As Nashville’s Metro Council works to finalize the city budget, members will be debating whether to raise the property tax. As that conversation swirls — and after a succession of tough budgets — WPLN asked the four leading candidates for mayor whether they’d be willing to allow a tax hike once elected.
To many Metro observers, raising the property tax feels unavoidable at some point — that the city has left itself tight on cash by maintaining a rate that’s lower than Tennessee’s next three largest cities.
So most of the leading mayoral candidates are leaving the door open, carefully, to a future property tax increase.
“No one should say they will never raise taxes,” says At-Large Councilman John Cooper, “because you don’t know what the economy is. … But before you raise taxes, you do have to make people feel good about where their tax money is going right now.”
Cooper doesn’t think the public is very trusting at the moment.
His other instinct is to look for money elsewhere. He’d like Metro to benefit from the surplus that the Music City Center has, although there are legal questions about whether that’s possible.
For the past two years, Mayor David Briley has been pressured to increase the property tax by city employees, teachers, police, firefighters and some council members. So far, he has opposed that move.
“Next year we would look at the revenue growth to see if it was sufficient to meet the needs of the city and then make a decision at that point,” he said.
Meanwhile, Carol Swain is clearly against a tax hike.
“I hope that property taxes are never raised,” she said. “It’s too easy for Metro to raise property taxes and then waste the money.”
Swain says she’d shrink some Metro departments. She also wants to sell off city properties, even though the Metro Council passed rules against such land sales last year, calling it a short-sighted way to balance the budget.
State Rep. John Ray Clemmons says he’d also look for other revenue sources first, but that a tax increase has to be on the table.
“To promise not to address the property tax rate in Nashville, I think, is fiscally irresponsible and near impractical. Though it may be politically convenient or safe, I refuse to do that,” he told WPLN.
One luxury for the candidates is that the Metro Council is debating a property tax increase now, so the question could be sorted out well before the polls even open.