NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nashville Mayor John Cooper gave his second State of Metro address Thursday morning as the city works to rebound from last year’s tornadoes, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Christmas Day bombing.
Watch the entire address below:
- $81 million for Metro Schools
- Metro’s largest employee pay plan, with $30.4 million investment
- $37.5 million investment in affordable housing
- Infrastructure improvements in North Nashville
Calling last year’s budget a “crisis,” Cooper said this year Metro has an “investment” budget with plans to boost funding for Metro Schools, affordable housing, transporation and invest in Nashville neighborhoods.
Mayor Cooper also proposed nearly $10 million to hire 20 new firefighters and 20 new EMTs. Another $12 million would go toward hiring 48 new law enforcement officers for Nashville.
“As long as we make these investments, Nashville’s future is bright. And we’ll re-emerge as a city that works and works for everyone,” Cooper said.
METRO SCHOOLS INVESTMENT
As part of his budget, Cooper is calling for an additional $81 million for Metro Schools, making it the city’s largest-ever investment in public education. He said for the first time in a generation, Metro is fully funding the school board’s budget request and investing $50 million to make “our teachers the best paid in Tennessee.”
Mayor @JohnCooper4Nash has just announced they will fully fund the @MetroSchools board’s budget request. An $81 million value. They also plan to increase the avg. Metro teacher salary by more than $6,000.— Levi Ismail (@LeviAIsmail) April 29, 2021
“Our schools are entering a golden age.”@NC5
Cooper said the average Metro teacher would see a salary jump of $6,924. The new salary structure would also eliminate “compensation plateaus” and “allow us to recruit and retain the very best teachers,” he said.
He said he and Dr. Adrienne Battle are working to develop a “Digital Future Initiative” and will release more about the plan in the coming weeks. But its goal is to enable all students to "compete in the modern workplace.”
TEA President Beth Brown released the statement below on the announcement:
“The budget passed by the General Assembly is disappointing when we have a historic opportunity to get Tennessee out of the bottom five in education funding. With a record revenue surplus and hundreds of millions unappropriated, this was the time to stop underfunding our schools.
There were bills to provide for more nurses, counselors, RTI specialists and social workers that our students need today and moving forward to meet their mental and academic challenges cause by the pandemic and the problems of chronic underfunding. Instead, we saw a trust fund set up that will cover barely a fraction of the needs years down the road.
It’s unconscionable for state leaders to not include significant increases for K-12 funding, especially at a time when the state has racked up $1.42 billion in surplus year-to-date. The money is there to make a significant increase to K-12 funding, but Gov. Lee and the General Assembly have instead chosen to continue stuffing mattresses full of cash. Elected officials love to claim that Tennessee students, educators and public schools are top priorities, but their action on the state budget tells a different story. As the old saying goes, it’s time to put their money where their mouth is.”
The mayor’s plan also calls for the “largest funding of transportation” Metro has ever seen and would create a traffic management center to manage congestion and connected smart signals to reduce congestion.
He said Metro is forming and staffing a Department of Transportation. He said the budget allows funding for 42 new positions.
Cooper’s budget also proposes restoring WeGo’s funding with $25 million in this year’s operating budget after maximizing its CARES act resources last year for the MTA/RTA subsidy.
He said it would double the city’s capacity for traffic calming, bike lanes, and capital projects.
“As a Vision Zero city, our sidewalk, paving, and traffic management improvements will reduce terrible and unnecessary injuries and deaths and value safety for our pedestrians,” he said.
Cooper said his proposed budget, along with the city’s pending funds from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP), would invest $37.5 million in affordable housing.
This would increase the Barnes Fund from $10 million to $12.5 million.
He’s also asking for another $10 million to the Barnes Fund using ARP funds and recommending $10 million in federal funds go towards creating a Catalyst Housing Fund, which the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force recommended. He said this would allow for quick action to preserve affordable units.
METRO EMPLOYEE PAY
Cooper is also proposing a $30.4 million Metro employee pay plan that includes a 2% cost-of-living adjustment for city workers.
He said the Employee Benefits Board will vote next week on a platinum Medicare Advantage plan that would provide retiree care at reduced costs, calling it a "win, win, win for everyone."
NORTH NASHVILLE / BORDEAUX
Cooper's plan for the North Nashville and Bordeaux areas includes launching a "first-of-its-kind" $2 million participatory budgeting process, in which funds will be allocated for neighborhood infrastructure improvements.
The plan would also use potential federal funding to create a cap over Interstate 40, where green space and public buildings could be built.
"We know that vibrant neighborhoods don’t happen by accident. They require thoughtful, intentional investment in the people who live, work, and learn in historically underserved communities," he said. "When I-40 was originally built, it divided North Nashville and hurt the vitality of the historic Jefferson Street corridor. This was a generational wrong."
Cooper said the North Nashville transit center would improve public transportation along Clarksville Highway, while increasing access to jobs in the region.
Additionally, he said Metro is increasing Nashville General Hospital’s subsidy to a total of $49 million -- a 14% increase year-over-year.
"These initiatives aren’t a cure-all for these neighborhoods. They cannot erase the inequities of the past. But as a city, we must be intentional in how we invest in North Nashville and Bordeaux," he said.
Metro Council has until June 30 to approve a new budget and tax rate. If Metro Council doesn't act on the budget, then the mayor's budget goes into effect by default – that's only happened once in Metro’s history.