Nashville’s Metro Council could finalize the next city budget on Tuesday night, with each of the competing proposals aiming to raise property taxes to varying degrees.
A tax increase of 32% to 34% is possible, arriving at a time of financial hardship for many residents and also for the Metro government.To finalize the spending plan, the council is weighing Metro’s dire financial position in recent years, the impact of the pandemic and a recent wave of civic activism that includes a call for less police department funding.
WPLN News is curating a set of our stories to fill in the recent history of Metro’s budget in advance of the council vote.
Alarm about Metro’s finances peaked in November, when the state comptroller made an exceptionally rare visit to the council chamber to deliver a dire presentation. It detailed how little cash the city has on hand and a mounting debt burden, and the comptroller made clear that the state would take over financial management if city practices weren’t changed.
In December, the state approved a short-term emergency plan, but Metro Finance Director Kevin Crumbo noted there were still “mountains” to climb.
Prior Tax Increase Attempts Failed By Slim Margins
The Metro Council narrowly opted not to raise property taxes the past two years.
In 2018, the final debate ran four hours and past midnight. The council adopted a budget that undid previously promised pay raises for city employees and that did not provide Metro Schools what the district had requested.
The scenario largely repeated in 2019, as a push for a tax increase fell short by a single vote.
In both of those years, local teachers, city employees and their unions pleaded for tax increases so Metro would fund pay raises and other programming.
In early 2017, then-Mayor Megan Barry announced that the property tax rate would not be increased, a departure from prior cycles in the city. Property values, though, were about to jump in many pockets of the city, meaning higher tax bills for some.
Instead, Metro leaders soon pursued other tax increases tied to a plan to expand transit. Voters rejected that ballot measure in May 2018.
Barry’s 2017 moves included an increased stormwater fee. And in the time since, Metro has also raised its water rate, as mandated by state officials who considered the water system financially “distressed.”
Each year, city agencies share spending requests for consideration by the mayor and the Metro Council. Few such requests typically make it into the final plan.
Themes have emerged in recent years, especially the strain that growth is putting on Metro departments, including testing their ability to enforce regulations.
Agencies such as Metro Parks have also pointed to what its leaders see as Recession-era cutbacks that have never been restored.
Metro has also asked private-sector volunteers to serve on the Blue Ribbon Commission, which delivered its first recommendations in 2019.
The group suggested reductions to police overtime and substantial increases to many fees that Metro had not changed for years.
For 2020, the commission decided to focus its analysis on the costs and benefits of Nashville’s tourism industry — although that line of questioning has been disrupted by the massive impact of the coronavirus outbreak.