Mayor John Cooper delivers first-year report, reflects on historic challenges for residents of Nashville/Davidson County

Mayor Cooper visiting North Nashville residents shortly after the March tornado.

On the 365th day in office as mayor of Metro Nashville/Davidson County, Mayor John Cooper released his first-year report and updated Commitment Tracker, detailing significant progress made toward his administration’s goal of creating a city that works for everyone.

Despite a tumultuous year that has included an EF-3 tornado on March 3 and the global coronavirus pandemic, Cooper’s administration has worked to ensure progress on 51 promises made during the mayor’s 2019 campaign.

Having inherited the worst financial crisis in Nashville’s history, Cooper’s administration took immediate steps to address $70 million in required revenue replacements. Years of strained financial management, including one-time asset sales, other non-recurring revenues, and depleted fund balances left Metro in an historically difficult budget position. As a result, in November of 2019, the Tennessee State Comptroller formally rejected Nashville’s existing FY20 budget, warning that Metro would be required to balance its budget, build up its cash balances, and institute a cash management policy to avoid a state takeover of the city’s finances.

The Mayor’s Office swiftly responded, presenting a plan that included painful but necessary spending cuts, cost-saving measures, and new recurring revenue sources to balance the city’s budget and overcome Metro’s $41.5 million budget gap. These new revenue sources include $12.6 million from the Music City Center and $3.6 million from the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation.

Despite the city’s budget crisis, Mayor Cooper continued to invest in neighborhood infrastructure throughout Davidson County. In the fall of 2019, the Mayor’s Office redirected $17.5 million from the stalled SoBro-Gulch pedestrian bridge project. Funds were diverted immediately to shovel-ready neighborhood infrastructure projects, including $13.63 million for 52 separate culvert and bridge projects in 24 council districts around the county. Beginning in the spring of 2020, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation also held 11 Public Listening Sessions across Davidson County to help inform the development of Metro’s Draft Transportation Plan, which is based on more than 2,600 total public engagements and will be released to the public later this week.

In March of 2020, the dual challenges of the tornado and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic required a greater level of action to protect the city’s cash flow and maintain essential city services, including trash pickup, public safety, and road repair. Depleted cash reserves had left the city without a rainy-day fund. Metro Finance, consistent with the state’s projections, estimated a $470 million decline in revenue over a 16-month time frame. Metro announced a freeze on all hiring, except for public safety and other critical services, travel, promotions, and pay raises. All Metro departments were asked to identify immediate cost reduction opportunities, and all non-essential capital spending was placed on an indefinite hold. The Mayor’s Office of Performance Management worked with Metro departments to produce over $234 million in spending cuts and savings, proposed a difficult property tax increase as part of the city’s crisis budget, and found additional new recurring revenue sources.

Cost-saving measures have since been reimplemented throughout Metro Government as discussion of a proposed charter referendum threatens to destabilize Metro’s ability to continue providing essential services and turn the city’s financial instability into a chronic and permanent problem.

“No one could have anticipated the difficulties that Nashvillians have encountered this year, but we are a community that can overcome any odds,” said Cooper. “The choices we’ve made have often been difficult, but they’ve always been necessary to keep people safe, to provide financial solvency for our city, and make us ready to emerge, once again, as a community where everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Nashville’s budget crisis, the ongoing public health emergency, the sharp and sudden recession that has hurt our local economy – we will continue to face these challenges while we keep Nashville moving forward.

“Every city in America must address the challenges of 2020. But great cities choose to do more than simply overcome. We must continue to build up both the local and global consumer confidence required to support our economic restart; create a community that respects the rights and the dignity of all its residents; strive to provide all our students with an excellent and equitable education; and invest in not only repairing our roads, but in creating even safer and more efficient ways to move about the city. We will continue to fulfill all our promises to the residents of Davidson County as we work toward creating a city that supports our growing needs as a community.”