For the second straight year, Nashville teachers and city employees are asking the Metro Council to raise the property tax.
During a public hearing Tuesday night, they argue that the city wasn't successful when it tried to reduce spending, because that still didn’t free up enough money for the pay raises they want or to meet the full funding request of Metro Schools.
This argument failed last year in a narrow council vote. Raising the property tax could be an even tougher sell this year, as about half of the council faces re-election.
But teachers, school staff and bus drivers like Eric Warfield were out in force again Tuesday.
“Bottom line, when you want the best, you need to pay for it. When you want qualified, you need to pay for it,” Warfield said.
The bus driver said low pay for bus drivers has led to a driver shortage, despite the high stakes of driving children kids to school.
Many residents who criticized the proposed budget voiced support for an alternative that’s being sponsored by councilmen Bob Mendes and Anthony Davis. That plan includes a 52-cent increase to the property tax, which would allow the city to nearly double the funding increase for Metro Schools and to avoid selling city assets to balance the budget.
Mendes, in a blog post, also says his alternative would allow departments to avoid another year of across-the board cuts.
Those who addressed the council crafted a wide variety of appeals. Some shared personal stories — such as taking on additional part-time jobs to earn more money. Others shared data about staff vacancies. A few riffed on what they see as the irony of Nashville experiencing a building boom while the city government has to scrimp.
James Smallwood, head of the Fraternal Order of Police, was downtrodden.
“Metro employees have been ignored for an extended period of time,” he said. “This council has proven that it cannot cut its way to a solution.”
Mary Holden, a Metro teacher, aimed for uplift.
“Be the heroes. Be the ones who fix the problem,” she said of city finances.
And teacher Mary Jo Cramb issued a warning.
“If this year is a repeat of last year, and you don’t have the courage to raise taxes in an election year, then you don’t deserve your office, and teachers will mobilize to make sure you don’t keep it,” she said.
The council itself hasn't debated yet, but it will in the coming weeks. With or without a tax increase, the Metro Council has to pass the budget by July 1.