Closing arguments wrap in property tax referendum trial

Posted at 8:02 AM, Oct 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-27 19:20:36-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A trial to ultimately determine if Davidson County residents will get to decide the future of the 34% property tax hike has concluded.

The trial started Monday morning and went into recess yesterday afternoon. Court resumed Tuesday morning with closing arguments.

The judge will make a decision by November 3 and issue a ruling. Either way, an appeal will likely be filed in the case.

Earlier this year, Metro Council approved a 34% property tax hike in Davidson County as the city is going through some major financial obstacles. But a citizen group, 4GoodGovernment, is seeking a special election to roll it back.

During the hearing on Monday, Metro Nashville attorneys argued repealing the tax hike would only "cause chaos and confusion," adding that trying to repeal the tax hike will cost taxpayers.

Comparing a typical ballot initiative to the petition by 4GoodGovernment, Metro attorneys say the language is just plain confusing. They contend that each of the five recommendations made appeared to pile on without real direction for what the 27,000 petitioners were looking for.

One paragraph stated, "Metro's Records Shall Be Open to the Public," followed by "the citizens are entitled to keep a close eye on Metro's actions."

"One could characterize this position perhaps as political spitball. There has been no provision like this to amend the Metro charter before," Davidson County Election Commission attorney Bill Koch said.

Meanwhile attorney James Roberts who is representing 4GoodGovernment said, "this was not a half-hearted effort." He says as early as August 22, his clients had all the signatures they needed and followed the protocols to make it on a ballot. They said the burden of proof is on Metro and the county to see if anything put forward is unconstitutional.

In his closing arguments, Roberts said that for six weeks the election commission waited before announcing they would need guidance from a judge. When all along, 4GoodGovernment should have had the election they lobbied for.

"What the election commission has done and Metro, is come forward and try to deny the citizens their right to vote," Roberts said.

Koch said unfortunately Metro's statutes provide no guidance on "how this should be done," but he says the petition should have been limited to amending the charter and nothing else.

"It should be no surprise that the members of the election commission, who do not hold themselves as ballot experts, were hard pressed to know what to do with this document," Koch said.

Just last week, Metro Council approved a resolution showing their opposition to that referendum. Nashville Mayor John Cooper worries if the property tax is struck down, it could leave the city with a more than $300 million budget shortfall.

Attorneys representing the Davidson County Commissioners Office said it will cost the city as much as $800,000 to hold the special election.

Previous stories:

Hearing on proposed property tax referendum in recess, will resume Tuesday morning

Davidson County Election Commission turns to Chancery Court in property tax referendum decision