Nashville Reaches 'Moment Of Judgment' On Budget And Possible Property Tax Hike | Nashville Public Radio

Nashville Reaches 'Moment Of Judgment' On Budget And Possible Property Tax Hike

Jun 19, 2018

The question of a possible property tax increase for Nashville households remains unanswered after a marathon budget debate of more than 4 hours on Monday.

About a dozen Metro Council members now appear to favor the tax increase, but it would take 21 votes for the full council to raise the rate on Tuesday.

The budget showdown, while complex, largely boils down to two options. One spending plan would not fully fund the request from Metro schools or cover employee raises. The other plan would — but require a 16 percent increase to the property tax. 

On Tuesday, the council’s Budget and Finance Committee tussled over numerous budget adjustments — largely recommending against the last-minute alterations. More than a dozen proposals would have shifted small pools of money away from some government agencies to be given to others; and several council filings suggested divvying up money from large organizations — such as the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Adventure Science Center — among smaller community nonprofits.

While those ideas were mostly dismissed, the budget committee found unanimous agreement on one matter: the group is convinced that the city should not sell a historically significant school and park site in the Edgehill neighborhood.

The sale of the Murrell School property — which is also the former home of prominent African-American sculptor William Edmondson — was suggested as a way to plug a city budget hole of potentially $13 million.

But residents in that area have rallied against the sale and now the now have council backing.

“This is a park and a community garden. It is beloved by the community,” said Councilman John Cooper.

To replace the sale funds, the area’s councilman, Colby Sledge, suggests that the city instead sell a nearby 11-acre bus maintenance garage.

Committee Hears From Property Tax Proponents

The budget committee happens to include several proponents of increasing the property tax rate by 50 cents, and those members argued their case Monday.

Lead sponsor Bob Mendes said more tax revenue would fund schools and employee raises this year, avoid unpopular land sales, replenish city reserves and mostly keep up with inflation and projected expenses in the next three years.

“Everybody agrees we’ve got a problem. The question is exactly what to do about it,” Mendes said. “Clearly we’re not going to cut expenses in any material way. There’s just not $15, $20, $25 million of fat — short of cutting people’s jobs.”

Mendes and others have argued that Metro’s revenues have fallen behind because the past two mayoral administrations decided not to raise the property tax in advance of property reappraisals, which had been common in the county’s history.

“If we don’t do it, it gets worse,” said Councilwoman Sharon Hurt. “It’s not fun. It’s not good. But it’s an answer.”

The mayor’s administration remains firmly — and defiantly — opposed.

Deep into the meeting, a council member asked for an explanation of the administration’s stance and received a terse response from Chief Strategy Officer Brian Kelsey.

He used just 47 seconds to argue that local households are already feeling the pinch of taxes and a rising cost of living.

“We do not believe that this is the year to further burden those already cost-burdened households by raising taxes again,” he said. “Is that clear enough?”

The budget situation is tense enough that council members also asked for clarity about what they could do in the rare event of the mayor using his veto power. (There is a scenario in which the council rejects both plans, allowing the budget to revert back to what Mayor David Briley proposed several weeks ago.)

The budget committee recommended the property tax increase plan 7-6 — but the same group also voted 9-3 in favor of the plan that would not raise the tax. Those votes set up Tuesday night’s final budget vote by the full council as what one official called, “the moment of judgment.”