Behind the Headlines – October 13, 2017

Behind the Headlines – October 13, 2017


– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you. Thank you. – The fight over sewers
in the city and county tonight on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by Alan Crone. He’s the special advisor
to Mayor Jim Strickland. Thanks for being here. – Glad to be here. – (Eric)
Kelly Rayne is Senior Vice President with
the Memphis Chamber. Thanks for being here. – Thank you. – (Eric)
Heidi Shafer is Chairman of the Shelby County Commission. Thanks for being here again. – Great to be here again. – And Bill Dries
is senior reporter with the Memphis Daily News. So we’re talking about
the sewers today, and I’ll start, you know,
I’m gonna start with you, the Chairman of the
County Commission. Why is this issue important? And the issue is that city
announced some months ago, if people didn’t see it, that they would no
longer be doing hookups outside the City of Memphis
to the sewer system. This sounds like wonky,
Behind the Headlines stuff, but it actually has far
reaching implications for the business community,
for how the city grows, how the county grows. Why, from your point of view,
is this an important issue? – Well, so let me
start with were I agree with what the city is doing. Where I think it makes
sense with where the city is and its stated plan
to right size itself, and that sort of thing, and
since the annexation laws have changed, it
makes sense for them to revamp their policy. So it makes sense to
me that for new sewer to be run out, outside
the city lines, that they would say we’re
not gonna be interested in doing that anymore. That make sense to me, which means that the
county needs to be gearing up to be doing
its sewer system, which is something that
normally has been done by municipalities. The county has very, very
little sewer responsibility, so that’s a big
challenge for us, and it takes three to five years to put in a sewer system,
so it’s a big deal. Where I’m hoping that we
can through, not a fight, I didn’t bring my boxing gloves, but I’m hoping that
through discussion and through continued
working on things and refining of policies, that for existing sewer lines
that are already run out and where sewer development
fees have already been paid, and all that we’re waiting
for is to be able to tap where that sewer line
has already been run out, I’m wanting to make
sure that those people can still tap into that sewer. – Okay, and we’ll come
back to some of that, but let me get Alan
Crone involved. So from the Mayor’s
point of view, why was this announcement made? I mean, what is the
driving force behind it? – Well, I think the driving
force behind this decision is basically as a state, we’re reversing 80 years’
worth of public policy to allow municipalities to grow into unincorporated parts
of the their county. And this is happening
all over the country, cities are realizing that
they are too spread out, that they need to shrink, that they need to have density. And so it’s just
like anything else. If you’re gonna have
these unincorporated parts of Shelby County that
don’t have municipal level of services, they don’t need
municipal level of services, and the more we add there,
the more density we add in unincorporated
parts of Shelby County, then the county’s
gonna have to come in, as the Commissioner has said, and provide municipal
level of service, starting with sewers. And I don’t think that,
that’s in the best interest of Germantown, Bartlett,
Memphis, Millington, or any of the
municipalities to have municipal and urban growth in
unincorporated Shelby County. I agree with the Commissioner, and the Mayor agrees
with the Commissioner, that we’re gonna work
with the developments, there’s some, about 70
developments, that are- – (Heidi)
74. – … that are in some
stage of development, and we’re gonna look
at each of those and determine if there
are legal requirements for us to do what
needs to be done. Some of them, we may
have a disagreement over some of them, is
I’ve said before, when you reverse
policy like this, it’s like musical chairs. The music is gonna stop, and there may be some people
that don’t have a seat, but I would encourage
those developers to look inside the city limits. There’s plenty of
land available there, and the resources the
city was going to use to extend sewers and
provide infrastructure out in unincorporated
Shelby County, we’d like to now focus that on undeveloped
parts of the city. – But do you worry, and
then I’m gonna go to Kelly. Do you worry, though,
that, that will not drag people into the city, but
it’ll drag development into Fayette County
and DeSoto County? – That’s already happening. The more we drive development
east, north, and south, the more development is
gonna go out ahead of that. I would say most of
the people who live in these unincorporated
areas don’t want any more density there. We haven’t gotten any
calls, as far as I know, from people who
live in those areas saying, hey, we want
more sewer connections. It’s basically just
developers who want to build municipal-style developments in unincorporated Shelby County. – Okay, Kelly, from the
point of view of the Chamber, which obviously a
lot of developers and real-estate people are
members of the Chamber, your take on this, and is
this gonna stifle development at at a time when, you know,
Memphis needs its tax base to grow, the area needs to grow, there’s been a lot of momentum, to quote Mayor Strickland. But obviously, I don’t
think anyone’s satisfied with how much
development has happened and how much increase in
the tax base has happened. So your point of view. – Absolutely we agree with
the Chairman’s comment that we support the
policy behind this, which is to incentivize
and encourage growth within the city limits. I mean, I think we all
agree that a strong city makes for a strong county
and a strong region, and that’s what we need
is to figure out ways to make that happen
and facilitate that. I think our concern
about this is that we have projects,
we have developers, we have real estate projects, we have economic
development projects that are kind of caught
in this no man’s land, this limbo period, where
the message just came out that there was gonna
be a change in policy, and we really didn’t
have an opportunity to plan for how to address
the needs of those companies that want to come and
locate an area like here, where we are now, or in
different parts of the community that are impacted by that. – Right, let’s, hey,
go back to Heidi, and then will go to Bill. – Yes, and just to piggyback
on what Kelly said, Kelly Rayne said, I’ve
already known of a few deals that have fallen through
because there was no guarantee that the sewer was gonna
actually be able to be done. And, you know, with
Amazon in front of us, there are areas, there’s
one area up in Millington, that would be a good potential
site of 200-some acres, but it’s an unincorporated, and so that takes
that off the table. And I think just the fact
that the city and the county haven’t come to some good
formalized policies on it where we can be clear
is making already some business deals go south, and at a time when the
whole rest of the state is able to take advantage
of the burgeoning economy, I hate for Weston to see, and
Shelby County in particular to lose a step or two in that. – I want to come
back to some of that, but I’ll get Bill involved. – Alan, from the city’s
perspective, is that happening? Are we losing- – I’m unaware of any major
deal that has fallen through simply because of
lack of sewers. If there’s a policy,
there’s exceptions That can be
generated for policy. And we’re not here to
cut off development. We’re here to do
smart development. And, you know, if Amazon
says we want to locate near Millington, and
Millington couldn’t send sewers out there, then we
would certainly be in that conversation. The question, and I think
one of the good things that has come out of this
is this conversation. As a community, we need
to have a conversation about do we want to develop
unincorporated Shelby County into an urban area,
perhaps at the cost of the other municipalities, or
do we want to keep it suburban or maybe even below suburban? I think we have to
have that conversation, and that’s not
something for the city just to unilaterally say. That has to be part
of the discussion at the County
Commission and so forth, but we have to take into account the needs of the whole county. – Heidi, you all
got a price estimate on what it would cost
for the county to get deeper into the
business of sewers. What is that price estimate? – Well, I hate to say a
price estimate right now. We’re gonna give it a firm,
well, a more positive update, at our next committee meeting, but we’re talking millions
and millions of dollars. But those things come out of, there’s very specific
funding that develops sewer. The county can definitely
gear up to do it. The one thing I do want
to be clear, though, is that I don’t anticipate
unincorporated Shelby becoming more municipal. The difference is that
because of the way the soil is here, and I know way more
about sewer than I ever, ever wanted to know, okay? But there are certain
types of soil, and because of our water
table and everything else, that septic systems won’t work. We have a big deal out between
Spring Creek and Cotton Creek and sewers where
I’ve learned a lot, and you can’t put in
septic systems there without having problems
where it will bleed over into the groundwater, which
doesn’t make TDEC happy, and it doesn’t make our
citizens happy, right? So sewer is, it is a big part. It’s not necessarily
a municipal service. You could still run sewer
out into a more rural area, keep rural. I’m not trying to make that
into like a super-suburb. I’m not in favor of
trying to provide all municipal services to people who are living and paying
taxes for a rural area. You know, I think those
need to be preserved. But we can’t have septic running
over into the groundwater. – Does this get
back, Kelly, again, from just a pure business, and you all, the Chamber
does a lot of, you know, trying to recruit
businesses in this town. Alan’s saying, look, we’re
gonna accommodate an Amazon. I think anyone,
everyone knows that. I mean, the city’s gonna
do anything they could if Amazon really was
looking at coming here. But is there for
the smaller deals, the less flashy ones,
just this uncertainty? People always talk about
business uncertainty kills business development. Is that your concern? Is that what you’re
hearing from, I think you mentioned the banks,
and developers, and so on. – Absolutely. I think one of the things
when companies come here and invest is they
want to know that there’s stability
in the climate here from a regulatory standpoint, from a stable tax
rate standpoint, from all those kind of things. And it’s gotten highly,
highly competitive in the last 20 years. We’re competing with
Mississippi, with Arkansas, and other places around
the country and the globe, and we have to be
very, very sensitive to anything that
might impact that. But on the flip side of that, as soon as we were
made aware of this, we have been meeting
with the Mayor and his administration, and they’ve been
extremely receptive to working through
these scenarios. So that’s the message
that we’re putting out is if there is a
project in place that’s moving through the
pipeline, so to speak, we’re trying to
facilitate a resolution with the administration. They’ve been very
supportive of that. – Okay, Bill. – Alan, this took place
in August, I believe, that the word went out. So tell me what you’re
reviewing in this interim time. What, is it just a matter of, here’s our obligation
as it exists, and this is what we’re gonna do, or is it possible that
there could be some change in what the city’s
policy and obligation is at the end of your review? – I don’t know that there’ll
be a change in the policy. There may be some exceptions
to the policy granted either because of
legal obligations or just for development
obligations. There’s some talk about
some voluntary annexations where the business
owners say, look, we’ll be annexed
so that we can have these sewer extensions. I think the commercial areas
are a little bit easier to deal with than
the residential ones, and so, like I said,
there’s 74 deals that are on the table. Now we’re gonna
look through those. But I don’t think that
the overall policy is gonna change, but there may be some
exceptions to the policy on a going forward basis. – Does this fold into what
the city was already doing in terms of the areas
proposed or considered for de-annexation? – Yeah, I think the
difference between the Strickland
administration and some of the previous administrations is
we’ve kind of embraced the idea of de-annexation. It’s a tough knot to untie,
as the Chairman knows. We’ve worked,
sometimes together, sometimes
not so together, on it. (laughter)
– (Eric) Nice way to put that. – Because, you know, there’s
different interests out there. But one thing, the
goal I think we share is that 340-plus
square miles is not a manageable area for a city, and it’s impossible to police
efficiently and cheaply. It’s impossible to
provide fire service, and it really is
impossible to provide the transit that we need
for people to get around, and one of the things you
need for transit is density. And that would be one
area where the county and the city could work together to make it more desirable to
live inside the city limits. Mayor Strickland knows that
all of this is academic if we don’t build a better city, one that is brilliant
at the basics, where we’ve got roads
paved, streets policed, fires put out, all
of those things that the Mayor talks
about every day. So this is one piece
of a larger puzzle. – Heidi, from your
point of view, I mean, it’s separate from the
specifics of the sewer. Do you agree with
what Alan said about, that the city
needing to de-annex, the city needing to get
more density, you know. Again, you don’t like
the idea that the two, again, there’re two deals
that have fallen through and the 74 projects
that are in limbo. But the big picture of
what he’s talking about, and the de-annexation prospect, and kind of the
refocusing inward, are you onboard with that? – I am. I mean, I think it
makes good sense, and that’s one of the things
that we’ve really enjoyed about working with the
city administration is that we think that they’re
really looking at things not from an old, okay, well, this is how we’ve
always thought, this is how we’ve always
worked kind of thing. But like, okay, what’s
gonna work for us now? What cities are doing things? How are they, you know,
how are they fitting into the whole community? What can we do as partners? I’m part of a group
called CEOs for Cities, where we go around, and we
look at different models, different areas have done. We’re about to go to Phoenix
to look at what they’ve done, because they have kind of
a similar setup with us with a real strong urban core, but then lots of also strong
suburban areas around, and some rural areas. And so we’re trying
to, you know, we need to get with the times, and what I love
about this is that we are actually
having conversations that yield something. Too often, conversations
between governmental units just end up with
everybody suing everybody, and not much really
getting solved. So this is, we’re
already making progress. When they first started this, they said, well, we might
maybe come up with exceptions, but fewer than five on the hand. That was the word that
came to me directly, and I was like, ah! I’m
looking at this mass of a map. But as the facts started
to cycle through, I think that they’ve, you know, become very, you know, as they
became more sensitized to it, they want to be good
partners just like we do. – Let me go to Kelly, because
you were very involved in the de-annexation
fight, what, two years ago at the legislature. The Chamber was very involved
in terms of, you know, there was a kind of
forced de-annexation that the business
community and I think most, most, not all, but most
of the political community did not want to have happen. The city has talked about a
more structured de-annexation. Where does all that stand? I don’t know if I should
look at you or you. But where is that
proposal to de-annex? – There is legislation
that’s still pending. They’re two years in
this legislative session, so when the general assembly
convenes again in January, there will be legislation
in front of them, the de-annexation bill is still
up for discussion– – But this bill
that you all are, this is not the forced
de-annexation bill, or is this the, is this the
bad bill or the good bill? – This is the bad bill
with some great amendments that allow a local
process that’s underway in Shelby County to play out. – Because that was
always, that was, I think, and not to re-fight this, but it’s gonna be a good
deal if it gets passed that, that was the, there were
a lot of aspects to this that the Chamber and
others didn’t like, but part of it was
that it was being done at the state level, it was
being imposed on Memphis. You all argued for, yeah,
we need to get smaller, but we need to be able to do
it in a more surgical way, and do it with local input. – (Kelly)
Yes. – So that’s what you
think is on the table. – Yes, the amendment that
past during committee, that is still on the
table is my understanding. – Okay, go. – So we have
unincorporated areas that are not part of anyone’s
annexation reserve area, and I’m thinking about the
Shelby Forest area in general. How does the county
handle sewer for that area which is not ever
going to be a part of anyone’s incorporated
city limits? – Well, it depends on whether
they need sewer there, or whether they can do septic. And, you know, it all depends
on how the soil perks, and don’t think
about that too deep, or you’re gonna be nauseated, but it does depend on that. There are some areas
where septic works, and in that case, that’s
an easy thing to do. Other places, you might have
to go to a step/steg system, which is what we’re
looking at as the solution out for Cotton Creek. You know, there are
different things besides just a full, gravity-fed
system that can be done to facilitate, but all of that
takes a good amount of time. It takes a great cooperative
effort with TDEC, and it takes a lot of time, and you’re talking
about digging up roads. It’s timely. If everything went perfectly, three years would be the
quickest we’d be able to do it. So we’re gearing up on our end, and we really appreciate
what the city is doing to, you know, try to
help us work through those other pieces. – And we have six
suburban towns and cities who have varying degrees
of waste water treatment and sewer services
that they provide. Are they at the table on this? – Yes, absolutely. In fact, they have been with me. I’ve been meeting and calling. I think they’re getting
tired of me calling them now to give them updates. But some of them like
Germantown are very reliant on the city of
Memphis’s sewer system. Others like Bartlett
are partially reliant, and then there are other areas
like Arlington and Lakeland that are completely independent, and so this is, thank you
for the communication, but this doesn’t
really affect us, except that please
come out build our way. You know, so I think there’s
an opportunity for us to be able to make
sure that we don’t kill the growth that Kelly
was talking about. – Alan, what is the
city’s take on the role of the suburban
towns and cities? – Well, I would say
that their interest should be very similar to
ours in trying to get density inside their own
municipal boundaries. You know, during
the de-annexation debate two years ago, Senator Mark Green asked
what I thought now, in hindsight, is a
very pressing question. He asked Doug McGowan
when he was testifying when the city did all
of these annexations, was all of the blight with
inside the city ameliorated? And of course the answer was no, that the annexations out
eastward from the city is what caused the
blight inside the city. So at some point, I
would respectfully ask the county commission to
really carefully consider whether the county ought to get in the sewer
business at all, because all of that development
that we’re talking about could be diverted into
the other municipalities. Lakeland is talking about
doing a big development off exit 20 there
on Interstate 40. So it’s not just
the City of Memphis looking to densify. These other municipalities
may make that choice, as well. And what they choose to do
in their own annexation areas and, you know, I don’t
really know what the future of annexation areas are. The Mayor believes we’ve
seen the last annexation in Shelby County
in our lifetime. That’s kind of up to them, how
they want to drive density. But we have got to get
Berclair, and Orange Mound, and Raleigh, and
Frayser, and Whitehaven, and South Memphis, I could go
on and on naming neighborhoods that need economic development, that need revitalization,
that need rehabilitation. So that’s what we’re
trying to drive. – And Kelly, talk to
me about the dynamic that the Chamber sees
from its point of view, that there’s always
been, I think, kind of this tension between
who really drives development. Do the local governments
drive development? Do the developers essentially
pick where that direction is going to be? It seems as if it’s
a little of both. – Yeah, I think it
is a little of both. We support a market-based
approach to that. One thing that we’ve
really gotten behind lately is working with our
partners at MAR, the Association of Realtors,
and the home builders to come up with a
housing strategy to really focus on those
areas where this investment’s already occurring, that
Alan just referenced, and really trying
to leverage that by incentivizing, I mean,
we know that there’s a lack of residential growth
inside the city boundaries, so we’re working to develop
a strategy for that, and I think the
timing’s right for that with Memphis 3.0
for that long range strategic planning process
that the city’s going under right now. It’s a really good
opportunity for us to fit into that and look
at those neighborhoods. We had a blight committee a
couple years ago, I think, with the city and county, and one of the
things they looked at that was really interesting was those neighborhoods
and precincts where property values were not falling but were just kind of
on the cusp of that and really trying to maybe
laser focus our efforts to encourage residential
re-development in those areas that were kind of on the
edge and mapping those out. So in addition to the big
projects that are wonderful, the Crosstown and Graceland
areas and things like that going on, really getting down
into some of the neighborhoods that Alan just referenced, and trying to
encourage development, make it affordable for middle
income housing to grow there. – We just have a
couple minutes left, and I was gonna shift. Do you want to get one
more word in on that? – Yeah. – That’s fine. So the thing that we, the
elephant in the room, though, is when we talk about
re-developing the neighborhoods that Alan was talking
about, and I agree, but crime is the issue, and you can’t force
people to buy, and build, and develop in areas
where crime hasn’t been taken care of, and so the reality is
that if people don’t think it’s a good investment
to move into areas that are crime ridden, and there’s not sewer
other places to go in Shelby County, they will push out beyond our
borders at a greater rate, or just to choose
to develop there, if they’re coming in, you know, there’s lots of land,
low tax, low bureaucracy out beyond our borders, so I like it that
we’re collaborating to try to make sure that
we’re an attractive option. – Well, an actually,
that’s a good segue, because we have
Mayor Jim Strickland on the show next week, and we’ll certainly talk
to him about where he is with the, you know,
rebuilding, as he says, the police force. With just a couple minutes left, you all are involved in
lots of other things. You have raised
some issues, Heidi, about the FedEx
Forum non-compete, and how that’s playing
out in terms of Graceland, you know, building
another arena. Your thoughts, your concerns
on the Forum contract. – So it did seem at the time,
what, 20 years ago about, that it was awfully exclusive, and I don’t like the fact
that it is right now, of course, looking at
the letter of the law where it, where Graceland
and the Guesthouse wouldn’t be able to develop
an area for concerts that are much smaller in venue, and so that the only
option they have if they don’t want
to go to the Forum because it’s either too
big, or they just don’t, they don’t like that venue,
or it’s too expensive, we’re pushing them
down into Mississippi. And so I’m hoping that
they’ll be able to do what we’ve been able to
do city, county wide, and come up with something
that would be a good accommodation to still
allow that to go forward. We want, you know,
there’s a win-win. We looked at how the
number of concerts that would’ve gone to the
FedEx Forum otherwise, you know, that would’ve been
taken by the Graceland area piece, it was only one,
and that was the one that the Graceland folks
themselves were putting on. It was an Elvis
retrospective, so, I mean, I think there’s a
path for everybody to come up with something good. – We’ll do more on
this, and Bill obviously has been writing about it, but I wanted to get your take. And Alan, you’re involved with
the Riverfront Task Force. – (Alan)
Yes. – What is the status of that, a big glossy plan with a
whole lot of great ideas came out some months ago,
there was a taskforce, as I joked with your
boss, Mr. Strickland, another taskforce about
the Riverfront yet again. But is this one gonna
come to some kind of actionable plan, and is
it gonna happen soon? – The concept that the
Studio Gang presented, I think, has been embraced
by lots of stakeholders downtown, and we are working
on the various components of that, Tom Lee
Park, Mud Island, the Fourth Bluff area, and
I think you’ll see some announcements on that very soon. – Okay, well, we
will live it there. Thank you all for joining us. Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. Good night. [dramatic orchestral music]

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