April 30, 2020
Like many cities around the country, Nashville is facing financial challenges. But Mayor John Cooper has proposed a budget that raises the Nashville property tax by 31.7 percent. He called it a “crisis budget,” needed by a city on the brink. There have been many economic imbalances in Nashville in the past, but the COVID-19 pandemic and a deadly tornado have caused additional issues that the city is having trouble coping with.
The budget was only unveiled at the last minute, as the mayor’s office was diligently working on it in a way that included the recent crisis issues and what could be done to save the financial health of the city. In order to become stable once again, Nashville will have to cut back on a lot of things and make some significant changes. The budget Cooper proposed is $2.44 billion, which is $115 more than the current year’s budget.
A lot of that increase is designed to replenish what’s been lost by the ongoing financial problems in the city. It will help to preserve essential services and avoid layoffs, but there will still need to be a lot of cuts in some areas. The cost-of-living adjustments and planned raises for employees of the city were ruled out, at least until the pandemic has passed. School budgets will stay flat, and schools won’t get the increases the districts have asked for.
The debate over the next steps is likely going to be significant, with council members and others proposing different budgets and other options. Mayor Cooper says there isn’t another option, other than massive layoffs for employees of the city. It’s expected that the pandemic will mean a $470 million revenue loss over 16 months, and federal aid given to the city after the tornado in March won’t be enough to make up the difference.
The proposed budget will include the first property tax hike the city has seen since 2012 when there was a modest tax increase. With Cooper’s plan, a home with a $250,000 appraisal value would see their taxes rise by around $625 for the year. That’s a significant jump, but still a lower tax rate than some of the other major cities in Tennessee.
Last year, when Cooper was campaigning, he was against a Nashville property tax hike. But that was before natural disasters and pandemics changed the way his city operates. He expects there to be push-back on the increased property tax, but the extra revenue is needed to keep school budgets intact and employees of the city working. It’s uncertain how long COVID-19 will continue to be a problem, as well, and that could mean a longer-term solution for financial viability is needed.