Mayor Megan Barry called on Nashvillians to “embrace the future” during her 2017 State of Metro Address held at the Bridgestone
Arena Plaza, where she discussed Nashville’s transit future while detailing her recommended $2.2 billion fiscal year 2017-18 budget. Metro is expected to have the lowest combined property tax rate in its history at less than $3.16 per $100 of assessed value following the 2017 property reappraisal.
“We cannot wait another year to start the process of building our first light rail,” said Mayor Barry. “I’m very happy to announce that today the work begins to create light rail service on the Gallatin Pike corridor. I’m excited to have the city start the process of making light rail available to our citizens. I’d drive across the river and put a shovel in the ground this afternoon if I could—and I might just do it anyway!”
Following the passage of Gov. Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, Barry announced her intention to work with the Metro Council and community partners to develop and present a transit plan to Nashville voters that will include dedicated sources of revenue to build high-capacity transit along the Gallatin, Nolensville, Murfreesboro, and Charlotte Pikes, along with a Northwest Corridor from North Nashville to Clarksville.
Mayor Barry noted that the Gallatin Pike corridor is an obvious choice to start that process as it currently carries the most transit riders in the region; development along the corridor has demonstrated a market for transit-oriented development; and planning processes have shown that the neighborhoods along Gallatin Pk. support comprehensive mass transit.
“Nashville cannot wait any longer to embrace our future,” Barry said in announcing her intention to move forward with community partners to develop a transit referendum for the voters of Nashville. “We will be a 21st-century, transit-oriented city, and we are not going to look back 10 years from now and say we failed when we had to succeed.”
While looking towards the future of transit, Barry detailed her proposal to utilize the $119 million in new revenue that is a result of new buildings coming online and continued growth in business and tourism throughout the city. Highlights of the FY17-18 operating budget include:
Along with increases in pay, Mayor Barry announced that she will recommend a new Paid Family Leave policy to the Civil Service Commission that will allow Metro employees to take six weeks of paid leave to care for a new child, or a seriously ill spouse, child or close relative.
“It’s the right thing to do for the health and well-being of our employees, and it’s the right thing to do for their families,” said Barry about the proposed Paid Family Leave policy. “It’s also the smart thing to do, because we want to attract and retain the best employees.”
Barry will also be releasing a capital-spending plan in May to coincide with the release of the Mayor’s recommended Capital Improvements Budget.
The first would be to leverage the $25M in bonds to fund new affordable housing programs to purchase and rehab low-income housing that is at-risk of becoming unaffordable to tenants, as well as a program to allow Metro to build new affordable housing on city-owned property. The second is the creation of a new program to allow Metro to offer expedited property tax abatements to incentivize developers to build affordable units and rehab existing units. All of this is in addition to the mayor’s continued commitment of $10M in operating funds for the Barnes Fund for Affordable Housing, and $2M for the Housing Incentive Pilot Program.
Metro Finance Director Talia Lomax-O’dneal delivered a more in-depth presentation of the budget proposal to the Metro Council in the Historic Metro Courthouse. Following delivery of the Mayor’s budget proposal, the Council and the Budget & Finance Committee will conduct public hearings as well as hearings with each individual department. The Council is required to pass a balanced budget by June 30, or the mayor’s recommended budget proposal goes into effect by default.
The State of Metro Address featured the best-selling and most awarded female gospel artist of all time, Nashville native CeCe Winans, whose latest album, Let Them Fall In Love, debuted at the top of the charts. Winans performed ‘Never Have to Be Alone’ and ‘Peace from God’ for the crowd of more than 1,000 attending the State of Metro.
The Tennessee State University Aristocrat of Bands opened up the event, and Nashville’s 2016 Youth Poet Laureate and Nashville School of the Arts junior Gray Bulla read a poem written for the occasion.
Charles Strobel, founding director of Room in the Inn, gave the invocation for the State of Metro, which concluded with Blessings for Our City from four Nashville faith leaders: Rev. Frank Stevenson, pastor of church life, of Olive Branch Church; Rabbi Laurie Rice of Congregation Micah; Imam Ossama Bahloul of the Islamic Center of Nashville; and Bishop Dr. José Rodriguez of Casa de Dios Apostolic Church—in English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Spanish respectively.