Nashville Mayor John Cooper (D) floated a 31.7% property tax increase in his budget proposal this week, saying the city is facing "the greatest financial challenge" it has seen in decades.
The citizens of Tennessee's capital city have had a devastating year already, after being hit with deadly tornadoes and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But Nashville had a massive budget shortfall long before those tragedies struck, and critics say a dramatic tax hike on struggling residents and small businesses during the current crisis is "an insult."
What are the details?
The Tennessean reported that "Cooper's $2.44 billion budget proposal is about $115 million more than this year's budget," and noted that "after two deals to bring in an influx of cash faltered last year, Nashville's house of cards collapsed, leading to a $42 million shortfall."
Since the city was already deeply in the hole, being hit with a terrible storm followed by the coronavirus put Nashville in an even more dire situation — and the mayor says federal funds to help with both emergencies are not enough to bridge the gap.
So, Cooper insists, an increase in the property tax rate is necessary in order avoid layoffs of city employees, and budget cuts will be necessary on top of that. His proposal to raise rates by $1 would mean that the tax bill for a home valued at $250,000 would go up by roughly $625 per year.
WKRN-TV reported that business owners in the city "are in disbelief" over Cooper's plan for the nearly 32% increase on property taxes. Just like for homeowners and renters, whether they own or lease, they will bear the brunt of the hike while many are out of business or out of work.
Will Newman, who owns Edley's Bar-B-Que and Pancho & Lefty's Cantina, told the outlet, "It's an insult to small businesses in Nashville that are literally at best on their knees, but most are on the ground. It's like getting kicked in the gut with a steel toed boot."
Newman said, "This will absolutely crush whatever restaurants are left. Crush it. Small businesses in Nashville are on life support and you know our plea now is to metro council: do the right thing and propose an alternate budget that is balanced in its approach and not shocking to the core."
The city must approve next year's budget by June 30. The new fiscal year starts July 1.