Problems with Nashville’s city budget have dominated the first few months in office for Mayor John Cooper, and his decisions are not about to get any easier.
Recently filed budget requests show many city departments are desperate for more money after making cuts the past two years, with some saying layoffs are imminent if they don’t get more funding.
The details come in response to a mayor’s administration that asked department leaders to be honest and detailed about their needs.
Agencies were also asked to send their budget proposals in a new format, and to attempt to justify each request for additional dollars. That’s generated more than 700 pages of material, which WPLN requested under the Tennessee’s Open Records Act.
The mayor’s office declined to comment while its review is ongoing, and the Metro Finance Department notes the requests are still considered “first drafts” that will likely change during upcoming conversations. But the documents and this simplified summary (PDF) provide a snapshot of Metro’s needs.
Here are a half dozen takeaways:
1. Departments say they need to recover from the lean years.
Combined, city agencies are asking for more than $140 million extra this year, or a spending increase of about 6%.
While that isn’t wildly higher than other years, it does not yet include the request from Metro Nashville Public Schools, which will add substantially to the demand for city funds. School leaders have said they will make their budget proposal to the mayor in March.
The requests seek to fund 861 Metro positions — including dozens of police officers and firefighters, and dozens of workers in Metro Parks, Water Services and Public Works, among others.
In many cases, departments are asking to bring back jobs that were cut or unfunded in recent years.
The money would also pay for everything from police body cameras to extended library hours, more frequent curbside recycling, and better bus service.
2. More layoffs could come if departments don’t get more money.
Several departments raise the alarm about potential layoffs.
The Davidson County District Attorney, for example, says at least three jobs are at stake if additional money isn’t provided. The Nashville Fire Department issued a similar request.
And the Office Of Family Safety, which serves victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, says it’s at risk of a “severe disruption” if it loses 10 positions that were created with outside grants that expire in the middle of this year.
“Losing these positions will severely limit services for clients,” the office wrote.
3. Body cameras are likely to be costly.
The contentious issue of funding body-worn cameras for Metro Police could surface again in this year’s budget talks.
Among police, the district attorney and the public defender, requests top $28 million. The departments spell out how many staffers they would need to process the large amounts of anticipated footage, as well as to train and promote employees.
4. Animal Control says it’s in a ‘crisis.’
Among the most vivid requests is that from Metro Animal Care and Control, which describes its staff in a “crisis mode,” struggling to respond to calls for strays and vicious animals — sometimes waiting a day or longer.
“Every position … has incredibly physical and emotional demands placed upon them. The staff are exhausted by the amount of work to complete each day,” officials wrote.
5. Public safety agencies say they need dozens of people.
One of the largest requests comes from the Nashville Fire Department, which tallied up more than 100 desired positions at a cost topping $20 million. That includes firefighters and paramedics, as well as hiring related to the training academy.
Other public safety agencies had sizable requests. Metro Police are seeking $24.5 million, and the Davidson County Sheriff requested 20 more correctional officers.
6. Metro departments say they can show they’re getting results.
Another change this year: Metro departments are identifying how they will measure success. Each has proposed multiple metrics that can be tracked over time.
A review of those documents shows a wide range of ideas.
Metro Arts, for example, wants to count higher participation in its programs. General Services would like to increase the number of low-emission vehicles in the city’s fleet. And the WeGo transit agency plans to measure how many sheltered bus stops it can provide for riders, among multiple other metrics.
Still other agencies identify areas where they can improve. The Emergency Communications Center would like to see fewer 911 calls being “abandoned,” Metro Codes would like to shorten the average time it takes to complete a building inspection. And Metro Water Services is setting a goal of fewer sewage overflows.