Some Nashvillians are asking — with gusto — for the Metro Council to increase Davidson County’s property tax as a way to fund pay increases for city employees.
Workers, school teachers and staff, and firefighter and police unions were among the several dozen who pleaded Tuesday night for more funding. Many blasted what they see as a broken promise from last year about pay raises that do not appear in the tighter budget proposed by Mayor David Briley.
“We need your action and support in keeping our raises and funding our schools,” said Bridget Radford, an employee of the Nashville Public Library.
Like others, she recounted the times in which city employees did not receive cost-of-living raises, including most years since 2008.
“We were asked to do more with less and we did,” she said. “We persevered.”
She said a three-year sequence of raises, approved last year, is now at risk of being taken away.
“We’re hurting by constantly having the budget balanced on our backs,” she said.
The lengthy night of comments included a common refrain from speakers who questioned how government dollars have become scarce amid economic boom times — as well as questioning how showy, high-dollar projects like stadiums and business incentives can be approved but not working-class pay bumps.
“I’m starting to feel like Nashville doesn’t respect my stewardship,” said Odessa Kelly, a 12-year employee of Metro Parks.
Tax Increase Considered
Kelly specifically requested a higher property tax rate, which others acknowledged as politically difficult.
“If you don’t have the courage to make tough votes which benefit our children and honor the promise you made to city employees, then you should not seek re-election,” said Esi Akyere Mali Arthur Snodgrass, who works in city schools with medically fragile students. “We need people of strength and courage in public office now.”
A late-moving amendment to raise the property tax by 16 percent is expected before final budget passage, but it’s not clear how the council would vote.
Councilwoman Tanaka Vercher, who runs the council budget committee, said “all options will be considered.”
“These are not ideal budgetary times. But unlike the prior years this time of year, what stood out the most and what was the ringing tone for me was the cry, the desperation, the plea to come up with a solution in this difficult budget cycle,” she said. “This budget is more of a statement, and a strong statement as to what we support, what we respect, and what we value.”
There were those who spoke in favor of the budget on Tuesday — largely the organizations that have received and would continue to receive Metro funding if the budget passes as currently crafted.