Today, the Metro Council has heard presentations from Metro Water Services about expected water rate increases and from the Comptroller for the State of Tennessee about the city government’s financial condition. (Comptroller presentation here.)
The Comptroller has given us the basic facts. Over nearly a decade, Metro has spent more money than it has earned. The city has balanced its budget by spending down savings and selling one-time assets — all while dropping the property tax rate lower than any other city in the State. This can’t continue. It’s that simple. We know it must change.
It would be easy to be intimidated by the size of the challenge. In these situations, there will be a few who will deny or minimize the issues, and there will be a few who say drastic cuts are necessary. The rest of us — most of us — will want to keep a level head. It took years to get here and it will take years to get out.
While it is fair for people to wonder whether we can fix this, the answer is yes. Nashville has many blessings. We are in the middle of an ongoing economic boom with a growing population, low unemployment, and a historically low property tax rate. We have the tools to balance the budget and rebuild reserves. Nearly any city in America would gladly trade their problems for our struggle to keep up with growth.
It is important that everyone hears the hard and direct facts that the Comptroller delivered today. Then after we have absorbed that information, we will still have the reality that Nashville is strong. Our citizens are strong. Our economy is strong.
At its best, a city government helps people live their best lives. That means safety, education, and jobs. Our challenge isn’t our city, its people, or its economy — it is whether our elected leaders can bring this shared vision to life — and whether we can provide the discipline, honesty, and effort, to have Nashville move together to a brighter future. I think we will.
We don’t have a date yet, but the new Director of Finance has told me that he is willing to come back to the Council in December to lay out the framework for a plan of action for Metro’s finances. The administration has been on the job for less than 6 weeks. I expect that the response will continue to be a work-in-progress for some time. But it will be good to hear a preliminary game plan from the administration.