Attorney Jim Roberts speaking to the Davidson County Election Commission that voted 3-2 to put the tax referendum before voters on July 27. Metro sued and Chancellor Russell T. Perkins is hearing the case. (Photo: Yihyun Jeong/The Tennessean)

NASHVILLE, TN –A special election on July 27 will decide the 2021 Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act.

To hear detractors talk about it, you’d think the property tax referendum was worse than COVID-19. City Hall is fighting the measure in chancery court hoping for the third time to keep the measure off the ballot.

“I have no doubt in my mind that it’s going to pass,” said attorney Jim Roberts.

If it does, Mayor John Cooper predicted the city would face a $322 million deficit that would cut MNPS operating budget by 25%. Cooper said trash collection would be reduced to twice a month, the Fire Department would take a 35% hit, MNPD would lose 480 officers and four precincts would have to close.

In addition, Cooper said that some parks, recreation centers, and libraries would close. Funding for Metro General Hospital, Metro Transit Authority, and the Sports Authority would have to be cut.

“After two natural disasters this year, we don’t need a self-inflicted one. This would severely weaken Nashville at a time when we need to build Nashville stronger,” Cooper said.

The measure’s first amendment, which rolls back a 34% property tax hike and imposes a 3% ceiling on future increases, is what everybody’s worried about.

“It’s ironic that they gloss over the other five with this money hysteria and don’t even address the fact that the other amendments will save us money,” Roberts said.

Roberts said ending lifetime benefits for council members and selling public property for fair market value would mean more money for teachers and firefighters.

Cooper’s FY2022 budget is $2.65 billion. Debt service payments on Metro’s $5.4 billion debt are $360 million or 14% of next year’s budget.

Metro’s financial problems are the result of “an endless cycle of bad decision-making”, according to Roberts. He said that “gloom and doom” people know Metro has a huge debt. But like an elephant in the room, they don’t want to talk about it.

“The real problem is—we don’t ever want to raise property taxes and so when the revenues were running short, they just financed everything with bonds,” he said.

Roberts wants people to think about what will happen if the referendum doesn’t pass. “We ‘re going to have the same problem in ten years. They are going to spend a decade financing with bonds and then ten years from now they are going to say ‘Oh my gosh, we need to raise the property tax 34%’.”

“By forcing the city to raise it (tax rate) 3% a year because they can’t do 30% later, we’ll actually have a stable revenue base. We’re basically being the adults in the room and we’re treating Metro Council and the Mayor like children because they’ve been acting like children and we’re going to force them to act responsibly,” he said.