Groups rekindle Metro budget protests

After a crippling year of natural disasters and an expensive health crisis, Metro advanced the Fiscal 2022 budget, which aims to realign pre-COVID budget priorities, closer to approval Tuesday.

Mayor John Cooper’s $2.6 billion budget proposal — which still needs final Metro Council approval — allots $50 million for teacher raises, $30 million for affordable housing plans, new funding for emergency services, more money for WeGo Public Transit and a 2 percent raise for city employees. This contrasts starkly with last year’s so-called “crisis budget,” which Cooper presented at the time with cuts to the Nashville Community Education Commission and many other departments as well as no pay raises for city employees.

The budget drops last year’s crisis-budget property tax rate of $4.221 per $100 of assessed value to a historic low of $3.288 — the third lowest rate in Metro history. In total, the budget also includes an $81 million increase in funding for Metro Nashville Public Schools. WeGo is set to receive $24.5 million as heralded in Cooper’s State of Metro Address wherein he committed $25 million. The transit agency also will finish a three-month term of operating on a Fifth Third Bank line of credit as the budget activates.

Taxpayers, including community groups the Nashville People’s Budget Coalition and Gideon’s Army, spoke of several needs yet to be addressed by the budget ranging from increased funding to MNPS support staff, more money for community organizations themselves, lower law enforcement expenditures and greater spending on programs for violence interruption and prevention.

The budget allocates $10.5 million to Metro Police Department improvements.

Much of the budget focuses on appropriations of funds from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, from which Metro is receiving $267 million to respond to the pandemic-related expenses. Those funds come in two installments, one of which was scheduled for May 10, with the other scheduled to come next March. Eligible expenditures include small businesses, households, nonprofit organizations or aid to hospitality, tourism and travel industries.

The American Rescue Plan also allots about $1.5 million for area nonprofits to make up for what ordinarily comes from direct appropriations and community partnership funds, and Metro aims to earmark $4.8 million for subsidies to the Farmer’s Market, Municipal Auditorium and Fairgrounds, which would typically appear in the operating budget proper were it not for pandemic-related shortfalls.

Rescue Plan funds are also available for employees deemed essential at either state or local levels to receive premium pay, and the plan aims to fund government services that were affected by pandemic-related revenue reductions.

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