The Metro Council approved the final budget of Mayor Karl Dean’s first term Tuesday, giving unanimous support for a $1.59 billion financial plan for the next fiscal year that avoids increasing property taxes but dips into rainy day funds to back schools.
“The importance of keeping the schools moving forward is much more important than sitting on a fund balance,” Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said. “That’s why we thought it’s a good use of those funds.”
The council made a few last-minute changes to Dean’s original proposal to retain probation and animal control officers, award pay increases to election poll workers and keep a brush removal program, among other minor budget items. The overall budget framework remained the same, however.
Under the slightly altered budget, the council also agreed to take an extra $1.5 million from the schools’ debt service fund to pay for a state-approved teacher pay increase. Doing so depletes more than $11 million from the schools’ debt service fund, reducing it from 15.7 percent to 11.6 percent of the total budget. Metro has a long-standing policy of staying above 5 percent.
The budget, an approximately 4 percent increase over the current operating budget, also relies on $13.4 million from the urban services general fund. The 2011-12 fiscal year begins July 1.
“There wasn’t a need to raise property taxes this year,” Riebeling said. “We’re thankful for the council’s support.”
More than 42 percent of the budget is allocated toward the funding of public schools, which requires $670.5 million, a funding level requested by the Metro Nashville Board of Education. Though Metro schools’ budget has increased, the district is currently dealing with the elimination of 334 teaching positions because of now-vanished federal stimulus dollars. Hundreds of displaced teachers are trying to land jobs at other Metro schools.
As part of the budget, the council also voted to give Metro employees a one-time 1.5 percent bonus, capped at $1,500. Some council members asked whether a larger investment would be needed in the future.
“We’ve got to do better for them in the future,” At-large Councilman Ronnie Steine said.
Under the budget, nearly every Metro department experiences modest cuts ranging up to 3 percent. Despite the cuts, no Metro facilities are closing nor are any hours being reduced at institutions such as the public library system.
This year’s budget carves out additional funds for new projects such as construction of Madison and Midtown Hills police precincts, and a new DNA Crime Lab; a $3.3 million increase to maintain operations of the Metro Transit Authority; a $850,000 increase to open the new McCabe Community Center; and $788,600 to open a new Goodlettsville Library and to expand the Limitless Library program Metro library and school systems operate in tandem.
In other business, the Metro Council approved financial incentives that pave the way for IQT Solutions to move its headquarters to 60,000 square feet of space in the C.B. Ragland Building in SoBro. The move is expected to eventually net 900 jobs for downtown Nashville.
The grant is to not exceed $1.6 million, with $960,000 to be administered by the Industrial Development Board. IQT is to be paid $500 for each job created and up to $500,000 toward the cost of relocating. The grant is for five years.