Nashville will not raise its property tax this year after a push by the Metro Council fell one vote short on Tuesday night.
Members debated for more than two hours before they rejected a budget that sought a 15.8% tax increase. That allowed for an unusual outcome in which Mayor David Briley’s budget was adopted without any alterations.
The mayor’s budget – which Briley has described as “tight” – includes a 3% employee pay raise, but does not fully meet the funding requests of Metro Schools or the WeGo transit agency.
Briley mounted a vocal campaign against a tax increase in the days before the vote. Afterward, he released a statement saying that he was “pleased.”
“Mayor Briley is committed to continuing the conversation around our city’s budget priorities and revenue streams as we move forward through the fiscal year,” the statement says.
Overall, Briley’s budget is 4.55% increase over the current fiscal year. That includes a $28 million increase for Metro Schools over the prior year, $3 million more for police body cameras and $1 million for a scholarhip program for local students attending community college.
At the same time, the budget asks city departments to make $12 million in cuts and the school district to find $6 million in trims.
The approved budget also seeds what could be a major battle.
Briley’s plan counts on Metro making $30 million by outsourcing management of parking meters to a private firm. But that proposal has been divisive. If that plan were to be rejected by the council, the city would need to plug the funding hole.
How They Voted
Last year, a similar tax increase fell two votes short of passage. Ever since, there’s been intense pressure on council members to try again to pass a tax increase. The push has largely come from city employees and teachers who wanted a bigger pay raise than what Briley proposed.
And on Tuesday, most council members who spoke were in favor of a 15.8% increase.
Opponents were quieter, but prevailed.
Councilwoman Sheri Weiner was one of the few who spoke. She criticized what she saw as a rushed process this year.
“We can tell our police officers, our firemen, our teachers, and all of our employees that we’re going to be deliberately equitable for all of them and not piecemeal this,” she said.
Council members had four days to review several competing proposals. Weiner said she’d prefer to hold a public hearing and community meetings before a tax increase.
In the end, a slim majority of council members did support the tax increase. There were 20 in favor and 18 opposed, but the measure needed 21 votes to pass.
Councilman DeCosta Hastings abstained. He did not explain his decision. Earlier in the meeting, he had delivered a mixed message, saying he supported a pay raise for Metro employees, but also that he was disturbed by misinformation about the budget.
At one moment, Hastings incorrectly summarized the tax increase proposal and was interrupted by its sponsor, Councilwoman Tanaka Vercher. He also suggested it was “not very different” from the mayor’s proposal, which drew corrective responses from other members.
A Foreboding Outlook
The budget that failed sought to give teachers a larger pay raise, to add police and firefighters, and to allot extra money for debt and future city payroll needs.
It also sought to avoid a $1.6 million cut to Nashville Public Library circulation and an $8.7 million WeGo transit shortfall, which is causing more than 20 routes to be eliminated or reduced.
“When you cut, it doesn’t come back,” was the warning from Councilman Colby Sledge, who fought unsuccessfully for the property tax increase.
Sledge noted a community center in his district that hasn’t restored hours of operation that were reduced 10 years ago.
Other members worried about what will happen to bus riders, including students and low-income residents of public housing.
For the second year in a row, the rejection of a tax increase had At-Large Councilman Bob Mendes anticipating even more difficult budget decisions ahead.
“By putting it off yet another year, all we do is squeeze employees on pay and squeeze citizens on services,” said the councilman, who favored a tax increase.
Mendes has a track record of accurately predicting Metro revenues and expenses. He said Tuesday night that city finances already show that next year’s budget will require one of three harsh options for the mayor and council: “either dramatically sticking it to employees, more significant one-time [sales of Metro assets], or a tax increase.”