The slimmed-down Nashville city budget is locked in for next year, but council members are already warning about more severe cuts in the years to come. Some see a growing gap between all that the city needs to pay for, and having enough money to do so.
The gloomy prognosis includes potential layoffs of Metro employees and across-the-board cuts to city departments.
Councilman Bob Mendes raised this alarm during debate on Tuesday, citing numbers from the finance department.
“We are absolutely on a path with this budget to lose an extensive number of jobs next year. And the baseline facts about that are not in dispute,” he said.
Mendes cites rising city debt payments, staff payroll and inflation among concerns. And if Metro does want to provide employee raises, fully fund requests from Metro Schools and replenish its reserve fund, the estimated shortfall could be close to $50 million. (See his math and FAQ here.)
Many on the council say they’ve already searched for cuts and that a tax increase, which could alleviate the crunch, is overdue. A proposed property tax increase was narrowly defeated this week.
“The money’s not there. I don’t care where we look,” said Councilman Ed Kindall. “But what worries me is we’re going to be in this same fix next year.”
Mayor David Briley stood staunchly opposed to a tax increase, saying it was the wrong approach this year.
But some have low hopes about resurfacing a tax increase next year, largely because of doubts about the political willpower of council members in an election year.
“Guys, we’re not going to do it next year,” Councilman Colby Sledge said during the debate Tuesday. “Let’s just be frank about that: Two-thirds of us are up for re-election next year.”
As it stands, Nashville’s property tax rate is at an all-time low, and a contingent of council members do intend to search for more cuts to government spending. As part of that effort, the council will be hiring its own financial expert and a “Blue Ribbon Commission” is to be formed with business and civic leaders to go in search of savings.