Debate over Nashville taxes could head to the ballots

By Michaela Hamman, Staff Writer, and Olivia Majors, News Editor

Nashville taxes may go to the ballot as a petition to roll back the property tax gains support. In April of 2020, Nashville Mayor John Cooper introduced a 34% property tax increase, which has since been hotly contested among voters in Davidson County. 

On Sept. 25, the Davidson County Election Commission voted to ask a judge about the possibility of a referendum. This referendum would allow voters to cast a direct vote concerning both the city’s power to increase taxes in the future and the recent increase in property taxes. The judge will rule on the referendum and whether the commission can legally place it on the ballot to be voted on by Nashville residents in the near future. 

Photo by Mary Meacham, Photography Editor.

This tax raise was implemented to help combat the negative economic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the city lost tens of millions of dollars in sales taxes. Due to the continued uncertainty of the pandemic, the Cooper Administration and Finance Director Kevin Crumbo are opposing efforts to roll back the tax. “After two natural disasters this year, we don’t need a self-inflicted one. This would severely weaken Nashville at a time when we need to build Nashville stronger,” Mayor Cooper said. 

If the judge rules that the referendum is valid, the election commission will call for a special election on Dec. 15, 2020. For the city government, the biggest implication of this proposed legislation is the limit on taxation power: the city would only be permitted to raise taxes by two percent per year. Another important effect would be the required approval by City Council for land donations valued over $5 million. Additionally, a voter referendum would be necessary for any loans the city takes totaling over $15 million.

An opinion piece in The Tennessean disagreed with Mayor Cooper, arguing that a higher tax would destroy small businesses that are struggling to recover from the negative economic effects of the pandemic. News4 Nashville also predicted the negative effects of a higher property tax, expressing concerns about the increase in rent and mortgages for residents of the city.  

Conversely, the city government predicts terrible effects if the tax increase does not go through. The referendum would create an estimated $332 million shortfall in the city budget. The city predicts government employee lay-offs as well as changes to first responders, city services and the public school system. Specifically, the Nashville Fire Department would lose an estimated 557 positions, 12 ambulances, 31 fire companies and 17 inspectors according to the city government’s calculations.

“Emergency response times, road repair, trash pick-up and other vital city services hang in the balance,” Mayor Cooper spokesperson Chris Song said. “And if our city cannot meet these basic obligations, the property values and quality of life for every resident and business owner in Davidson County will go down.” 

The public school system will be “unrecognizable” according to an article on the Nashville government website highlighting the possible effects of the referendum. Changes will include increased class size, transportation adjustments, reductions in social work and counseling as well as reductions in supplemental services like advanced academics for students. Furthermore, extra duties such as coaching or other extracurriculars will not be paid for.

“I had no idea voters could have such a direct impact on city-level legislation, but that makes it all the more important to vote if you are eligible,” said senior Lily Majors. Nashville awaits to see if the referendum will be present on the ballot and the voting results if it is. 

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