State of Metro Address 2012
By Mayor Karl Dean
May 1, 2012
Watch the Video of this speech
Vice Mayor Neighbors, members of the Metro Council, the Judiciary, other elected officials and distinguished guests – good morning to you all.
Thank you to Chuck Mead for performing this morning. I asked Chuck to be here today for purely selfish reasons – I’m a big fan. I’ve been listening to him since he was with the band BR549. To me, there is no better representation of the raw talent that we draw as Music City than Chuck Mead. Chuck is what Lower Broadway is all about, and so it was a great pleasure to have him here today.
Before I begin my formal remarks, I must first thank the citizens of Nashville and Davidson County for giving me the opportunity to deliver this, my fifth State of Metro Address. It is an honor to serve as your mayor – a privilege bestowed upon me by the voters of this city. And I assure you, there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t feel incredibly appreciative of the opportunity to lead this great city and humbled by the responsibility that privilege brings.
Let me start by welcoming you to our beautiful new Cumberland Park. Doesn’t this provide a great view of our city? Up until a couple weeks ago, this was a view that not many had the chance to enjoy at length. You could see it as you passed by on the interstate or if you had the chance to tailgate at a Titans’ game. But now, on a nice spring day like today, families and children can spend hours enjoying this park and taking in the view of our city.
This park is part of our commitment to investing in the revitalization of our riverfront, and our commitment to investing in places and infrastructure that allow our citizens to be healthy and active. This park is already making a contribution to improving the quality of life in Nashville. And it’s a great place to reflect on where we are, as a city.
Today, I’d like us to reflect … together … on three things. … Not the three you’re thinking of – I’ll talk about those too. But big picture, the three things I want to talk about today are:
Where We’ve Been … Where We Are … and Where We’re Going.
Over the last four years, Nashville has faced some of the most difficult economic and natural circumstances that a community can encounter – a historic recession and a devastating flood. Both of which had major impacts on our city’s budget. But despite all of that, we’re a city that today is growing, that’s outpacing other places in our economic recovery.
Today I can confidently say that the State of Metro is strong, and our prospects for the future are even better. Not by chance, not by luck, but because of the strategic decisions we’ve made to cut where we need to cut, invest where we need to invest, and not let financial pressures sway our commitment to the things that matter most – the three things I talk about all the time – education, public safety and economic development.
And now the question is – where do we want to go from here? It’s no secret that I will be using this speech today to discuss the choice we face with this year’s budget. In my mind, it’s a choice between doing what it takes to keep our city strong, or letting our city fall backward. To me, the choice is clear.
But before I elaborate, let me lead you through how we arrived at this choice, starting with the first thing I want to talk about – revisiting Where We’ve Been.
It’s been an amazing and challenging four years. Probably the most challenging in the history of Metro Government.
When I took office in 2007 we were just beginning to see signs that our country’s economy wasn’t as strong as it once was. But no one could have predicted what was to come.
By 2010, our city … and our nation … were squarely in the throes of what we now recognize as the Great Recession. Having already made significant cuts, our budget situation began to look grim. At that time, some argued that new revenue should be the answer. But I was determined … like many of you here today … not to impose a greater burden on our taxpayers at a time when family budgets were already stretched thin.
Instead, we opted for a more practical solution. Like consumers who refinanced their homes, we decided to take advantage of historically low interest rates and restructure some of our city’s debt to alleviate our immediate financial pressure. Doing this allowed us to get through those tough times while preserving the most vital public services.
But we weren’t in the clear yet. In many ways, our struggles were just beginning … due, in large part, to the 1,000-year flood from which our city is still recovering.
Two years ago about this time, I announced our 2010 budget decisions from Riverfront Park on the west bank of this river. Three days later, the area where I stood delivering those remarks was submerged in flood water.
We all know the story well. We lived it, along with hundreds of thousands of Nashvillians. Rain fell on Nashville for more than 36 hours straight – an amount of rain our city had never seen in its recorded history.
If the recession wasn’t enough, our city was suddenly challenged with recovering from more than $2 billion in flood damage – thousands of homes destroyed, our city’s capacity to produce clean water cut in half, and most tragically, the loss of 11 lives.
Some cities might have buckled under this devastation. But two years later, what we all know, is that the story of the flood in Nashville turned into a story of incredible optimism and community spirit, of people coming together to help each other in the most dire of circumstances. And for that, I know we are all eternally grateful.
Still, the additional fiscal challenges the flood presented are real. While our federal government’s response could not have been more swift, our list of repairs not covered by FEMA still grows as latent damage to roads and sidewalks continues to appear. The fact is: We’ll be recovering from the flood … physically and fiscally … for years still to come.
My point in recapping all this history is simply to say: Due to this combination of extraordinary circumstances, our city government today operates much differently than it did when I took office four and a half years ago. Overall, the budgets for most Metro departments, including my own, have been reduced by 10 to 15 percent. In fact, we have reduced department budgets by a total of $59.2 million. As a result, we have 668 fewer full-time employees. We’ve cut our fleet, reduced the number of take-home cars, and cut travel. Internal service fees have been reduced, meaning we’re spending less of our budget on administrative operations, leaving more for services to the public. At the same time, we have managed to increase our general government reserves – our city’s rainy day fund – from $33 million to $53 million today – a nearly 40 percent increase. We are a more efficient, more streamlined government than we were in 2007.
Looking back at the last four years of revenue growth – or the lack thereof – the picture of our city’s budgetary constraints is clear. Revenue grew by a mere 2 percent, compared to the four years prior when revenue grew by 20 percent and the city’s budget increased in excess of $200 million. Like many families, we in Metro Government have learned to stretch a dollar.
But even during these tight budgets, I am proud to say that … working with the Metro Council … we did not waver in our commitment to our priorities. Most notably: Every year we have fully funded education and protected funding for public safety. One way to look at it – the way I look at it – is that with little revenue growth, we’ve had to cut the rest of our government to fund education and public safety. And I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Some things are so important that you sacrifice in other areas to get them done. Education and public safety are two of those. Cutting back in those two areas would have been detrimental to our city – then, now and in the future. I’ll come back to this in a moment.
I am also proud that we have managed to keep investing in other key priorities – especially those that support our economy and job creation, and the quality of life we provide our citizens. Yes, our country has been in a recession. But for business and for government, it is the slow economic times that create opportunity to pass your competition. When the economy is growing at full steam, everyone is charging forward at the same pace. It’s how you navigate the curves when times are tough that determine who will come out ahead.
And to be clear, we are in competition with other cities. Cities can no longer afford to operate oblivious to what’s taking place in similar-sized communities across the country. We’re in competition for citizens, for companies. We are in an era of choice. People no longer live where they live just because that’s where they grew up, or that’s where their family members live. People, and businesses, choose where to locate based on a number of factors – strength of economy, availability of transit, the quality of schools.
You have probably heard me use this line before: A city has to have enough confidence in itself to invest in itself. Nashville has that confidence, and it’s paid off. We’ve invested in projects large and small, but all of which have set us up to better compete for jobs and people.
Take for instance what is probably the single largest infrastructure investment in our city’s history. It’s not the project that just popped into your mind; it’s not the Music City Center. This is something all of you depend on every day, but, I would bet, give little thought to (unless you’re Scott Potter) – and that’s our water system.
When I took office, our Water Department had zero bonding capacity, meaning we were not collecting enough money from water customers to be able to fix a backlog of water and sewer lines that were aging and underperforming. And when I say aging, I’m not talking about decades … Our city’s oldest remaining water main went into service in 1850 – one year after James K. Polk left the presidency.
We decided to take this issue head on and adjust our water rates, which has allowed us to begin funding $1.5 billion in water, sewer, stormwater and overflow abatement projects to be completed over the next 10 years. That’s three-times the construction budget for Music City Center.
While most of you may not be able to see the work being done with these funds, when you turn on your tap, you’re reaping the benefits. We’re investing in Nashville having a reliable water system that provides plenty of safe, clean drinking water now and for generations to come.
Like our water infrastructure projects, the Music City Center, our new downtown convention center, is another investment we’ve made using a dedicated funding source.
If you look through the trees here on the riverbank and directly across the river, you can see the Center’s front and back roofline peaking out from either side of the Encore condominiums. And when you leave here today, if you drive over the Korean War Veterans Bridge on your way back to your office, you will see the dramatic impact this new building is making on our cityscape.
Think back to 2009 and the debate we had about whether or not to move forward with the Music City Center project. Some people said don’t do it, the economy is down, the convention market is dying, the taxpayers will be on the hook, the city will have to pay for a hotel.
But where are we today? Construction is on time and on budget – a tremendous accomplishment in and of itself given the project’s scope and size. Omni Hotels & Resorts is building a $250 million, privately-financed, headquarters hotel next door.
Most notably though, the revenue funding this project, coming from tourism-related taxes and fees — not property taxes, has exceeded projections every year. We have collected $11.4 million more than our conservative financing model predicted we would. As promised, this center is paying for itself, and in turn pumping money back into our local economy.
If we had let fear and stagnancy guide our thinking, South of Broadway today would still be a parking lot. Instead, it’s a bustling construction site that has employed more than 4,000 people since work began. And we have spent more than $100 million with small, minority- and women-owned firms who have provided services and materials for the Center’s construction.
This time next year, we’ll be getting ready to open the doors and welcome thousands of new visitors to our city every year – each of them ready to spend their money in our restaurants and our stores. We’ve landed major events that otherwise would have never been able to come to Nashville, such as the National Rifle Association convention and the Women’s Final Four.
That’s how you grow a city’s economy, that’s how you grow a city’s tax base – by making strategic investments at the right time, in the right place.
It’s the same principal behind the decisions we’ve made in recent months regarding economic development deals with companies like Lifepoint, HCA, Gaylord and Dollywood. There are critics of those decisions too. People who say we shouldn’t help companies create jobs here. Or worse, people who intentionally mislead others into believing that somehow our taxpayers will have to pay for these deals, when they know that the opposite is true. Each of these companies will generate new tax revenue for our city that will go to fund important public services, like education. And all together, these projects will put over 2,400 people to work in Davidson County.
People can be critical about how we do it, but as long as I’m mayor, I am going to do everything I can to grow our tax base and attract more jobs for our citizens. That has been my commitment on economic development from day one, and I’m not going to back down now.
Which brings me to the second thing I want to talk about today: Where We Are.
Our efforts from the last four years are paying off. Nashville’s unemployment rate is now 6.6 percent – the lowest it’s been since 2008, one of the lowest in the state, and more than a point-and-a-half below the national average. In late March, the Nashville area was named as the fourth strongest metro area for job creation in a national survey conducted by Gallup.
Nashville’s economic recovery is starting to move ahead of the rest of the country, and signs of this can be seen all over town. There are cranes in the sky, hotels under construction on West End, apartment complexes being built in Germantown and North Gulch.
Just last week, Asurion, an international company that provides technology protection services to over 95 million customers – headquartered here in Nashville, Tenn., announced its plan to put 500 high-tech jobs downtown in the newly-renovated Ragland Building. We announced the first phase of this expansion project in December 2010. There is no better example of our hard work during the recession coming to fruition now as our economic climate improves.
For the city, some of the most tangible evidence of economic recovery is in our sales tax collections. After years of significant decline, sales tax revenues only now are getting back to where they were in 2008. And our projections for next year show us growing beyond where we were before the recession.
No mayor likes to talk about traffic jams. But I’d like to brag about one. The exit off Briley Parkway to Opry Mills is a great site to see. And the credit goes to Simon Properties. Given the circumstances, the Simon company could have walked away or sold the property. Their decision to repair the mall and reopen its doors speaks volumes about Nashville’s economic strength and resiliency. And in the one-month it’s been reopened, it has certainly contributed to our sales tax growth.
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Not only are our decisions related to economic development paying off, we’re seeing progress in our two other areas of focus as well – education and public safety.
Just consider for a moment where things were four years ago with our public schools, compared to where we are today:
We didn’t have Teach for America. Now we do. We have 130 Teach for America corps members helping our students in our most challenging schools, with another 100 joining our teacher ranks next year.
Four years ago, we didn’t have a system of free, afterschool programs for at-risk students. Now we do. And in two areas of town we have already doubled the number of middle school students engaged in afterschool programs – something we know is proven to help them succeed and later graduate.
We didn’t have an Attendance Center, keeping tabs on students who became truant. Now we do. And MNPS reports that district wide truancy has declined dramatically since its opening.
Our Public Library and school libraries were operating in their own silos. Now these two entities have an overwhelming successful partnership through our Limitless Libraries program, which has brought the vast resources of our world-class Public Library into our schools. The number of Metro school students with library cards has grown from 9,000 to 24,000 – an astonishing increase.
Four years ago, we had few charter schools, and a reputation for being a hostile environment for national charter organizations. Now we have multiple charters anxious to open their doors in our city.
We had parents of students with disabilities disillusioned with our school system, rightfully concerned that their kids’ needs weren’t being met. With help from my Advisory Council on Special Education, we have greater inclusive practices district-wide. And we have over a dozen students with disabilities developing essential job skills in community classrooms in two Metro departments, helping those students prepare to enter the work force as they graduate from high school.
Four years ago, we had a community with a desire to be involved in public education, but few formal outlets for individuals and businesses to get involved hands on. Now we have the Academies of Nashville, a formal program to engage Nashville’s business community and help students start focusing on future career paths and the opportunities available to them if they stick with their education.
Just last month, I was invited to McGavock High School to help cut the ribbon on our latest academy – the Academy of Digital Design and Communications – being sponsored by none other than Nashville’s own Country Music Television (CMT). We are a city rich in resources that can benefit our students and it is incredibly rewarding to see those assets used.
We are undoubtedly becoming a national model for urban school system reform – something I knew we could accomplish when I stood before you and delivered my first State of Metro Address in 2008. I said then that we’re different. We have a community that gets it. And by working together, this was a problem we could get our arms around.
During that speech, I talked about how we have a school system with some great schools, but that we needed to work to make all of our schools great. And I talked about the need to bring high school alternatives to our school system for students not able to succeed in traditional school environments.
I referenced a statistic from data compiled by the U.S. Conference of Mayors that estimated in the year 2000 there were 5,000 young people in our city between the ages of 16 and 24 who were not working or not in school and who do not have a high school diploma or GED. I knew then that getting those students back on track with their education, and stopping the flow of students who end up in that situation, was the key to addressing our dropout rate.
And during that speech, I announced that we had received a grant from the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families to bring a network of high school alternatives to our school system.
Our School Board and Director of Schools embraced the idea of creating non-traditional schools to help students who have dropped out or are at-risk of dropping out. We have two such schools open now, and a third one opening next year.
These reforms are working. A headline in The Tennessean this past March read “Fewer kids are quitting school.” The story reported that our city’s dropout rate had declined from 7 percent in 2007 to 2 percent last year. It talked about how a few years ago at Glencliff nearly 20 percent of the student population was absent on any given day, and now that number is 2 percent.
Ladies and gentleman – we are making progress in improving education.
We have done this not as a government, but as a community. It’s hasn’t just been my office, or the Council, or the Schools Director, or the School Board focused on this, but all of us coupled with overwhelming support from the private sector. As we have invested in education with our city’s budget, advocates, philanthropists and industries have stepped up and done the same – donating millions of private dollars for innovative reforms that are truly changing students’ lives.
But it’s more than just the financial commitment … Our school system has been strengthened by more involvement from parents, from volunteers, and teachers willing to go the extra mile. We still have work to do, ways we need to improve … But we are on the right track.
The story we have to tell about Where We Are with improving public safety is equally impressive. In four short years:
We have grown the number of sworn officers to the largest in our city’s history, adding 50 new positions with the help of a federal COPS grant. In total, I have delivered the oath of office to 382 new officers since September 2007.
Chief Anderson and I are committed to maintaining a fully staffed police department. The members of Police Recruit Sessions 67 and 68, who have taken a break from the academy to join us today, are the real faces behind that commitment. Thank you all for being here.
We have opened two new precincts. One, a replacement precinct for the west side of our county, which before had the oldest and smallest work space of all our precincts. I have heard stories about detectives who had to stand outside using their cell phones to take witness statements in private. It also was the only suburban precinct without a community room, and so we fixed that.
The other precinct we opened in Madison – an area that was previously served by North. It’s operating out of temporary space at the old Peterbilt factory while the new space is built out. The significance of the Madison precinct is not only what it does to improve public safety in Madison, but it has allowed us to shrink the North Precinct coverage area by one-third – from 189 square miles to 120. As a result, the North Precinct Commander and officers can pay closer attention to North Nashville neighborhoods.
We are also working on plans for a third new precinct – this would be Nashville’s 8th. A location has been identified in the 12th South area, which we’re calling Midtown Hills. And when it opens, we expect to see the land areas of the West Precinct, Hermitage Precinct and South Precinct reduced.
So just like we have invested in education, we have invested in public safety, and those investments are paying off. Overall major crime in 2011 was 18 percent below the most recent eight year average. Most notably, last year Nashville had the lowest number of homicides since 1966 – that’s 45 years. We have to recognize that even one homicide is too many, but still, this is an incredible achievement.
All of this leads us to the third and final thing I want to talk about today: Where We Are Going. You’ve heard me say this many times before, and it’s something I firmly believe – Nashville’s best days are still ahead of us. Our future is bright.
The decisions our city has made over the last 50 years have set us up to succeed now and for decades to come. The decision to form our Metropolitan Government. The decision to embrace and build on our identity as Music City. The decision to invest in the revitalization of our downtown. The decision to invest in our neighborhoods and the quality of life of our citizens.
Since I took office, we have made the decision to invest in our kids and in the safety of our citizens – even when it meant having fewer resources for other government functions. Schools and public safety are that important. How well we educate our kids and how safe our streets are determine whether or not we continue to reap the benefits of all the other investments made before us. The vibrancy of our neighborhoods, our downtown, our job market, our appeal as a tourist destination – all of these things are dependent on whether or not we get schools and public safety right.
So in looking at our city’s budget for this next fiscal year. Our city has another pivotal decision to make. A decision that will alter our course for decades to come. Do we continue our forward momentum? Do we continue to invest in these critical areas? Or do we risk falling backward? Do we risk derailing our city from its path to greatness?
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, considering these two options – to me, the decision is clear. I choose to continue to move our city forward – to keep our city safe, to keep improving our public schools, and to keep giving every citizen in Nashville the quality of life they deserve. And to the members of the Metro Council: I want your help as we continue the journey of civic improvement and investment … together … on behalf of our entire community.
Today, I am proposing to adjust our property tax rate upward by 53 cents to fund the city’s operating budget of $1.71 billion. Even with this adjustment, the effective tax rate will still remain lower than it was when I took office. Using the Greater Nashville Association of Realtor’s median home value of $145,400, the real impact this adjustment will have on the typical Nashville homeowner will be right about $16 a month.
We recognize that for some in our community that is not an insignificant amount of money. It can mean having to choose between food and medicine. That is why our proposed budget includes increasing Metro’s contribution to the Property Tax Relief program to double the match that the State provides. By doing this, the more than 6,400 elderly, disabled, and disabled veterans in our community who participate in this program will be greatly protected from the property tax adjustment.
In fact, the average household using the Property Tax Relief program will actually see their tax bill go down. Also, right now, about 1 in every 10 Tax Relief recipients have their tax bills paid in full because the value of their home is low. With Metro’s increased contribution, that number will more than double.
It’s important for you to know that even with the increased revenue we will generate from the tax rate adjustment, our general approach to the budget will remain the same. Year after year, that approach has been to cut and invest – to cut where we can and to invest where it matters. The goal being to manage in a way that is as fiscally prudent as possible while still positioning our city for success. So over the last four years, we have cut $59.2 million out of departments’ budgets. But we have invested in schools, public safety and those things that support economic growth and our citizens’ quality of life.
Our proposed budget this year once again funds the needs of schools and public safety. But the overall budget for all other Metro departments will be reduced by $3 million.
Which begs the question, what would the cuts look like without a property tax increase? What happens if we don’t make this choice?
There are cost increases we must incur in this next budget that are unavoidable – increases related to pension funds, retiree benefits, and our debt payment.
The money to pay for these increases will have to come from somewhere. Which means, without a tax rate adjustment, not only would we not be able to invest in education, in public safety, and in other key areas, our core government departments would have to experience harmful cuts.
We have cut Metro departments every year I’ve been in office. At first, the cuts weren’t so bad. In fact, the process made us assess how our government operated and how we could be more efficient. But after four years, there is little fat left. To make significant budget reductions this year, would mean cutting into muscle.
Let me demonstrate what I mean: The tax rate adjustment will provide us with about $100 million in new annual revenue. Without it, we could lay off 200 police officers, 200 firefighters, 200 teachers, close all four regional community centers, all five regional libraries — and still not come close to making up even half of what the tax rate adjustment will generate.
So, in addition to avoiding what would be a major setback for our city – that would take decades to overcome – what else do we gain from adjusting our tax rate? What will it allow us to invest in, specifically, that we would otherwise have to go without?
The tax rate adjustment allows us to invest in our teachers by increasing the starting salary of new hires from $35,000 a year to $40,000 – the salary level that teachers currently receive after five years of teaching in Metro Schools. We’ll also adjust the salaries of any teachers with less than five years experience to the new, higher starting pay … Which is a lot – about 1,700 of our nearly 8,000 teachers.
We all know from our personal experience this fact: The quality of education our students’ receive ultimately comes down to the quality of teaching in the classroom. Our students deserve the best and the brightest teachers, and we have to be competitive to recruit and retain them. Right now, Nashville ranks 30th in the state for beginning teacher salaries. That’s right, 30th out of more than 130 school districts. This increase would make us third.
The tax rate adjustment allows us to hire up to 100 additional teachers to keep our class sizes where they need to be. Metro Schools anticipates adding 1,700 new students to their rosters this next school year. We’ve had similar enrollment increases the past three years. We can’t add students and not add more teachers. Student-teacher ratios directly impact the quality of learning in the classroom. This is an important investment in our students.
It allows us to continue expanding our non-traditional school choices by adding two new alternative schools to our district. As I mentioned earlier, not every student can succeed in a traditional school environment. We have to reach kids where they are – and every one of them, even those who have already dropped out – are worth reaching. There are no throw away people in our society.
And for those who might say, I don’t know any kids like that, or I don’t have kids in public schools – why should I have to pay for this? Every kid who successfully graduates from high school is a kid less likely to need government assistance as an adult … is less likely to be involved in criminal behavior … is more likely to make a decent income, to add to our tax base, to add to our city’s economic strength. Investing in our kids is an investment we all benefit from.
The tax rate adjustment also allows us to make significant headway on a long list of deferred, but much-needed, renovations and expansions to Metro School buildings. With this budget, we are proposing a capital spending plan right at $300 million. Of that, we will spend one-third, $100 million, on providing our students with the resources and school facilities conducive for receiving a great education. This is the largest capital building plan our city has done for schools since the 1990s.
For anyone who has visited Stratford High School recently, you know that building is not giving our students the environment they need to learn. It’s in bad shape. And we’ve included more than $20 million in the capital spending plan to fix it. It’s the largest of our school improvement projects.
There are nine other school building projects, several of which are in southeast Davidson County – the fastest growing part of our city. From the 2000 Census to 2010, 70 percent of our population growth has been in that area. With that growth comes needs, and southeast Davidson County has great needs when it comes to school facilities.
For that reason, we are funding an $11 million renovation of Antioch Middle, a $6.4 million expansion and renovation of Norman Binkley Elementary, a $3.6 million expansion of Oliver Middle, and a $2.6 million addition to A.Z. Kelley Elementary. And we are providing the funds to purchase land for a new elementary and a new middle school in the area.
In other parts of Davidson County: Rose Park Middle will receive an $8.4 million expansion, Joelton Middle a $6.9 million renovation, John Early Middle a $3.6 million expansion. And we are including funds to purchase land for a future expansion of Julia Green Elementary. And a project that has been a long-time coming, and is greatly needed: We will fund the build out of a new gymnasium for Hume Fogg Academic Magnet High School downtown.
Turning to public safety, the tax rate adjustment will allow us to keep the 50 new police officers we added with the federal COPS grant, which comes to an end this year. These officers are necessary for us to be able to operate the new Madison Police Precinct that I talked about earlier.
It also gives us the resources to provide the equipment and staff needed to operate the new DNA crime lab that is under construction at the same location as the Madison Precinct. We have been talking about the DNA crime lab for three years now, and it’s finally expected to open in the spring of next year. It will provide us with new, state-of-the-art crime-fighting tools that right now are not at our disposal as often, as quickly or as easily as we would like them to be. Better evidence processing means more criminals off the streets. And more criminals off the street means less crimes being committed in the fist place.
The tax rate adjustment will also allow us to fund two new positions in the District Attorney’s office to specifically handle domestic violence cases. While we have good news to share about our city’s homicide rate, a significant portion of homicides in Nashville – in fact, one-fifth – are related to domestic violence. This is simply unacceptable, and it’s something we need to change.
When a city is safe for women – it’s also safe for children. Having spent many years as a Public Defender, I have seen first hand the impact domestic violence has on a household. And the cyclical effect it can cause. Too many of my clients were young men who had grown up in violent homes. We know that children exposed to domestic violence are much more likely to be a victim or an offender when they grow up. Having more resources to intervene and prosecute domestic violence cases means fewer children suffering today, and fewer children repeating the behavior tomorrow.
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The additional revenue generated by the tax rate adjustment will also be used to help us invest in our employees. Government is only as good as the people who work in it. We have great employees in Metro Government, and our goal with this proposed budget is to provide more to the people who make less and reward those who serve our government the longest.
Metro employees have had to make due without a pay increase for three years. To help our rank-in-file employees the most, we are proposing a two-tiered across the board cost of living adjustment. Everyone, except for those in senior management – which equates to about 95 percent of our employees – will receive a 4 percent pay increase. Those at the highest level of management will receive a 2 percent increase.
As I mentioned earlier, we also have some mandatory cost increases related to Injury On Duty cases, pension funds and retiree medical benefits. And it’s no small amount – about $20 million government-wide – one-fifth of the total new revenue that will be generated by the tax rate adjustment.
As the cost of these continues to go up year after year, it is time for us to make some changes. Changes that will help us manage these costs going forward. We recently completed a process required by law every five years where a Study & Formulating Committee assesses our city’s pension and benefit system. I urge a quick reaction to the committee’s recommendations, including the proposal to change the vesting period for Metro pensioners back to 10 years from five, and to adjust the retiree contribution to their medical benefits to require a greater contribution from those who serve our government for a short time and to benefit those who serve the longest.
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The tax rate adjustment will also allow us to continue making important, strategic investments in our city’s infrastructure. In addition to investing in school buildings, our capital spending plan allows us to continue to invest in the things you all, our citizens, depend on every day. Things that support our economic growth and quality of life. Like roads and sidewalks – both of which need additional repairs because of the flood. This year, we will fund paving, other road projects and sidewalk construction at a higher level than we’ve been able to do since I’ve been in office.
We’re also investing in parks, our public library system and our bus system.
I am proud of the work we’ve done to invest in infrastructure that supports healthy lifestyles and our environment, and we’re going to continue building on that. We’ve allocated funds to continue riverfront redevelopment … to further acquire property for our Open Space Plan … for the continued expansion of our greenways … and to maintain and improve the parks facilities we already have, including Centennial Park and Shelby Park – both of which have undergone extensive master planning processes in recent years.
We are finally going to build – not plan, not think about, but build – the Bellevue Library. Something that community has needed for a very long time.
And we are expanding Bus Rapid Transit services to Murfreesboro Road. As the main traffic artery through southeast Davidson County, this is another investment geared to meet the needs of our fastest growing area. Bus Rapid Transit is something we already have on Gallatin Road. It involves larger buses, fewer stops, and technology to help riders have real-time information about the buses’ location. It makes transit a more appealing option.
All of these infrastructure investments are important to remain competitive – as a place where both people and businesses want to be.
(pause – transition)
To recap … Today you’ve heard me talk about Where We've Been: As a city, we’ve faced two major body blows – a historic recession and a historic flood. But we survived and emerged stronger as a result.
Where We Are: We are a great American city, and we are poised for added greatness — especially in public education — if we have the foresight to do what's needed, what's right.
And Where We're Going: That is a choice.
The consequences of not making this tax rate adjustment at this time are real. Take our Police Department, for example: If we don’t fund the 50 officers who were previously on the COPS grant, we will be in violation of our agreement with the Department of Justice, which could require us to repay the $7.5 million it gave us. To cover that cost, we’d have to layoff an additional 150 officers – reducing our ranks by a total of 200 sworn positions.
Look … No mayor wants to stand up and talk about raising taxes. But we’re not Washington. We can’t run a deficit and we can’t print money. The easy answer, the political answer to our situation would be to let the city go backwards, make draconian cuts and frame the consequences with some anti-tax mantra.
But the reason that cities exist in the first place is to provide services individuals can’t provide on their own. And the reason I took this job is to help make Nashville a better place than it was the day I took office. I refuse to cut services to the point where our city’s future is compromised. I refuse to be the mayor who turns back the clock on public safety and education. I choose to continue our forward momentum.
And to the Council members who are here today … I am asking for your help so that we can, working together, continue doing what’s best for our entire community.
In my first State of Metro Address four years ago, to frame up the importance of working aggressively on our priorities, I quoted Wayne Gretsky, who once said: You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. Today, I leave you with another quote from this noted philosopher, and pretty good hockey player: You skate to where the puck is going to go, not where it’s been.
We need to govern for where our city is going to be in 10, 20 years from now. And if we have the courage to make the right decisions – not the easy decisions, but the right decisions – that will be an even greater place than it is today. Thank you.