Nashville city employees will receive pay raises in the coming year’s Metro budget.
Mayor David Briley announced Monday that he is including a 3 percent cost-of-living increase for all employees, saying that city finances are “back on track” after raises were canceled last year, which triggered criticism from several employee unions.
“It’s been a stressful year for employees, and the city, wondering about the city’s finances,” Briley told WPLN. “We’ve done a lot of work in the last year to get our numbers under control so we could demonstrate to both our employees and the citizens here that our budget is under control.”
The mayor said a combination of factors now make the raises possible. Those include a year of cost-cutting within Metro departments, plus revenue growth of at least $80 million from sales taxes and property taxes.
“That’s the kind of money that gives us the ability to go out and do the cost-of-living adjustments,” Briley said. “We are a prosperous and growing city, and we should have revenue growth, and that’s where we are this year.”
Briley and the Metro Council have faced steady pressure to fund pay raises for the past year. Employees had been promised three consecutive years of increases, but the mayor and council canceled that sequence after just one, citing lean times for city finances.
“Last year, there was a series of events that resulted in virtually no revenue growth,” Briley said.
At the time, the unions for Metro employees, teachers, firefighters and police officers pleaded for leaders to find funding. They also backed a failed attempt to have the property tax rate increased — which Briley resisted.
Since the raises were canceled, union groups have kept up steady pressure. City firefighters and police have even posted criticisms about broken promises on local billboards.
Briley said he was aware of those campaigns, but that he has spoken to Metro employees who understood the city’s financial pinch.
On Monday, news of the pay raises were met with mixed feelings from the leaders of the firefighter and police unions, both of whom suggested that these raises don’t make up for last year’s gap.
“I hope we can continue to work towards the promise that was made,” said Mark Young, president of the local chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters. “If the promise was fulfilled, that would be a 6 percent increase. But a 3 percent is a start.”
Young said the bigger challenge for Nashville is keeping up with growth. He said Metro spending on fire and rescue staffing and services should increase along with the pay raises.
“Public safety has got to grow along with the city as it grows,” he said.
James Smallwood, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said he appreciates the mayor’s intent.
“But promises were made. Those promises need to be kept fully. We can’t just keep half of a promise and expect everybody to be happy with it,” Smallwood told WPLN.
He said the FOP sent its own proposal to the mayor on Monday morning, but was not included in conversations about the cost-of-living increase.
The president of the employees union, SEIU Local 205, also issued a statement Monday. Brad Rayson said the group is “very pleased” and will work with the Metro Council to encourage passage of the budget.
Budget Season Approaches
While the mayor’s full budget proposal isn’t due until April, he said he announced the cost-of-living increases as soon as the administration was comfortable that they could be funded.
The mayor is also in a campaign year. So far, he faces state Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, and former Vanderbilt University professor Carol Swain.
This is a developing story that will be updated.