By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN – District 12 Councilman Steve Glover says Metro can save $35 million/year if it changes the fiscal agent of the city’s pension fund. That would make up about half of the $77 million shortfall that isn’t in Mayor David Briley budget to pay teachers more.
“We’re spending about $36 to $45 million dollars a year in management fees. If we let TCRS (Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System) manage the money, we would be saving well in excess of $30 million a year,” Glover said. The Budget and Finance Committee will look into Glover’s suggestion at a work session on Thursday, June 6. The council must pass a budget by July 1.
After dozens of city workers spoke against it, the council unanimously passed Mayor Briley’s proposed budget Tuesday night on its second reading. A third and likely final vote on the budget will take place at the next council meeting June 18.
But at that meeting councilmen Bob Mendes and Anthony Davis will offer a substitute to Briley’s budget. If passed, their bill would raise $163 million in revenues by increasing property taxes by an average of 16.6%. Davidson County has the lowest tax rate of Tennessee’s major cities. The tax bill for an average home in Davidson County would increase by about $330.
“Everyday we waste more money than we can imagine and these are the same people that are saying there is no fat in our budget. That’s a bunch of malarkey,” Glover said. He said if the council raises property taxes there is no guarantee that the money will go to schools and other Metro employees. Glover said the city makes poor financial choices “all the time” and that Metro finances are mismanaged.
He said if Metro got its spending under control the city could accommodate almost everything that should be the city’s priorities: police, fire, city employees, teachers, and children. Glover said we don’t do that because the city spends too much on pet projects. He hopes in its next term, the council will not be such a rubber stamp for the Mayor’s office.
“The Council has to quit letting the mayor direct what we do. We need to be an independent body elected by the people representing the people and carry their concerns to the floor here and when the people tell us ‘No’ we have to say to the administration ‘No’ just like the parking meters right now,” he said.
Dozens of people lined up in council chambers Tuesday night to speak against Briley’s proposed budget. James Smallwood, President of Fraternal Order of Police, said Metro is losing hundreds of police officers a year because of salary issues. A 14-year veteran of the Department of Emergency Communications said she and her colleagues are working double shifts because they have 39 vacancies in Metro’s 911 call center. MNPS bus driver Eric Warfield said they are 50 drivers short and could use 100 more but MNPS cannot attract enough drivers because their pay is not competitive.
“If a job is worth doing, it’s worth paying for,” said James Brown, an IT MNPS worker. Brown said many of his co-workers have left for better pay and hundreds more “dash out at the bell so they can get to a second job”.
“Vote for the Mendez budget and quit balancing the budget on our back,” Brown told council members. Katherine Pratt, an MNPS teacher, ticked off the five fulltime teachers her school lost to other school districts during the 2018-2019 school year. In addition, she said a beloved first grade teacher left who was Teacher of the Year and had been at the school for 20 years.
“Teachers are losing hope, so we are losing teachers,” Pratt said.