Delivering his fourth State of Metro address but first with an election around the corner, Mayor Karl Dean again vowed to fully meet the school board’s funding request — this time by tapping Metro’s rainy day fund — and announced no intentions to raise property taxes.
These are two pillars Dean has upheld each year after entering the mayor’s office in 2007. But noticeably absent at this year’s event, held at Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet School Tuesday with hundreds looking on, were new project announcements, something Dean acknowledged right off the bat in his nine-page speech.
“This is a speech that is often used to announce big new initiatives and projects, and I’ve done that as well,” said Dean, who is up for re-election on Aug. 4. “But this year, I want to do something different.”
From there, Dean carved out time to go from Metro department to department, honoring city employees he said shined over the past year in response to last May’s historic flood and in the midst of a struggling economy. As a reward to city employees, Dean vowed for the second year in a row to offer a 1.5 percent bonus to those who qualify.
“This year our approach to the budget will be the same,” he said. “We will not raise property taxes, and we will look to our departments and our dedicated Metro employees to continue their great work with limited resources.”
Dean tipped his cap to Metro departments for “doing more with less.” For example, he said the Metro Public Works Department has reduced its budget by $14 million since 2008 yet has collected 455,000 tons of trash, filled over 3,400 potholes and repaved more than 100 miles of roadways. He said the parks department has reduced its budget but has expanded hours at regional community centers. Strumming the same chord, he said Metro’s water department has completed 246 stormwater projects since the implementation of a $3 stormwater fee two years ago.
“Every day our employees in these three departments and many more work hard to keep this city running” Dean said. “They do it really well.”
As is the case for the $1.52 billion budget for the current fiscal year, Dean for the next fiscal year is again relying on the Metro Council’s 2010 vote to restructure the city’s debt, freeing up revenue in the short term, to avoid substantial cuts.
Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said he hasn’t finalized a final dollar figure for the proposed budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which he plans to unveil to the council Friday morning. Each department will experience reductions in some form.
“All departments will get some degree of cuts,” Riebeling said, adding that they would be small and in most cases come in the form of unfilled vacancies. “It’s done on a case-by-case basis, looking at each department carefully and looking at what we think they can handle.”
Dean announced intentions Tuesday to fully fund Metro schools by meeting the $670.5 million level requested by Director of Schools Jesse Register and the school board, a $37.5 million increase over the current fiscal year.
“To me, pulling back is not an option,” Dean said.
Not pulling back this year means using a portion of Metro’s rainy day fund. By city policy, Metro’s reserves must remain at 5 percent of capacity.
“It’s not an unusual thing,” Riebeling said. “This city has done it almost every year. You build up reserves, and then you use them when you have to. The priorities of the city our such that it seemed like a good time to do it. We’ll still be above our minimum, 5 percent.”
Register called Dean’s move to fully fund schools “great support from the mayor.” Metro schools were facing a precarious financial situation this year as a result of $30 million in vanishing federal stimulus dollars. Despite Dean’s funding of schools, Metro still stands to lose hundreds of teaching positions because of lost funds.
“This increase in Metro government will put us in good shape,” Register said. “We’ve still got to tighten up because of the loss of stimulus money.”
Most of Dean’s address seemed to be a reflection of announcements made over the past year. He mentioned plans to open a new Madison Police Precinct and staff a new DNA crime lab. He noted the expansion of Nashville-based technology company Asurion, which plans to add 500 new jobs. On the education front, Dean reminded attendees about the Limitless Library program, which allows students to have in-school access to public libraries. He also highlighted the district’s improved graduation rate –– though it’s poised to decrease next year with changed graduation criteria –– and declining truancy numbers.
At no point did Dean recite his sales pitch to redevelop the 117-acre Tennessee State Fairgrounds, a battle he backed away from over the winter after facing enormous criticism.
To conclude his remarks, Dean reminded Nashvillians that he wants to serve another term. His only challenger during August’s election is Metro Councilman Michael Craddock, who faces an uphill battle to knock off the incumbent.
“I am proud of what we have accomplished over the past four years, and I look forward to having the opportunity to serve four more years,” Dean said.