Delivering his inauguration address Friday before a few hundred onlookers at the downtown public square, Mayor Karl Dean called Nashville a “city on the rise,” trumpeting the theme of his largely unchallenged re-election campaign.
He painted a bright future: “Nashville is on course to be one of the great American cities of the 21st century.”
But Metro Nashville’s sixth mayor also alluded to a potentially rocky budget cycle come spring as the city grapples with a stressed economy, declining tax revenue and a continued demand for basic services. Navigating future budgets — a second-term challenge that will undoubtedly be one of the mayor’s greatest — comes as Metro departments have already had to work with less in recent years.
“Our budget constraints are real,” Dean said, with the newly elected Metro Council sitting behind him. “And for the foreseeable future, our Metro departments are going to have to remain extremely prudent.
“Tough decisions lay ahead,” he said.
Across the country, municipalities have increasingly turned to laying off city workers or cutting core services to cope with turbulent economic realities. That hasn’t been the case so far in Nashville — neither have higher taxes.
Dean managed to avoid raising property taxes during his first four years. But continuing that trend moving forward is unlikely, most observers believe. For the past two budget cycles, Dean’s administration elected to restructure the city’s debt payments, effectively freeing up funds in the short term.
Addressing reporters after his speech and swearing-in, Dean downplayed the subject when asked if a property tax hike is on the horizon.
“We’ll just have to see what’s going to happen,” Dean said. “I’m not going to make any predictions. Clearly, we have challenges economically, and we need to run this city in a responsible manner.”
Despite monetary constraints, Dean called for investments in community centers, libraries, fire stations, police stations, schools, sidewalks and mass transit.
Dean’s address sounded a lot like other speeches he’s made in his four years in office, striking the chord of “education, public safety and economic development,” his self-proclaimed three pillars of governance. He noted declining school dropout rates, homicide rates and the economic jolt he believes the $585 million Music City Center will provide.
Making a new announcement Friday, Dean set out a new goal to double Nashville’s number of college graduates in five years.
“The experts say this should take 10 years,” Dean said. “I see no reason why we should not try to do it in five.”
The mayor’s office did not have a total number of current college graduates when asked. According to Press Secretary Bonna Johnson, 25 percent of 2004-05 Metro high school graduates went on to graduate from college within six years.
Though times are difficult financially, Dean said, “Now is the time to strengthen our resolve.”
Dean — routinely bandied around as the Tennessee Democratic Party’s best hope for a future statewide candidate — capped his remarks with a quote from former Republican President Ronald Reagan:
“We in government should learn to look at our country through the eyes of the entrepreneur, seeing possibilities where others see only problems.”