May 01, 2019
SOURCE: Nashville Business Journal
AUTHOR: Meg Garner
Standing before a packed room inside the Nashville Public Library downtown, Mayor David Briley simultaneously championed the city's breakneck growth and warned residents of the growing pains yet to come during his annual State of Metro.
The biggest challenge facing Nashville, Briley said, is ensuring all residents can prosper amid the city's boom. Frustration over growth has become a recurring theme in every major debate in the past year, from how Metro incentivizes businesses to the fate of 21 cherry trees along First Avenue. Briley's speech was set against a backdrop of a new Vanderbilt University poll that found 45% of respondents believe Nashville is headed in the wrong direction, more than double the amount who felt similarly four years ago.
"Nashville is one of the greatest places to live in the whole world," the mayor said. "We’ve been called the friendliest city. We’ve been called the 'It City.' But those labels came from outside. It’s time for Nashville to earn a new label, a label we give ourselves: the most equitable city."
During his roughly 40-minute address, Briley offered a glimpse at this year's $2.3 billion budget, which he said focuses on four key priorities: providing support to boost Metro's public education system, reaffirming the city's commitment to public safety, continuing to invest in Nashville's economic prosperity and stabilizing the city's quality of life.
The mayor has become more engaged in public education, after weeks of contentious sparring over former schools chief Shawn Joseph, who has since left his role. After Joseph's departure became inevitable, Briley began negotiating a memorandum of understanding with Metro Nashville Public Schools that will give his administration more control of its finances and operations. However, Metro's charter prevents both the mayor and Metro Council from mandating how the system spends taxpayer dollars, which is why Briley took time Tuesday to publicly ask the school system to use its additional funding this year to give teachers and support staff a 3% pay raise.
Following the mayor's speech, his spokesman declined to share the dollar amount of that increase until the budget is formally filed with Metro Council on Wednesday. During a recent budget hearing, Briley said the system's budget could exceed $1 billion, setting the stage for the system's largest budget to date.
Here are additional highlights from Briley's speech:
- Briley will follow through on a $1 million commitment to launch Nashville Getting Results by Advancing Degrees (GRAD), the city-sponsored program designed to cover the costs of community college not included under the state's Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect programs. In March, HCA Healthcare Inc. donated $100,000 to the program, which Metro hopes to implement this fall.
- Briley's budget includes the $18 million needed to fund a 3% cost-of-living wage increase for Metro employees. In March, Briley guaranteed Metro employees a wage increase, after city officials were forced to repeal a promised pay increase during last year's contentious budget discussions.
- The mayor will allot $442,000 to establish the Equal Business Opportunity Program as enacted by legislation Metro Council approved this year. That legislation is designed to boost the amount of minority- and women-owned businesses doing business with Metro.
- Briley announced Metro will spend 15% more this year to retire a portion of its debt. The mayor's spokesman declined to specify the dollar amount of that increase.
- Finally, Briley revealed Metro and the Tennessee Department of Transportation are working to determine how to fund and implement mass transit along Dickerson Pike. Briley has long eyed mass transit on the corridor, partly because it has not yet been overrun with development. Last year, Metro lost out on a $1.5 million federal grant to study how to build bus rapid transit on Dickerson Pike. The mayor did not say which type of transit option — bus rapid transit or light rail — he would like to see on the corridor, which runs from downtown through the northern part of East Nashville.