With whispers of a potential property tax increase dominating courthouse chatter, Metro police and fire department chiefs have asked Mayor Karl Dean’s administration for sizeable increases to their respective budgets.
Sitting across from Dean at the mayor’s annual budget hearings on Monday, Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson said his department needs $8.2 million additional dollars, largely to withstand an expired federal grant that had ushered in 50 new cops. An hour later, Metro Fire Chief Steve Halford outlined fire department needs that total an extra $2.34 million more than its current budget.
Requests for funding hikes come as Dean’s administration hammers out an operating budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year. After years of declining revenue, Dean has decreased the size of Metro government by 670 workers over the four-plus year since he took office in 2007. But unlike previous years, Metro’s first property tax increase in seven years appears to be on the table, a possibility hinted at by polling on the matter.
A decision on a property tax increase would come after receiving final revenue figures, Dean told reporters Monday.
“Making a decision as to whether you ask for a property tax increase or whether you don’t, and how you present the budget, is probably the most important thing we do,” Dean said.
“But put this into context,” Dean added. “I’ve been mayor for four and a half years. I think I’m the first mayor in ages who’s gone a full term without a property tax increase. We did that because we operated a lean government.”
Though Metro government has gradually shrunk under Dean, there’s a different pattern developing this budget cycle: Department heads are asking for more funding. As part of the trend, Director of Schools Jesse Register has requested a $48.3 million budget increase for the school district, a proposed budget the school board will vote on in April.
In January, Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling asked department directors to analyze the impacts of 2 percent reductions to their budgets. For Metro police, the reduction would results in 57 fewer officers.
But most of the conversations at Monday’s budget hearings centered on requested funding spikes.
Anderson, hired as the full-time police chief at the end of 2010, said half of his $8.2 million request is to retain 50 police offers hired three years ago through a federal COPS grant that is set to end. Anderson is also hoping to land $1.3 million to hire 20 crime lab scientists for the department’s new DNA crime lab, scheduled to open in 2013. Another $960,000 would be used to cover training costs for three classes of recruits.
Halford said he needs at least 10 new employees to cover overtime requirements. Combined with other needs, he’s asked for a $2.34 million increase.
Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall said his office is operating well under its budget as a result of an unusual occurrence: More than 1,100 beds in jails across the county are currently empty.
In fact, one 300-bed jail in the Antioch area is completely unused. Hall said the sheriff’s office is in “aggressive conversations” with a private company that would lease the jail from the city to house juvenile female offenders.
Hall credited Metro’s controversial implementation of the federal 287(g) program as the key reason to spur the jail vacancies. The federal program, first implemented in Nashville in April 2007, authorizes some local government partners to screen an arrestee’s immigration status.