If you’re willing to help the environment, free downtown parking has become Metro’s reward on multiple fronts.
Fresh off enacting a law in December allowing drivers of hybrid, biofuel and electric vehicles to park free at downtown city meters, the Metro Council gave final approval Tuesday of a bill that extends the same incentive to all Davidson County registered drivers who purchase credits to offset the carbon footprint of their automobiles.
Councilman Charlie Tygard, author of the latest law, had called the related proposal elitist, arguing only the wealthy could afford such environmentally friendly cars. He said the carbon offset plan levels the playing field.
“To me, it was an equity issue,” Tygard said. “The bill we passed previously to allow hybrid vehicles free parking at certain downtown meters, many Nashvillians couldn’t afford that high-priced vehicle.
“This gives the opportunity to any Nashvillian no matter what car they drive,” he said.
The new plan relies on a special formula to determine the level of carbon emissions a vehicle produces. Interested drivers are to purchase carbon offsets through contributions to designated non-profit environmental organizations. The offset comes in the form of planting trees or wetlands mitigation –– all aimed at countering vehicular carbon emission in Nashville.
Nonprofit groups that offer carbon offsets typically charge between $40 and $72 for a mid-sized sedan, according to the council’s research.
Using a carbon-offset formula found at Carbonfund.org, a 2002 Honda Civic owner who drives 15,000 miles per year would pay an annual offset of $41.58 per year. Using the same formula and yearly mileage, a driver of a 2002 Ford F150 pick-up truck would pay a carbon offset of $73.92 per year.
Former Councilman Roy Dale, founder of EarthCredits, is the architect behind one of the applicable non-profit groups. In the past, he has told The City Paper of plans to restore Ewing’s Creek floodplain in North Nashville through vegetation.
Under the new law, drivers opting into the program are to show a certificate of carbon-offset proof to the Davidson County Clerk’s Office. Drivers are to indicate they’ve opted into the program by pasting a sticker on their windshields.
In other business, the council did the following:
* Approved on the second of three votes Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed $1.58 million budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year. Before heading to the council for final approval later this month, the bill will go to the council’s Budget and Finance Committee for any last-minute tweaks.
The approval Tuesday came after a public hearing in which most citizens who took part advocated for continued support of the Metro Arts Commission.
According to MAC Executive Director Jen Cole, the commission is losing $30,000 in the proposed budget, a 3 percent cut. Most departments are facing modest cuts, ranging from 0 to 3 percent.
Meanwhile, a handful of council members — led by Eric Crafton, Jim Gotto and Vivian Wilhoite — asked that a 1.5 percent pay increase proposed for Metro employees be changed to a $1,500 lump sum increase to award lesser paid employees in an equitable way with those at the top. The council deferred a resolution that outlines the pay plan.
* Approved a resolution to revoke a 10 percent raise that was added — through a law enacted in 2006 — to the salary of Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence. The law allows compensating clerks who, like Torrence, serve multiple courts.
Torrence came under fire recently following a WSMV-TV report that revealed he had been working only three days a week and using a government vehicle to run personal errands, which included at least one trip to a wine and spirits store.
* Approved a non-binding resolution sponsored by Councilman Eric Crafton that requests schools director Jesse Register to launch academic magnet schools at all 12 high school clusters. The vote was 32-6.