NASHVILLE (WSMV) - Tuesday night, Metro Council voted 33-4, to add a second item to the referendum ballot, saying the petition language would create unprecedented conflicts between different provisions in the Charter.
Councilmember Bob Mendes says this new item would resolve the potential conflicts in favor of the current Charter provision.
In an exchange between Mendes and Councilmember Robert Swope, Swope said, “essentially it doesn't change anything about the tax rate that we currently have or anything else to that matter? It's more of a housekeeping amendment?"
To which Mendes responded, “Well I wouldn't characterize it as housekeeping but it would preserve the existing authority that the council has for setting the tax rate."
Currently, the council has approved a budget with a 34% tax hike but at least 12,000 verified voters have asked for a December referendum ballot to bring that rate down to just two percent. That would unbalance the budget, something both the State Comptroller of the Treasury Justin Wilson and Mayor John Cooper say would hurt Nashville especially if the Comptroller has to step in.
“Understand what this means. No longer do you hold spending for Metro. The Comprtollers office does. You do not want that.” And I can guarantee you that I don’t nor does anyone in my office” says Wilson. “Let me be clear about this, no one in this room, no employees of the citizens, and certainly no Nashville resident would want the comptrollers office to step in to manage Metro’s finances.
"Not only is this a surrender of your sovereignty, the cuts would be deep and painful and again would not be based on what’s important to members of the council.”
Wilson said Metro should start acting now to cut and defer any spending to preserve cash should the referendum pass.
“I can assure you that deep deep cuts would be needed,” he said.
Mayor Cooper saying, “We will have inadequate police and fire protection. Our insurance rates will go up. Emergency response time will go down. Roads will go unpaved. Sidewalks unbuilt. Trash uncollected. Recycling stopped. Schools will be unrecognizable. Class sizes will increase. Buildings will be unrepaired. Teachers will leave. They will go to counties they are supported.”
He continues that “mandating this retroactive shortfall halfway after the fiscal year has started will create pure and complete budget instability.”
The amendment the council voted to add to the referendum would remove any conflicts if the 34 percent property tax hike is voted down.
If a December election to vote down the tax doesn't happen for the referendum, then the council's amendment comes off.
Nashville has been on the comptroller's radar before.
Earlier this year, the comptroller sent a letter to city leaders, threatening to take over in the fall if Metro didn't fix its budget.
Just a few months earlier a similar letter was sent, however, Mayor Cooper was able to correct the budget without needing state intervention.