The Murfreesboro City Council last Wednesday received an update on spending guidelines for the city’s expected $24 million portion of the federally funded Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery grant.
City Grant Coordinator Karen Lampert said the city will have until Dec. 31, 2024, to spend its portion of the relief funds. That date could be pushed back to 2026 if the money is obligated by the end of this year.
Mayor Shane McFarland said City Manager Craig Tindall had suggested holding off on spending any of the money until the final interim rule is released in September. The goal is to avoid a potential spending scenario in which a portion of money could be taken back by the government.
“I’ve been talking to some of the other mayors, and everyone is very reluctant right now to go ahead and allocate these funds without a detailed plan in place,” said McFarland.
The council unanimously agreed to sticking with this plan, which lines up with the state’s recommendation as well, according to Lampert.
She listed categories grant recipients can consider putting their federal dollars toward, including public health, economic impact in census-tracked areas, lost public sector revenue, premium pay for essential workers, water and sewer projects as well as broadband infrastructure.
The two areas that the city council do not feel it qualifies for would be lost public sector revenue and broadband infrastructure.
The council also approved the new city transportation design for Murfreesboro Transit. The bus system’s new look will feature a light blue background with a map overlay and the city’s rotunda logo.
The mayor said it could be worthwhile to consider using the buses as an advertising opportunity and additional method to keep residents informed about upcoming community events.
Mercer Management Consultants Jake Davis and Alden Davenport presented a report on what could eventually become the city’s approach to handling rising health care and insurance costs.
Murfreesboro has spent about $17.8 million on health care in 2021. That cost is expected to rise by 8% or 9% next year, according to Davis’ calculations based on insurance claims through May.
Davis said the city’s insurance-related policies have remained the same for the last five years, offering Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee’s P-Network Plan. The newer S-Network Plan is an option that would direct patients to lower-cost medical facilities in the area.
Davis used StoneCrest as an example of an HCA medical facility employees using this plan would not be able to visit and remain in the network.
“That’s a hard pill to swallow. It really is,” said Davis, who is also the consultant for Rutherford County, which offers four health plans through Cigna.
He said the city would still offer the current P-Network Plan but include the S-Network as a cheaper alternative option that would save the city and the individual employees money.
“For every person that enrolls, we’re saving eight percent, so that number ends up being pretty big,” said Davis, who said the city should plan to move toward encouraging employees to visit emergency rooms only in a “true emergency.”
Davenport said about 35% of the amount spent on health care comes from specialty pharmacy costs. Another goal is to get individuals to consider using lower-cost pharmacies.
“We’re not looking to limit, right, because there’s a plethora of options,” said Davenport. “There’s nowhere in the hub of Murfreesboro that you would have to drive 20 miles out of your way to go get a different medication. It’s saying, ‘Hey, if you literally went across the street, you would save yourself and you’d save the city money.’ ”
The city council approved two liquor certificates which brought on talk from Councilman Rick LaLance about taking another look at the Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance. The ordinance allows one liquor store per every 5,000 people with stipulations regarding proximity to schools and churches.
LaLance said Assistant City Attorney Roman Hankins had collected some data on other cities and municipalities, and several have residential stipulations in place.
“It seemed to me like we were on the lower end of restrictions rather than the higher quite frankly,” said LaLance referring to the permitted locations of liquor stores.
McFarland said he wants to be careful to avoid putting additional “burdens” on small business liquor stores without doing the same for big box sellers, like grocery stores.
Staff is set to bring back more information at the council’s next workshop meeting in August.