their budgets is, what we're trying to look to do

Unknown Speaker
is what would you consider that being the top priority or replacing the pipes? Are there other things that are even a higher priority than that?

Unknown Speaker
You mean on the infrastructure side for the utility for water? Yeah, replacement of underground infrastructure is probably the biggest priority the plant runs well Robin runs the plant well, sewer treatment plant, obviously brand County Water manufacturers in the water, and we buy it wholesale from them so we don't have a manufacturing element. Our pump stations seem to be in pretty fairly good shape. And you're talking that underground infrastructure is is incredibly expensive, especially to replace expanding to areas that don't affect current residences is a little easier than digging up and disrupting retail, commercial, industrial and residential life while you're replacing, that's what makes it so costly.

Unknown Speaker
So when you mentioned millions of dollars, and you answered part of this question in that you're looking at grants and federal grants and matching grants, I'm sure but we're, you know, where does the rest of that money come from?

Unknown Speaker
Well, nobody likes to hear this, but it comes in the form of long term loans was incredibly low interest that have to be paid. And that payment comes from two things, making sure the budget is you know, the money is spent well, which right now with the utility service board is found out as it really is, and the staff does a very good job of, of expenditure and operating the utility on the budget that they have, they probably are producing enough revenue to actually operate as well. So that's ratepayers. You know, ultimately, at the end of the day, it's a is looking at increases to what the ratepayers pay for the service.

Unknown Speaker
I can go along with that. I know. I know Bloomington is having budget hearings all week. How close are you to Nashville's budget hearings? And what's the procedure like there?

Unknown Speaker
I've been working most of this day on budget items. So there's a budget hearing on the 25th. There's a budget hearing on the 26th. I think there's a couple next week, and then it'll be placed. Hopefully soon on gateway again, like it's required to be. This year is a little more intense, it seems the council is really looking at each line. And and, you know, is is the I think if you heard me say it, you know, you have to budget two ways with utility, it's based on how much it costs to run YouTube. Well, you don't have that luxury on the on the tax side. The taxes, levy is Levy, he can't go out and raise tax rates. You know, you're kind of stuck with what you have. And so it's, I can tell the counselor, you need to find your priorities. I think that every member of the Council is trying to find out what those priorities are.

Unknown Speaker
And then do they get divided into certain categories for each of the different hearings. And then a chance for budget people to make presentation and public to comment if if necessary.

Unknown Speaker
hasn't happened so much because of budget so small, and you know, there's really essentially, three departments if you will, townside police and internal ministration core treasure, you do have the mvh. department in the age is small, it's not that difficult to budget in place like nationally, you just don't have enough money to worry about, you know, real strategic budgets. I think one thing they're looking at this year is people. And so staff members, people actually provide the service to the residents. You have, we have really good people. But are those people being compensated enough what they do? Do more people need to be brought on. And so the investment in staff to provide the service sometimes can good staff member can reduce the amount of money you need to actually provide that service. So that's really what I think one big thing they're looking at from a funding perspective.

Unknown Speaker
So I was reading this article in the Brown County democrat newspaper, and saw a few people were kind of up in arms about the funding or cutting the police budget, I don't know how much you were in on that, or want to comment, it seemed like from what I read, most of that was a misrepresentation that kind of snowballed into into something that wasn't really happening. Do you have any more information on that?

Unknown Speaker
I don't really have any more info than the than the paper, he did a pretty good job of explaining what's happening there. So it's not a it's best part of taking the budget apart and determining, you know, what amount of money needs to go to each services provided to the residents. And is the current Council and the current condition, providing enough money to each department to provide those services. So this is a weird kind of a strange year where the budget and this is my experience, most places the budget becomes kind of a rubber stamp. Especially on the tax side because like I said revenues don't really go up in a town that doesn't have a tremendous amount of growth. They kind of stay stagnant a little bit becomes really easy this year, the council's kind of really looking at some specific items. And that's, you know, when that happens, you know, you, you start to ask questions, and I think that's where concerns come in. I completely understand the concerns, and I think the whole council does, and the council was actually pretty excited to see that many people in a room for the budget hearing, because that doesn't ever happen. So

Unknown Speaker
and correct me if I'm wrong, I think from the US Census numbers that came out if anything, Nashville's population decreased a little, didn't it?

Unknown Speaker
I think you'd increase the touch or increase the touch, okay. 1098 is what I saw. Okay. increase from 2010, just a little bit, there was some there was some manifestation, which kicked in, and that kind of causes what i what i call non organic, an organic what that I'm not sure if the word is growth, then there was a little bit of organic growth, but it's not, you know, it's just not happening because there's nowhere to move. There's no housing stock. So it's impeding that growth a little bit.

Unknown Speaker
We're getting close on time, but I did want to mention to it I know the planning for this goes all year just doesn't start now. But this is the start, or somewhat September is coming up October, of course, it's big tourism. Time for Nashville, any what's the word on the ground on on preparations of million millions of people that are expected to come into Nashville and Brown County.

Unknown Speaker
Luckily, we have Jane Alice, who's at the convention Visitors Bureau is the expert. She should get an award for me last year, really, we didn't see a lot of pullback on the tourism side. And that's that's her office and her staff and she's good leadership. So she's making all his preparations with the chamber. And I think the town is prepared and main discussions, but we'll give the credit where it's due to, to Jane Allison commissioned Visitor's Bureau for doing such a great job of continuing to bring people here, keep them safe. And do everything we need to do to make sure that we can fit all those people in one place one time, safely, and they can enjoy themselves. So I think everybody's ready. And so you know, that's another one of the budget things so kind of budget for those items as well. You know,

Unknown Speaker
I still am trying to adjust to the classes starting in Bloomington here at IU on Monday. It's it's traffic lines of people. And boy Oh, boy, it's something

Unknown Speaker
like I told you that the food and beverage we actually brought in more food and beverage money in 2020. And then we did in 2019. It is a true number. I think you and I kind of talked about that a little bit whether that was truthful. It is Yeah, true statement. And some of that, you know, has to do with with people continuing to come here because they feel safe here. And it's well marketed. So yeah, yeah, that

Unknown Speaker
kind of got lost. I know, we weren't able to do a few shows the last couple months. But we did talk about that. And we're trying to follow up on that. And had some you mentioned that in a previous show and and had a caller call in and say, that just cannot be true that some of that had been from 2019. But But you're confident that that was those are true. 2020 numbers? Yeah, we're confident those are true. 2020. So, yeah, I mean, from the few times I did get to Brown County to see empty streets such as hard to believe.

Unknown Speaker
You know, I think a couple things contributed. You had a couple of new restaurants, you had the national house reopen. And people people ate, have to eat. So locals probably started eating locally, as opposed to maybe one grandson while they're at their office. And the some business owner said that they had their best year when that when the tourism came up in October through Christmas that they had their best years. And so instead of traveling abroad and traveling in different states, people found their way to the day trip or the weekend trip. So what happens ready, get those leaves change and we're ready to go.

Unknown Speaker
That's very interesting. That's true. I didn't think of that of that part about people looking for day trips and just not traveling. Yeah, I mean, airports were practically closed. Yeah. Interesting. Did you have any other announcements are things that we should know about before we go. No,

Unknown Speaker
we think, you know, just for people are watching, pay attention to good to see people involved in the budget process continue to reach out about their concern about masks and health in the community and a lot of leadership happened to get national broadcaster where they are in 2021 through 2020. And it's it's good to see so. All right, well, thank you very much. Hope to see you next month. Thank you. Okay. Take care.
Dax Norton

Nashville Municipal Consultant Dax Norton (Zoom)

No mask mandates in effect, the county is rated 'orange' in the state metric for COVID cases, water utility needs millions of dollars in repairs, and budget hearings are scheduled this week.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Nashville's Municipal Consultant Dax Norton addresses these issues and more. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: How about we start with a COVID-19 update, despite vaccinations, it feels like we're back where we started. We're seeing January numbers in hospitalizations and cases. What's the reality there in Nashville right now?

Norton: caution? I think that we've gone back up and, I think it's visible. And now it's back on the front page. And the commissioners have released a statement here in Brown County - they're not necessarily going to do any mandates or anything. You know, they would suggest common sense. Council kind of followed suit. With the commissioner statement, the council is also still backing and going to back any business owner that chooses to require masking at their facility. And if they don't, they can be removed for trespass. So that will still be there.

Abundance of caution, I've seen a lot of masks come back in the county in town, seen some masks come back in town meetings. So there is that rumble now, doing things as the caution level goes up, just like we were a year ago.

READ MORE: Monroe County Reports More than 40 New Daily Cases For First Time Since April

Hren: Brown Co. is at a 15% positivity rate, dashboard is at the orange metric level. And you mentioned the commissioner's no mask mandate, is that sending a good message from leadership to a place that draws so many tourists?

Norton: This is kind of the same way last year, there weren't any mandates. Throughout the pandemic, people did a very good job of being cautious and kind of coming together to make sure that everyone was safe. So a lot of those people are going to go visit these retail establishments that are the bread and butter of Nashville, and so as long as we stand behind the business owners and what they individually decide to do, I think that we'll be safe. If measures need to be taken that enhance the role of the governmental structure, we'll certainly be paying attention to see what needs to happen.

Hren: Any updates on the American Rescue Act money? The town of Nashville was allocated $230,000. Any update on where that money is going to be best spent for the town of Nashville?

Norton: No, I think the council's definitely leaning towards water, wastewater projects. At this point, I think that's wise of them. There has not been an official spending plan adopted. No need to do that quite yet, but have had discussions with the utility service board. Let's say the biggest challenge facing the town at this point is the funding of utility upgrades to ensure that the water is safe, and that we efficiently take it away and treat it, put it back into the environment.

Millions and millions and millions of dollars to be spent just to bring the system up to 2021 standards. What I mean by that is an eye on the leaks, eliminating water loss, ensuring there's no combined sewer overflow issues. And on the sewer side, make sure we're not treating rainwater. Those are big issues. And we haven't planned very well across the state and country for those issues.

Hren: We've talked about this a few times, the aging infrastructure - and the alarming statistic about how much water was leaking from the system.

Norton: We have a 55% water loss. And that doesn't necessarily mean leaks, there's a lot of things that go into water loss, adjustments to bills, is the meter not reading properly, is a meter antiquated, is the right meter for the amount of usage, a number of things are going to loss. I think the good thing is this utility staff utility service board has done a great job of seeing that number and finding solutions to fix it.

Now. A lot of the solutions are going to be digging up 1947 pipes and replacing them and that's going to be costly. And I'll be probably debt. We'll try to get as many grants as we possibly can, especially in this environment for the federal and state governments handing out money.

And I completely understand having followed them and work for them for so many years, it's hard for them to have to put that burden on ratepayer. But the burden is high and the cost is as high as new.

Hren: I know Bloomington is having budget hearings all week. How close are you to Nashville's budget hearings?

Norton: I've been working most of this day on budget items. So there's a budget hearing on the 25th. There's a budget hearing on the 26th. I think there's a couple next week, and then it'll be placed on Gateway again, like it's required to be. This year is a little more intense, it seems the council is really looking at each line. And, you have to budget two ways with utility, it's based on how much it costs to run it. Well, you don't have that luxury on the on the tax side. The taxes, levy is Levy, we can't go out and raise tax rates. You're kind of stuck with what you have. And so I can tell the council, you need to find your priorities. I think that every member of the council is trying to find out what those priorities are.

READ MORE: Census Shows Many Rural Indiana Counties Lost Population

Hren: Correct me if I'm wrong, I think from the U.S. Census numbers that came out, if anything, Nashville's population decreased a little?

Norton: I think it increased a touch. 1098 is what I saw. An increase from 2010, just a little bit. There was some annexation which kicked in, and that kind of causes what I call non-organic growth, then there was a little bit of organic growth, but it's not happening because there's nowhere to move. There's no housing stock. So it's impeding that growth a little bit. 

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