Fully funding schools and public safety, peeling back the first layer of the inter-governmental billing system known as Internal Service Fees and rebuilding a reserve fund that’s gotten dangerously low were the key points of the $1.58 billion budget Mayor Karl Dean presented to Metro Council on Tuesday.
It was Dean’s first-ever budget presentation and it came without any new taxes. It also coincided with his greatest points of emphasis during his campaign a year ago — funding the schools and public safety.
Metro schools will receive a $29 million bump in funding to a grand total of $627 million.
The $142 million Metro Police budget is a less than 1 percent cut from a year ago. However, Dean said the budget reflects all 1,312 Metro officer positions that will be fully staffed.
The mayor’s proposed budget also includes the addition of three new ambulances and a shift in focus for the fire department to Emergency Medical Services.
“This budget reflects my priorities,” Dean said. “Clearly we made a strong statement about our support for public education.”
The new budget will come at a cost as an estimated 200 Metro employees will be laid off with individual departments receiving cuts averaging about 5 percent.
Additionally 127 vacant positions will not be filled, although Director of Finance Richard Riebeling said Metro is not in a hiring freeze officially.
“I take it very seriously when anybody loses a job and the human side of this is very important,” Dean said. “We tried to keep that to a minimum. We also looked at this… as an opportunity to re-examine the way we do things. In the course of doing that, some positions got eliminated.”
Riebeling got a round of applause from many Metro Council members when he spelled out a 40 percent reduction in Internal Service Fees, totaling a loss of 38 staff members. The elimination of some Internal Service Fees will save Metro about $3 million, Riebeling said. Internal Service Fees are the practice of Metro departments getting billed by Finance, Human Resources, General Services and Information Technology for the services they provide.
Riebeling said the cuts in Internal Service Fees demonstrate a movement toward “transparency” in how Metro spends its money.
“I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing what’s right for the citizens of this city,” At-large Councilman Charlie Tygard said to Riebeling regarding eliminating Internal Service Fees.
Unlike the previous Mayor Bill Purcell’s administration, Dean’s budget does not include anticipated savings. That’s not to say Dean doesn’t expect his budget will lead to savings, but the hope is that doing so will allow Metro to add to its $15 million reserve fund in the end.
Riebeling said the $15 million reserve fund is extremely low and raising it to about $35 million over the next several budget cycles is a top priority.
Other savings came from limiting hours of operation for certain parks and library branches in addition to a total shift in the way Metro appropriates grant money for non-profit organizations. Dean proposed about a $1 million cut in grant money to non-profits and will be forming an advisory group to determine which non-profits deserve to receive Metro’s funds.
The item which received the strongest questioning from Council members was a $2.5 million reduction in the subsidy for Metro General Hospital at Meharry.
There were some increases. Besides adding the new ambulances, Dean found $500,000 for a new truancy program, which will come under the umbrella of the Juvenile Court and Judge Betty Adams Green.
The Mayor’s Office was one of the hardest hit in budget cuts with an 11 percent cut. Embattled Juvenile Court Clerk Vic Lineweaver’s office received a 10 percent cut.
The budget must now be approved by Metro Council, which will begin its hearings on April 3. The budget proposal can be viewed online at www.nashville.gov.