Nashville’s potential property tax increase is becoming more clear, as the Metro Council’s budget chairman said Monday he’ll pursue a tax increase of nearly 34%, which is slightly higher than the mayor’s earlier draft budget.
This latest spending plan from Councilmember Bob Mendes would hold police funding at the same level as last year, while channeling more dollars to education. It would also fund the hiring of two high-level officials to work on diversity within Metro government, as demanded by the Metro Council’s Minority Caucus.
Compared to Mayor John Cooper’s tax increase plan, the Mendes budget would avoid sharp cuts to arts grants; put more money into community centers, summer youth employment and nonprofits; and prevent the closure of Nashville Community Education.
If approved, the annual tax bill would rise by about $740 for a median-value Nashville home, which census estimates place at $277,000. The Metro Council could vote on the budget as soon as June 16. (Read more on the process here.)
In a blog post, Mendes said he drew from community feedback and the preferences of councilmembers in recent meetings.
“I believe that the extra [tax increase] will accomplish a lot for people who will be most impacted by the needed rate increase,” Mendes wrote. “The goal from the start has been to help people who need it the most and who will be most impacted by the needed rate increase.”
The proposal would give roughly $12 million more to Metro Schools, including a chunk so that the district’s minimum wage could be raised to $15 per hour. The district would also be given a free pass from the “targeted savings” that other departments would be asked to identify.
Substitute Budget Has Shifted Quickly
Mendes published a pair of documents to compare his budget to the mayor’s. This table compares the two proposals; and this table shows what items Mendes has adjusted since first sharing his ideas in late May.
In the meantime, several factors have changed. The Metro Council Minority Caucus made five demands; nationwide unrest included a local call for reduced police funding; and officials announced an alternative method of implementing body-worn cameras for police.
Last week, two days after the Metro Council held its longest public hearing in history, the council’s budget committee discussed potential changes.
That process included a review of councilmember “wish list” items — online here — and an informal vote on priorities.
The nonbinding poll, among the subset of members on the call, showed the strongest backing for: preservation of Nashville Community Education, avoiding cuts to Metro Arts grants, increased funding for schools, funding community centers for Saturday morning hours, and funding body cameras.
“If I balanced these thousand things and something didn’t make it in there, and you want to pursue it in amendment, that’s cool. Do it. Go for it,” Mendes told his peers.
Procedurally, the Mendes budget can continue to undergo amendments. Any other budget proposals are bound to receive simple votes of approval or disapproval. Should the council not agree on a substitute, like last year, the mayor’s initial budget would be adopted.
Comptroller Again Warns Nashville Leaders
Also Monday, Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson again warned Nashville leaders about recent budgeting practices.
His letter tells finance leaders to be careful about Metro’s debt load and asks them to move quickly to replenish the reserve funds that are running low.
The comptroller notes that not having enough cash on hand could have “catastrophic consequences.” He said he wrote in response to a recent rating agency letter to Nashville that affirmed its “AA” status — but that shifted Metro’s outlook from “stable” to “negative.”
If the council passes the budgets proposed by Cooper or Mendes, the city’s reserves would be replenished to a sufficient level for the comptroller.
In a statement to WPLN News, the mayor’s office says it welcomes the letter.
“Mayor Cooper and Metro’s Finance Director, Kevin Crumbo, have strongly advocated for both a balanced budget and restoring fund balance.”