State officials to Metro Nashville: 'Metro government is cash poor'

Metro Nashville courthouse
The Metropolitan Courthouse is located at 1 Public Square, Nashville. (Dylan Skye Aycock/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Metropolitan Courthouse is located at 1 Public Square, Nashville. (Dylan Skye Aycock/Community Impact Newspaper)

State officials have said Metro Nashville is at risk of having state control over the city’s finances due to the city’s poor budget practices.

At a joint meeting Nov. 13 between the Nashville Metro Budget and Finance and Public Works committees, Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Justin P. Wilson gave city officials a presentation on the city’s budget, warning council members of some of the “real financial challenges” the city faces.

“During our review of Metro’s current budget, we saw things that—to say the very least—gave us pause,” Wilson said.

In his presentation, Wilson said Metro Nashville’s general fund will be nonexistent within 20 days of June 30, 2020, the end of the current fiscal year. He also highlighted the city’s expenditures have increased 138% since 2013, which has led to nonrecurring revenue being used to pay off debt, which is not sustainable.

“Cash has decreased 91%, and despite all this wonderful growth and this booming economy we have, Metro government is cash poor,” Wilson said. “We see that nonrecurring revenue is being used to pay debt, and that really gets me concerned.”

Wilson told Metro Nashville Council members that the state will intervene with the Metro Nashville’s finances provided city leaders do not adjust its current operating budget.

“Now let me be clear, the comptroller’s office does have the authority to step in and determine how you spend your money, but none of us want to see that happen,” Wilson said. “You are the ones who really should decide how many police officers you need and whether or not salaries are cut or raised. You don’t want someone in the state Capitol to tell you how to run your city, and I guarantee that I really, really don’t want to do that.”

Additionally, the state has told Metro Water Services—which provides water and sewer services to the city but does not receive taxpayer funds—that it must raise fees or it will be ordered to do so by the state.

Metro Nashville residents and businesses can expect to see an increase in their water bills beginning in February 2020. MWS officials told Community Impact Newspaper the city currently has a backlog of 60 projects to improve water lines citywide that are not yet funded.

“None of this is going to be easy, but you must think of the long term,” Wilson said. “The city is counting on you to plan for the future, and that includes having enough money to meet your obligations to your employees.”

“I’d like to recognize the State Comptroller for coming to City Hall and helping us diagnose and cure our financial problems,” Mayor John Cooper said in a statement released following the meeting Nov. 13. “We face short-term budget challenges as well as longer-term issues such as rising debt, unfunded retiree obligations, and dwindling fund balances. Reasonable reforms to our budgeting process, borrowing, and cash management will help Metro regain our footing. This morning’s announcement of Capital Spending Plan reform is only one of several reforms that will restore fiscal responsibility. I look forward to working with the State Comptroller and Metro Council to solve our fiscal challenges.”

Read more about the city’s efforts to raise revenue through new water rates in the November issue of Community Impact Newspaper, in mailboxes beginning Nov. 23.
By Wendy Sturges

A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.


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