NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - The Metro Council approved a 34% property tax increase early Wednesday morning after the second-longest meeting in Council history.
The Council voted 32-8 to approve an alternative budget proposed by Councilmember Bob Mendes after a night of several failed budget proposals and technical issues.
“The 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,” Mayor John Cooper said in a statement released on Wednesday.
“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.”
With the approved tax increase, Nashville property owners in the Urban Services District would pay $4.155 per $100 of assessed property value. Property owners in the General Services District would pay $3.755 per $100 of assessed property value. Homeowners with property valued at $300,000 will see a property tax increase of roughly $775.
“With a pandemic still around us and a city trying to recover economically, the Mayor and the Council found a way together to balance the City’s budget while keeping our core services safe. It wasn’t easy, but it was the responsible thing to do,” Vice Mayor Jim Shulman said in a statement on Wednesday.
The budget includes a 1% cost of living adjustment raise for Metro employees and $3.4 million allocated to Metro’s rainy day fund, which was less than the mayor proposed in his budget.
“We passed a budget that prioritizes our teachers, our Metro employees, our young people and equity,” District 2 Council Member Kyonzte Toombs said in a statement on Wednesday. “Raising property taxes at this time was a very tough decision. However, this budget allows us to continue to provide vital services and support to our residents. We will get through this together.”
The budget did not defund or increase funding for the Metro Nashville Police Department after several days of protests that have called for the police department to be “defunded.” The budget did restore $2.6 million to pay 48 police recruits in the upcoming year. The funding does not result in an increase in the number of officers in the department, only allowing for replacements for officers retiring or leaving. Without the funding, Metro Police would have had its headcount drop below the authorized level.
The mayor said the approved budget will help the city get its finances in order.
“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,” Cooper said.
Cooper said the budget would allow Metro to get its financial house in order and includes several important priorities:
- $2.1 million for a full deployment of body-worn cameras for the Metro Nashville Police Department, funded by the police department’s Public Health and Safety contingency;
- $4.9 million for a $15 per hour minimum wage for Metro Nashville Public School staff to bring educators’ pay in line with Metro policy, and
- $229,000 to hire a Chief Diversity Officer and a Workforce Diversity Manger.
Cooper proposed a 32% budget increase shortly after the March 3 tornado that devastated parts of the city and at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when non-essential businesses were required to shut down.
The crisis budget approved tonight stabilizes Metro’s finances and maintains essential services. The large tax increase is something I would not have considered were we not facing Nashville’s greatest financial challenge. I thank @mendesbob and Council for their leadership.— Mayor John Cooper (@JohnCooper4Nash) June 17, 2020
“The crisis budget approved tonight stabilizes Metro’s finances and maintains essential services,” Cooper said in a tweet early Wednesday morning after the vote. “The large tax increase is something I would not have considered were we not facing Nashville’s greatest financial challenge.”
“I appreciate the community, the Council, and the administration all working so hard on the budget in these difficult times. A tax increase isn’t what anyone wants, but Nashville is strong and we will come through this mess together,” said Mendes in a statement on Wednesday. “I appreciate the Mayor working so hard on finding other new revenue over the last six months. That helped the rate from having to be higher. We know it will be a long road for our city, state and country to work back from the current crisis. This budget will help Nashville start on the path toward a full recovery.”
The Beacon Center of Tennessee said the property tax increase was the “cowardly way out.”
“The Nashville City Council should be utterly ashamed about last night’s vote to raise taxes. They had a chance to rebuff the mayor’s egregious tax hike proposal and stand with middle-class taxpayers, business owners who have been shut down by the government, and everyone in between. They had a chance to enact much-needed systemic reforms that could begin to right the city’s fiscal shop. Instead, they took the cowardly way out and raised taxes by 34%, an even greater amount than proposed by the mayor, filling in the gap with pork and special interest favors.”
Nashville’s FY 2021 budget goes into effect on July 1, 2020.