Nashville will not be raising its property tax. That was the outcome of a tense 4-hour Metro Council debate that ended after midnight early Wednesday — and only after a shocking vote that drew audible gasps from the council.
It was just before 12:30 a.m. when the Metro Council voted on a proposal to raise the property tax rate by 50 cents.
People exclaimed when the results appeared on the monitors in the council chamber: “19 in favor and 19 against,” Metro Clerk Elizabeth Waites read aloud.
The tax hike would have needed a majority in favor, so the measure failed. And in the end, the tie vote allowed acting Vice Mayor Sheri Weiner to cast her vote, and she also sided against the tax, leaving the final defeat at 20-19.
Without the increased tax revenues, the final spending plan is thrifty. The budget won’t provide city employees the cost-of-living pay raises that the council promised a year ago, and it does not provide about $38 million requested by Metro Schools.
The final budget, as drawn up by Councilwoman Tanaka Vercher, does include about $2 million in cuts that will allow for raises for a small group of “paraprofessional” staff at city schools.
But Vercher apologized to the thousands of Metro employees who won’t get the pay bump they counted on.
“It breaks my heart that an expectation was set without consideration of long-term fiscal sustainability. That error is ours to own, and for that I’m truly sorry,” Vercher said. “This substitute [budget] does not do everything that I wanted to do, but it does not burden our citizens.”
Those who voted down the property tax increase mostly expressed two strands of thought: that Metro didn’t do enough to reduce spending, and that there wasn’t enough public engagement to warrant a tax increase.
“We think it’s very easy because the taxpayers apparently have an unending money source for us,” said Councilman Steve Glover. “But they don’t.”
And Councilwoman Nancy Van Reece said she was not strictly against the tax idea, but could not vote for it at this time.
“We will eventually need to do something sooner than later, but it cannot be without that public input,” she said.
In a statement, Mayor David Briley thanked the council for working through its “tough choices” and resisting the move to raise property taxes.
“It is just not the right time to impose a property tax increase on our citizens, particularly the lower-income residents who saw large increases in last year’s reappraisal,” Briley said.
The final budget does include three small amendments that were added Tuesday night:
- The council will create a “Blue Ribbon Commission” of business and civic leaders to comb through the city budget in search of savings;
- The Metro Finance Department will take a $103,000 funding cut so that a new “financial expert” can be hired for the Metro Council office;
- The Murrell School property in Edgehil will not be sold.
Some Worry About Long-Term Finances
But some say the same tax debate will be back soon — and next year will place added pressure on council members who are seeking re-election.
For her part, Vercher batted down the suggestion that Metro has reached a budget crisis.
“As a city, we’re still meeting our debt service. We’re making payroll. There’s no Metro employee layoffs and no reduction in services to our citizens,” she said.
But the council members who fought for the tax increase say more pain is to come — and potentially Metro job cuts — because an even larger budget shortfall is expected.
“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,” said Councilman Bob Mendes, lead sponsor of the failed tax increase.
He said finance figures show $150 million in Metro spending needs over the coming three years.
And Councilman Ed Kindall rejected the suggestion that the council could find enough cuts to make up that amount.
“The money’s not there. We can look behind all the doors we want to to try to find money,” he said. “But what worries me is we’re going to get in this fix next year.”