(April 25, 2019)

Pending final contract negotiations and council approval, Nashville has turned its parking enforcement over to a private company.


There are plenty of details in the linked Tennessean article … and still plenty more details that need to come out as the negotiations are ironed out. But, the overall deal is:

“Nashville gets $34 million up front, and its current net revenue of $1.5 million annually. In total, the city is estimated to take in, along with its revenue share, more than $300 million over the 30-year contract.”

In my opinion, there are two “issues” with this parking deal at stake here and they need to remain distinct. I’m seeing/hearing a lot that kinda mishmashes both of these into one.

  • Is this a good deal?
  • Is this good governance from a budget management standpoint?

So, is this a good deal?

I think this question should be evaluated based on what are our needs and what are our known revenues going to be.

First, we have an antiquated parking meter/enforcement system that will be getting an upgrade. This is true and I have about a bazillion nickels in my car that say the same. The city’s increasing traffic congestion is in part caused by cheap parking options at the city’s meters. As we continue to grow, I don’t think the city can play a role in subsidizing personal vehicle storage on our streets. I also think we need to be realistic (hi sidewalks!) about what our city can implement and achieve in a timely manner.

Second, we should ignore the $300 million number. We will get our current net revenue of $1.5 million for 30 years. I know, I know — what about inflation! I’m going to ignore what our net revenues adjusted for inflation would be here for the same reason I’m ignoring the $300 million. WE JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT PARKING WILL LOOK LIKE IN 15, 20 or 30 YEARS. What do I mean by that? If in 30 years Nashville doesn’t have a humming public transportation system we are in so much more trouble than however this parking deal aged. Also, there could be a not-that-far-off future with autonomous vehicles that won’t require parking at a meter like we know it. Again, that’s (clearly) speculation, but, I think if we are projecting things 30 years into the future to either defend or revolt against this deal, then, its fair game.

So… $79 million guaranteed for a future we can’t predict. That’s a risk for sure. However, the technological and physical upgrades, the ability to separate ourselves from enforcement, the (hopefully) way that this increases public transportation use, and, the freeing up of 5 public works employees to focus on other issues is a benefit.

But, is this good governance from a budget management standpoint?

The knee jerk reaction here- one that I had as well- is: “NO of course not. One time asset sales to cover a recurring budget shortfall is malpractice.” I don’t think there’s really any other answer there.

But, I DO think there’s a lot of missing nuance and context that needs to be added where I end up landing at the position of: UGH we really don’t have another choice.

  • We NEED NEED NEED to provide the COLA raises. That’s a minimum. And, minimum is what it will have to be right now. But, those can’t be delayed another year and there’s no way $30+ million is going to show up at our doorstep. Increasing our revenue as a city, and creating the funding necessary to recognize that these increased salaries are a recurring line item, through property taxes, is just not a possibility in an election year.
  • Selling assets to make up shortfalls is bad. But, I just have a hard time accepting parking enforcement as an asset. As mentioned above, we don’t know what parking will look like or be in 20–30 years. If parking is minimally a concept at that point, then, is our enforcement of it still as asset? (I’d say the same thing about speeding ticket revenue as a projected line item for law enforcement down the road. Cars may not be ABLE to speed.)

This RFQ was sent out last summer and this has been factored into this upcoming budget ever since. There are no surprises here so it is surprising how surprised people are.

It’s not a great situation and in a perfect world we would have been investing in parking enforcement / technology and managing the system ourselves. But, it is the situation we are in and the reality is that this is how we are going to get folks their COLA increases……… this year………………

It’s all part of the growing pains.

Recent non winner of a local election (District 7 Council in Nashville). Formerly at Nashville Public Radio on the business side. Moved campaign site to here.