Metro departments, affordable housing fund, face cuts amid budget shortfall

Posted at 10:56 PM, Dec 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-12 00:07:02-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nashville's affordable housing fund and several city departments face new cuts under a corrective action plan unveiled tonight by Mayor John Cooper's office, aimed at fixing a $41.5 million budget shortfall.

The Mayor's office made the suggested changes to keep state watchdogs from taking control of Nashville's checkbook, something the state comptroller's office said Wednesday it would not do, if Metro follows its new plan.

"We have that monkey off our backs and the big problem Mayor Cooper came into is now taken care of," said Bob Mendes, chair of the Metro Council Budget and Finance Committee, which heard from Metro's finance department during a presentation Wednesday.

The state comptroller's office failed to approve Nashville's budget originally passed in June, saying it was not "structurally balanced," meaning it relied on one-time revenue -- not recurring funds -- to make Metro's budget balance out.

Of particular concern to state watchdogs was the one-time money the city counted on from the sale the city's downtown energy system to a private buyer and former Mayor David Briley's plan to sell off parking enforcement of Nashville's parking meters to a private company.

Following public outcry, Briley announced a "pause" to the privatized parking plan, and Mayor Cooper said the plan would not take place under his leadership. The sale of the energy system still has not taken place.

The plan to patch up the $41.5 million shortfall with recurring funds impacts several different areas.

It calls for a 50% reduction in the amount of money the city would have given to non-profits this year through the Barnes Fund -- a fund created by the city that makes grants to non-profits who help create more affordable houing in Nashville.

"I'm extremely bummed that city leadership was dumb enough to paint ourselves into this corner, but now that we are where we are, some painful cuts are required," Mendes said.

Cooper is also asking city departments for an additional $2.6 million in budget cuts through the end of the year, but a document given to Metro council members Wednesday did not itemize which departments would see those cuts.

Mendes says some of that money may come from departments that have already cut more than they were originally asked to.

"This is the thing people want us to do," Mendes said. "They want to know before we ask them for more property taxes that we're doing everything we can to be careful with money we already do have."

The plan also makes adjustments to how the Music City Center and Metro Water Services -- two city-owned facilities -- pay money to the city instead of paying property taxes: so-called PILOTs, or Payments in Lieu of Taxes.