This week, Mayor John Cooper filed the city’s recommended operating budget for fiscal year 2021 with the Metro Council.
Following CDC-recommended social distancing protocols, Mayor Cooper and members of the Metro Finance Department presented the $2.447 billion budget during a live video conference with members of the Metro Council. The presentation’s broadcast was available to both the public and members of the media through Metro Nashville Network.
Metro Finance estimates that the city will experience a $470 million revenue decline over a 16-month time frame due to the impact of COVID-19 and the March tornado. The decline in revenue during Q4 of fiscal year 2020 required Metro to cut expenditures and spend down remaining fund balances, leaving Metro with only $12 million of fund balances at the end of FY20.
According to the Mayor’s Office, the financial impact of the tornado and COVID-19 on Q4 and FY21 require a budget that increases the property tax rate by $1, raising the current rate of $3.155 up to $4.155.
“This is an unprecedented and difficult time for all Nashvillians,” said Mayor Cooper. “Thousands of residents have lost their jobs during the pandemic, and that makes the necessary decision to raise taxes all the more difficult. And as I mentioned during the State of Metro address, the city has thinned its cash reserves to a point where we find ourselves without a rainy-day fund during a stormy season. This is a crisis budget, not a discretionary budget, that will ensure Metro and Metro Nashville Public Schools can continue to meet our community’s needs.”
The property tax increase will restore $100 million in fund balances, make up for $216 million in net revenue losses, and fund $16 million in net operating needs for a ‘continuation of effort’ budget. Metro employees will forgo pay raises or cost of living adjustments, but this budget avoids the layoffs and pay cuts set to occur in hundreds of other cities nationwide.
Recently, the Metro Minority Caucus formed a special committee to address the budget, lead by former Metro Council Budget Chair and current Councilwoman Tanaka Vercher. Vercher will serve as the caucus’ budget chair for the 2020-21 budget process.
Of particular concern to the caucus is funding levels for Metro Schools, General Hospital funding, and an overall lack of collaboration, transparency and detail in the presentation and in the entire budget process.
“If the mayor is open to substantive collaboration and changes, our 11 members look forward to working with him to get this right. If the administration thinks the budget is a ‘done deal,’ our message is ‘no way,’” said Councilwoman Tanaka Vercher. “In unprecedented times, we need unprecedented collaboration and creativity. Our caucus plans to be open minded, effective and outspoken on the budgeting process,” said Vercher.
Councilwoman Sharon Hurt, chair of Metro Minority Caucus, said, “The presentation lacked transparency and color. It was disappointing that not one person of color presented in the meeting. In addition, members of the Minority Caucus attempted to ask questions, but none were addressed. This budget process was done in the shadows and was not inclusive.”
Vercher said: “In a challenging time like this, the mayor needs to collaborate with all the best talent around city budgeting and that hasn’t happened yet. I understand that all department heads have not had detailed meetings and the process has not been the ‘transparent’ one the mayor promised. The Metro Minority Caucus has reached out but has not been engaged.”