Monday, June 18, 2018

Metro's financial woes just got $23 milliion worse.

by Rod Williams - By the way city officials calculate the budget, there is a budget shortage of $34 million. That is to say the city will realize $34 million less in revenue than the city initially thought they would have. $26 million of that is due to successful challenges, mostly by large commercial interest, to the city's recent property appraisals. Another $8 million is due to the city getting less funding from the State for schools due to declining school enrollment.

Despite the city's population growth, there are fewer children being enrolled in Metro Schools. either because there is demographic shift and there are fewer school age children or because more parents are sending their kids to private schools or homeschooling.  It is probably some of both. One would think with fewer children to educate that would be a budget plus. One would think with fewer students to educate, that would save the city money.  The State does not cover the full cost of educating children so it is hard to understand why having fewer students is a hardship  rather than a benefit. If you think like that then you are thinking like a business man or someone who manages a household budget.  That is not the way bureaucrats or the school board or Mayor Bailey thinks about it.

In any event, these two factors constitute a $34 million shortage. In developing the budget, the
anticipated revenues and anticipated expenses have to match.  Most of the revenue comes from property tax and sales tax but there are also many other fees that contribute to the revenue side. Everything from parking tickets to fees for rezoning property and city auto stickers and dozens of other fees contribute to the city's revenue.  In the Mayor's $2.23 billion budget $23 million in revenue is anticipated to come from the sale of three city properties that have been declared surplus. This is one-time money and it is not wise to depend on one-time money for continuing expenses, but that is what the city is doing. This same revenue is also counted in the Council's substitute budget proposed by the Budget and Finance committee.

It is by no means a certainty that these property sales will take place. The three properties are in Edgehill, Green Hills and Charlotte Avenue near Sylvan Park. There are any number of things that could stop these sales. While I do not know the specifics of these three parcels, rezoning could be an obstacle. Often for a prime piece of property to get top dollar it must be rezoned. Often the completion of the sale is contingent upon the rezoning taking place. Rezoning is never a certainty.

There is already serious opposition to the sale of the Edgehill property. This property is a park that adjoins the Edgehill Apartments public housing project. It is the former site of the home of African-American folk artist William Edmondson. He was the son of slaves who became a self-taught artist and was the first African-American artist to be given his own show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. His art has been featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The Edgehill community has a long history of activism. The Rev. Bill Barnes who was an organizing force in the community pastured the Edgehill Methodist Church from 1966 until his retirement in 1996. He was liberal advocate for affordable housing and other issues affecting the Edgehill community.  The Edgehill community is accustomed to fighting city hall. A few years ago when the city entered into an agreement with Belmont University to share Rose Park with Belmont University in exchange for Belmont's investment in the park, the community unsuccessfully fought the deal. It did happen but it took a while and there were lots of protest and a lawsuit before Belmont won that battle. 

In the last year, the Edgehill community became a leading voice opposing the redevelopment of property that adjoins Fort Negley that was the former home of the Nashville Sounds' Greer Stadium. Fort Negley is near the Edgehill Community. Fort Negley was build by freed slaves forced into labor by the occupying Union army.  Many Blacks endured terrible hardship building the fort and many died. Many in the Black community found it offensive that this site of significance to African-Americans was to be redeveloped rather than incorporated into the Fort Negley Park. When Mayor Briley became mayor, the plan to redevelop the Greer stadium site was abandoned.

The point of the above discussion of the Edgehill community is to say that if the community wants to keep the city from selling off the  Edgehill Memorial Gardens Park, the community will fight. They will not just roll over and play dead. The community has already had at least one community meeting to organize for the purpose of saving the park (link). While I think Nashville does too many things, I like our park system. As Nashville grows, we need more green space not less.

In addition to the political activist of Edgehill, I am sure there are many people like me who will side with those who think selling off park property to balance the budget is not a good idea. I signed petitions and advocated saving Fort Negley and reincorporating the Greer site back into Fort Negley Park and I feel sure I will support saving Edgehill Memorial Gardens. Councilman Colby Sledge who represents the Edgehill area has already come out in opposition to selling off the park.

In stead of making the budget balance by counting one-time money from the sale of pubic lands when that sale looks very doubtful, the city should cut the budget. There is plenty of waste, corruption, and unnecessary spending to cut to make it balance. Also, using one-time money to balance the budget just sets us up for a certain tax increase next year. It is time to get serious about cutting expenses.

For additional source material for this story see the following links: here, here, here, here.

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