Judge rules Davidson County property tax increase will not go on ballot

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Posted at 4:26 PM, Nov 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-03 23:22:58-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A judge has ruled that Davidson County residents will not get to decide the future of the 34% property tax hike.

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle issued her ruling Tuesday afternoon, saying the petition challenging the tax increase is invalid under Tennessee law. November 3 was the deadline for her to rule on the matter.

"Unbeknownst to the signers who were presented with the referendum petition, it contains a Proposed Act that is defective in form, facially unconstitutional and under no set of circumstances could be valid," her ruling said, referring to repealing the property tax increase mid-fiscal year as the Proposed Act. "The Proposed Act presents an impermissible form of government in Tennessee where the laws of a local government conflict with or intrude upon the sovereignty of state law."

The petition sought to allow Davidson County voters to weigh in on the property tax during a special election on December 15. Chancellor Lyle said the referendum would cost the city over $800,000.

An appeal will likely be filed in the case.

"We appreciate Chancellor Lyle’s thoughtful approach to all parties in hearing this case and her timely decision. The Commission said from the beginning that we needed to get this right, out of concern for the city and the taxpayers, particularly given the expense of a special election," said Election Commission Chairman Emily Reynolds. "Now we have the necessary guidance we were seeking,. We await word from Mr. Roberts and 4GoodGovernment, as to whether or not they plan to file an appeal. The Commission is grateful for everyone’s patience and understanding throughout this process."

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.

Chancellor Lyle said there may be lawful ways to change the tax hike prospectively, but the proposed referendum is not one of them.

Amid the judge's decision, the Beacon Center is calling for statewide property tax protections, saying while the group had no involvement in the petition, they believe taxpayers should have a say.

"Taxpayers deserve a say when it comes to property taxes. Cities like Nashville and Murfreesboro have spent irresponsibly for years and forced taxpayers to swallow the cost with huge property tax increases," Beacon CEO Justin Owen said. "Tennessee is one of only four states in the country without some type of property tax limitation, and it is well past time that we protect Tennessee homeowners and taxpayers. This isn't a partisan issue, as 91% of Tennesseans believe they should have direct input on property tax hikes, compared to just 2% who oppose it."

Mayor John Cooper praised Chancellor Lyle's decision in a statement released on Tuesday night.

"Today’s decision is great news for our city. It reflects the widely held view that this referendum was just not legal enough to be up to a vote.

The Chancellor’s thoughtful ruling calls out a misguided effort. It clearly shows why it was the wrong choice for a stronger Nashville.

We are the lowest-taxed city in one of the lowest-taxed states, even after the property tax increase. We can have the lowest tax rate and fix our finances, pay teachers more, build schools, and invest in neighborhoods.

Thankfully, the city does not have to spend between $800,000 and $1 million on something that would later be overturned. Instead, we can focus on the work Metro Council and I were hired to do."