Highlighting commitments to continue city growth despite economic difficulties, Mayor Karl Dean’s annual State of Metro address Thursday began with the assurance that he will not ask for a property tax increase next week when he presents a city operating budget proposal to Metro Council.
“There will be cuts in every area,” Dean said. “Some positions will be eliminated; some hours of operation will be changed. But where we have to make reductions, we will do so judiciously and with compassion.”
Dean’s speech, delivered from the new Music City Center bus transfer hub, cited examples of big city improvements made during tough economic times, including the construction of Centennial Park and the current downtown convention center.
He highlighted four areas of focus for the next year: his administration’s first capital spending plan, mass transportation and the environment, development of a new downtown convention center, reform of public schools.
Metro Council member Ronnie Steine said he appreciates the realistic tone set by Dean’s words, given the seriousness of the city’s revenue situation.
“This is clearly going to be a budget unlike any we’ve ever seen,” Steine said. “We’re going to have to pull in the reins.”
Dean’s public statement that he won’t raise property taxes was well received by Council members including Phil Claiborne and Jim Hodge. Hodge said the announcement will put “rumors to rest,” and Claiborne said Dean’s commitment is consistent with his promises.
“That underscores the fact that the administration is sensitive to the economic climate,” Claiborne said. “He is staying firm to his commitments from the beignning.”
At-Large Council member Jerry Maynard, however, said he had concerns about Dean’s intention to not ask for a property tax increase, given the jobs that may have to be eliminated in the next year.
“That puts the city in a tough, tough situation in order to maintain the quality of life that we want,” Maynard said.
Economic development highlights
Dean’s first capital spending plan will include funds to start planning for two additional police precincts in the high-need areas of Madison and southeast Nashville, an announcement that drew brief applause from Council members including Antioch representative Duane Dominy.
Dean also announced that funding will be made available this year to plan for a “28th Avenue connector.” That project will be aimed at reducing the divide that Interstate 40 creates between North Nashville and other parts of the community and will eventually “connect Baptist Hospital to Meharry, TSU and Fisk to Vanderbilt, Centennial Park to Hadley,” Dean said.
“The need for it is something I’ve heard about almost since I moved to Nashville 30 years ago, and it’s time to do it,” Dean said.
The push for development of a new downtown convention center was evident throughout Dean’s speech. The first plug for the center was before Dean even stepped behind the podium, during a performance from country musician Keith Urban. Urban included a lyric, “A big convention center’s coming,” during his performance of the song “Better Life” just before Dean’s speech began.
Dean also referred to the construction of the existing downtown convention center as an example of a positive decision made during “tough” times.
Moving forward with the convention center plan Dean presented to Metro Council last week, Dean said, will help support Nashville’s tourism industry, which Dean credited with providing almost 60,000 jobs and more than $100 million in direct tax contributions to Metro.
“This project may seem daunting given current economic conditions, but I believe that only further underscores its need,” Dean said. “When the doors open in early 2013, our economy will have improved and we will be uniquely positioned to take advantage of it.”