Metro Council passes budget with historic property tax hike

Property taxes will go up by 34% in Metro Nashville
council budget meeting
Posted at 10:37 PM, Jun 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-17 13:10:33-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Metro Nashville City Council passed a budget early Wednesday morning that includes a 34% property tax hike. It's the largest property tax increase in Metro Nashville history and the first hike since 2012.

With more than 80% of council members' approval, a substitute budget offered by Councilmember Bob Mendes passed in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The budget includes a plan to increase funding to Metro Nashville Public Schools and the Metro Nashville Police Department.

Councilman Bob Mendes said his budget will get the city back on a firmer financial footing, while still being able to help people.

"One of the things that we're in a great position to do is raise 1,500 employees of the school system up to $15 an hour, and we're going to be able to get community centers open on Saturday morning," said Mendes. "Really, people who are hurt the most, we're trying to get something in the budget for. I feel like we did that tonight."

Mendes' budget was adopted over Mayor John Cooper's, but the mayor tweeted following the budget decision Wednesday morning, showing support for the council's decision.

"The FY2021 budget process is proof positive that here in Nashville, we can still have collaborative working relationships in our politics," tweeted Mayor Cooper. "The end result, a budget built on compromise and full of tough choices, provides stable financial footing for our city’s future."

He later provided the following statement in response to the budget approval:

This budget season was unlike any other in Metro history. The Council weighed four different budget proposals, each of which called for a significant tax increase. Ultimately, the Council passed a crisis budget that stabilizes Metro’s finances and maintains essential city services.

A large tax increase is never easy, and it was made more painful by the sharp economic downturn brought on by COVID-19. It’s something that I would not have considered were we not facing the greatest financial challenge in Nashville’s history. It is a difficult but necessary choice for our city and our residents. I am grateful for the work of the entire Council.”

Undoubtedly, we would all prefer to make incremental investments in our common priorities -- education, transportation, employee compensation, and affordable housing. The opportunity to make these investments will come once we get beyond this crisis budget and as a result of this budget.

In addition to getting Metro’s financial house in order, this budget includes several important priorities I want to highlight this morning:
  • $2.1 million for a full deployment of body-worn cameras for the Metro Nashville Public Department, funded by the police department’s Public Health and Safety contingency;
  • $4.9 million for a fifteen dollar per hour minimum wage for Metro Nashville Public School staff to bring our educators’ pay in line with Metro policy; and
  • $229,000 to hire a Chief Diversity Officer and a Workforce Diversity Manager.

A combination of deep cuts, a painful but necessary property tax increase, and replenished fund balance will safely see our community through to the other side of the coronavirus and the most serious budget crisis in Nashville’s history.

The council meeting didn't go without some problems.

Not only were there many different substitute budgets and amendments to consider, but the council was also trying to work with a program allowing Council members to vote from home, leading to some technical problems.

Councilwoman Kyonzte Toombs, who co-sponsored the budget plan that was approved, said she understands the concerns on providing the police department with additional funding.

"My preference was to maintain the Metro step increases and reduce MNPD's budget as originally proposed in Councilman Mendes' substitute, which I co-sponsored. I understand the concern about the 48 new recruits. However, we need to rethink how we do policing in our city," she said. "That includes looking at current police duties and financial resources determining what can be reallocated to more community-based organizations and departments that have more of a direct positive impact on the community."

Prior to the meeting, a group of about 250 protesters gathered on the courthouse lawn, asking council members to defund the Metro Nashville Police Department.

It was yet another peaceful gathering in Nashville in response to the police killing of George Floyd.

In the end, Councilman Mendes' budget plan called for increasing funding to Metro Nashville Police Department by $2.6 million. The plan would allow the police department to continue with its recruitment of new officers to fill a shortage in Nashville's police force. Right now, the department is about 150 officers short of the count it is allowed to have. The increase in funding would allow the department to bring in 48 new officers, some of which are already in the recruitment or training pipeline.

There were at least four budget proposals on the table - one from Mayor Cooper, one from Budget Chairman Bob Mendes, one from Councilman Steve Glover and one from Councilman Freddie O’Connell.

Each of them called for raising property taxes by varying amounts after COVID-19 hit the city’s revenue hard. Others would offset property tax increases by increasing the wheel tax at higher rates.

Glover's and O'Connell's budgets did not get the number of votes they needed to move forward.