Metro Parks director warns of community center closures if property tax referendum is approved

Posted at 6:40 PM, Sep 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-24 21:58:38-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Even more Metro departments are voicing their concerns about a tax referendum ahead of a key decision by the Davidson County Election Commission.

Commissioners are expected to meet on Friday at 2:30 p.m. to determine if voters will get to choose the future of a referendum that would roll back the 34% property tax hike approved by Metro council earlier this year. A petition called the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act from the group 4GoodGovernment garnered more than 20,000 signatures to start the process of calling for a special election in December. The referendum would cap increasing property taxes to no more than 2% in a year.

However, Mayor John Cooper said not only would it create a $322 million deficit, the effects would lead to mass layoffs and service interruptions. On Thursday, the Metro finance director sent an immediate hiring and promotions freeze and called on all departments to drastically reduce spending as a precautionary move. Officials warned the city's budget would be thrown wildly out of balance if the property tax hike is repealed.

People who have opposed to the property tax hike say it is too high and unfair during this time. Some call it a short-term band-aid to the city's mismanagement problem.

Aside from major cuts to emergency and Metro Public Works services, Metro Parks said the department would be devastated if the referendum is approved by voters. Director Monique Odom said she would be forced to make more than $7 million in cuts, which will include losing up to 300 positions, closure of community centers and golf courses, changes to the cultural arts divisions and a downward difference in maintenance.

"We're looking at a prolong and unacceptable service to the public," Odom told NewsChannel 5. "It's not just an impact on individuals, but an impact on neighborhoods and communities and ultimately our city as a whole," she added.

The layoffs and significant changes could close up to 10 community centers throughout Nashville. The possibility is a concern for Looby Community Center facility manager Demarcus Doss, who has been involved with the facility near Metro Center for more than a decade. Pior to COVID-19, the center easily served more than 100 children. Currently, programs have been limited but it is helping Metro students with schoolwork.

"Community centers are the cornerstone of a lot of families in these neighborhoods. It's like a second home. We look into building a brighter future," Doss said.

"Kids come here and it helps you get out of trouble and stay off the streets and help you with a lot of things when you're going through rough times. It's not just a community center. It's a place that help kids build a better future," 15-year-old student Korra Jordan said.

The Metro Parks department has 178 parks, 31 nature, regional and neighborhood community centers and eight dog parks with more 15,000 acres of open space.