NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) – Mayor John Cooper announced plans to make Nashville’s teachers the state’s highest-paid, triple the city’s dollars for affordable housing and build up transportation capacity during Thursday’s State of Metro address.
The mayor called for investments in the Metro employees who served the city through a year of crisis and pledged to implement every-other-week recycling in a nod to Nashville’s rebound.
The Music City Center, site of Thursday’s speech, was once eyed for 1,600 beds for COVID-19 patients, is now a vaccination site as public health restrictions end on May 14.
“Last year’s budget was a crisis budget. This year’s budget is an investment budget,” Cooper said. “Nashville is on the rise. A city on the rise must rise to the occasion. And for a city to really work, it must work for everyone and every neighborhood.”
Those neighborhood investments include restoring funding for WeGo bus service and hiring 80 additional emergency responders to serve the city.
“It’s a new day in Nashville,” Cooper said. “We’ve weathered the storm. And we have a new opportunity to rise, together.”
Under the mayor’s plan, the average Metro teacher salary will jump by $6,924. Educators with 8 to 15 years of experience will receive a $10,880 increase.
The proposed $81 million marks Nashville’s largest operating investment in education. It follows the mayor’s recent record capital investment for schools and fully funds the School Board’s request for the first time in years.
“Throughout my career at Metro Schools, I’ve never seen such a strong commitment and support from a Mayor for our public schools and the teaching profession,” Director of Schools Dr. Adrienne Battle said in a news release.
Four months after Metro Council adopted the mayor’s transportation plan, Nashville has secured upward of $15 million in state and federal funding to pay for it. With more potential funding on the way, a local Department of Transportation (DoT) is now as essential in Nashville as it has been in peer cities.
A proposed $3.5 million will operationalize a local DoT – including a new traffic management center – doubling the number of Metro employees who are focused on calming traffic, timing traffic signals more efficiently, building bike lanes and meeting the mayor’s directive to cut sidewalk-construction times in half.
Meanwhile, another $25 million will restore funding for WeGo bus service, which Metro subsidized last year using one-time federal relief dollars.
The proposed budget includes $53,656,100 for WeGo Public Transit.
“WeGo Public Transit applauds Mayor Cooper’s proposed FY2021-22 Metro Operating Budget, and specifically its major commitment to public transportation service,” WeGo CEO Steve Bland said in a news release.
“Last year, WeGo was able to absorb a budget cut from Metro during a very difficult year for the city due to available funding from the federal government,” Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority Board Chair Gail Carr-Williams said in a news release. “With Mayor Cooper’s budget proposal this year, we look forward to stabilizing service and actually increasing service levels as early as this fall.”
After convening an Affordable Housing Task Force, the mayor proposed immediate action on five of their recommendations:
His proposal triples the city’s affordable housing dollars:
$2.5 million more to the Barnes Fund$20 million in American Rescue Plan dollars to develop affordable units – including $10 million for the Barnes Fund and $10 million to seed a Catalyst Housing Fund
Cooper also announced plans to build affordable housing on Metro-owned property located on 24thAvenue North in a process that will include robust community input.
Meanwhile, a payment in lieu of taxes program will encourage affordable housing participation from the private sector in an increasingly expensive building environment.
After a year that proved how much Nashville relies on its first responders, Cooper proposed:
$460,000 to increase the Office of Emergency Management’s operating budget by 49 percent$9.8 million to hire 40 new firefighters and 20 new emergency medical technicians (EMTs)$12.2 million to hire 48 new law enforcement officers for Nashville’s new Southeast police precinct, including 8 sergeants for body camera evaluation
Another $1.1 million will increase funding for Metro’s Office of Family Safety by 62%. Nashville is one of only two cities in the U.S. with its own, dedicated department to serve victims of interpersonal violence. Last year, client visits to this office jumped by 29%.
The mayor proposed funding Metro’s employee pay plan with an investment of more than $30.4 million.
As a percentage of Nashville’s population, Metro General Government has fewer employees than it did a decade ago.
Nonetheless, city employees are efficiently delivering neighborhood services – for example, speeding up 9-1-1 answer times by 26%, filling potholes in 3.3 days and picking up 99.75% of the city’s trash and recycling on time.
The mayor will submit his operating budget plan for Fiscal Year 2022 on Friday, April 30. It goes before Metro Council for consideration and approval.