Metro Council found enough funds to spare 17 workers from losing their jobs, but otherwise left untouched Mayor Karl Dean’s $1.5 billion operating budget proposal, balanced by layoffs, pay freezes and the suspension of longevity bonuses.
Dean’s budget was unanimously approved by Council at its Tuesday meeting. While the budget would mean skipping longevity bonuses, freezing all Metro salaries, and the elimination of about 80 Metro jobs according to most recent estimates, it did not include a property tax increase.
During each of the last four property reappraisal years, the Nashville mayor and Metro Council have elected to raise property taxes. With the economy in recession, Dean decided it was inappropriate to ask property owners to pay more taxes this year.
But Metro’s revenue collections from sales taxes and government fees were down an estimated $29 million for the current fiscal year. That meant Dean had to propose a budget including 10 percent cuts for many departments and layoffs for some workers for the second consecutive year.
“Tonight we’re going to pass a budget and it’s the absolute best we can do, I believe that in my heart, but it’s still tough on those people we’re going to lay off,” District 4 Metro Councilman Michael Craddock said.
Council voted to pass an amended budget, which found $787,000 from the elimination of contingency funds, along with reductions in the appropriations given to the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Of the spared positions, 11 are from Metro Parks, four from Public Works and two from Codes.
“As we went through the process, the issue became saving jobs,” District 9 Metro Councilman Jim Forkum said.
One of Dean’s top aides, Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling, said the community was coming through the difficult budget process “better than a lot of our sister cities.”
Riebeling pointed out that many other cities were facing laying off police officers along with closing city-run facilities like parks and libraries. Acknowledging the difficult situation during his deliberation process, Dean called this a historic budget.
District 23 Councilwoman Emily Evans said she supported the budget, but worried about the steady depletion of Metro’s reserve funds. When Dean and the Council were elected to office in 2007, the reserve fund balance was $161 million. It is now down to $71 million.
“I think we can do what our predecessors and some of our colleagues did in 1989,” Evans said, referring to the ordinance passed by Council which set the policy of maintaining a 5 percent fund balance. “It doesn’t take much time to spend that money but it takes a long time to get it back.”