It’s increasingly clear that the Metro Council will consider raising Nashville’s property tax this year.
The top councilman in charge of the budget says it’s really just a matter of determining what size of increase the council will vote on.
“I’m telegraphing to everyone who will listen that a rate increase is inevitable,” said Councilman Bob Mendes.
With that in mind, Mendes will soon announce a series of community meetings to explain the city’s financial situation, answer questions and gauge what the public wants.
This differs from recent years, and it reflects the difference of having Mendes — an advocate for a tax increase — as the chairman of the council’s budget committee.
“It’s pretty easy to lay out the basic facts of how much in [Metro] expenses have already been cut over the last several years, and also how long it’s been since there’s been a property tax rate increase,” Mendes told WPLN News.
The forthcoming meetings, he says, will give residents a common set of facts about the budget, including details from the state comptroller’s dire analysis of Metro finances.
“Facts are our friends,” Mendes said. “The comptroller laid out five basic options and put a big red ‘X’ through three of them — and that leaves cutting expenses and raising revenue.”
Mendes is taking action much earlier than others before him.
The budget is usually a scramble in the springtime. The mayor creates the spending plan and the council gets little time to debate major changes before voting. The past two years, some members said they couldn’t support late-developing proposals to raise taxes because they felt they didn’t have time to inform residents.
So this time, community discussions will happen in February and March. Mendes says the dates are coming soon, and that his co-host will be Vice Mayor Jim Shulman.
“The attempt here is to go out on the front end,” Shulman said. ” The more informed public, the better it is.”
Shulman is known for his neutrality, but he too is leaning toward a tax increase (as vice mayor, he only votes to break ties).
“Because we’re not making it as a city. It’s very tight,” Shulman said. “Obviously people got very upset when we tried to start selling one-time assets … the teachers are upset. The police and firefighters are upset.”
Mayor John Cooper has been skeptical of a tax hike. But he has shown similar urgency. He moved his own budget deadline a month sooner.
One consequence of the accelerated timeline is that the mayor will not host public budget meetings, which typically have taken the form of question-and-answer sessions with Metro department leaders.
Mendes said the council is feeling a similar time pinch, so it will likely invite fewer departments — mostly those with the largest budgets — for public hearings.