A tweaked version of Mayor Karl Dean’s budget — one that still includes a property tax increase — cleared the Metro Council’s Budget and Finance Committee Monday, giving it an edge at prevailing Tuesday for the full council’s final vote.
The 17-member committee voted unanimously Monday to approve a Councilman Sean McGuire-sponsored $1.71 billion substitute budget that retains the mayor’s original 53-cent property tax hike, but makes cuts totaling $8.6 million from Dean’s plan that would be diverted to the city’s rainy day funds. McGuire, who chairs the committee, introduced his alternative budget Friday.
“We could potentially be heading into another fiscal year that is difficult,” McGuire said. “My intention with putting some money away into reserves is to first make it so we don’t have to come back here again and ask for another property tax increase.
“Going into next year, we’ll have an $8.6 million head start on our budget, and a head start on our debt obligations,” he said, adding that it could also “go a long way” in improving Metro’s bond ratings.
The committee’s vote for a budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year came after a series of council members’ amendments — ranging from reducing Dean’s tax hike altogether, trimming it by 4.5 cents and cutting it by 12.5 cents — all failed.
The lone committee members to vote for each attempt to slice Dean’s tax increase were conservative council members Karen Bennett and Charlie Tygard, who also took exception with moving revenue to reserves.
“It makes no sense to me that at a time of recession — citizens suffering and struggling to make ends meet, our seniors on fixed income — that we would take money and put it in reserves for a future year,” Tygard said.
Monday’s vote, however, means the committee’s now-recommended budget and tax increase could have a healthy number of votes to gain final approval by the 40-member council Tuesday. The full council will again consider amendments to eliminate or lower Dean’s 53-cent property tax increase, but the odds might be stacked against them to succeed: Each attempt Monday to touch the tax hike was met with at least 13 of 17 possible committee votes to disapprove them.
“This essentially guts Metro government as we know it,” Councilman Ronnie Steine said of a budget brought forth by conservative Councilman Robert Duvall that required no tax increase. It failed by a 13-2 vote.
McGuire’s altered budget, which has now effectively replaced Dean’s first draft, would cut $3.5 million from Metro schools’ original proposed $46.5 million budget increase. Metro Codes, one of several departments with minor budget reductions, would get $200,000 less than Dean originally allocated while Metro Parks & Recreation would get $100,000 less.
Metro schools spokeswoman Meredith Libbey said the schools’ cut “will eliminate jobs, but the number and types of positions are not determined.”
The committee’s recommended budget also eliminates a $591,500 subsidy to Municipal Auditorium, a $200,000 subsidy to the Tennessee State Fairgrounds and a $148,800 subsidy to Nashville Farmers' Market. On ending such subsidies, McGuire said the council needs to stop “these enterprises from continuing to underperform” when they could come back at certain points to “make their case” for Metro dollars.
While Dean has said his initial budget “reflected the needs of this community,” he has also said that he appreciates the council’s emphasis on strengthening the city’s debt services. “If adopted, I am confident the budget as proposed by chairman McGuire will also keep our city moving forward.”
Budget amendments proposed by Tygard, Duvall as well as council members Steve Glover, Fabian Bedne and Phil Claiborne all suffered losses in committee Monday.
Tygard took the lead in challenging McGuire’s budget as the at-large councilman discussed his proposal to lower Dean’s 53-cent property tax increase by 12.5 cents and the overall budget by $23 million.
Council attorney Jon Cooper said Tygard’s proposal would save taxpayers $12 per month on a $300,000 house.
Among other areas, Tygard is seeking to reduce the Metro schools’ budget by $7.5 million, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s subsidy from $300,000 to $200,000 and eliminate a 4 percent pay increase for Metro employees that would save $16.3 million. Tygard has also offered a “bonus” for Metro workers who reside in Davidson County.
“I respect our employees,” Tygard said. “They work hard, but at this time, when so many of our citizens don’t have a job, to go ahead and make that commitment ... is just something I could not do.”
Others defended the employee pay increase, however. “Our city is only as good as the employees who work for us,” Councilman Jerry Maynard said, adding that they’ve had to sacrifice the last five years. “They’ve had to do more with little.”