Friday, June 5, 2020

The Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act

This is reposted from the website www.nashvilletaxpayerprotectionact.com.

Nashville was flat broke before the Covid-19 crisis hit our City.  Last fall, the State Comptroller Justin Wilson was threatening to put Nashville into a receivership and take over running the City.  Our financial troubles are the consequence of the Metro Government's years of financial mismanagement and failure to operate the City in a competent manner.   

Nashville is $3.6 BILLION DOLLARS ($3,600,000,000.00) in debt, and $1 in $10 tax dollars received goes to paying interest. It is time for this nonsense to stop!  Fixing Metro’s budgetary mismanagement and financial incompetence can no longer be trusted to the Government.

Now, at a time when businesses are shut down, unemployment is the highest in decades, and families are suffering Mayor Cooper's "solution" is increase property taxes by 32%. and spending by over $100,000,00.00 this year!  The Mayor's proposed budget is just "more of the same" spending spree with no serious cuts which has gotten us in this mess to begin with.  This budget merely kicks the can down the proverbial road, and we will face another 30+% hike in the near future when the cause of the problem - overspending - is not addressed.

Nashville will never recover from this economic downturn if we drive our restaurants, bars and other businesses into bankruptcy and destroy jobs while causing residential property rates to soar upwards.  Now is the WORST TIME to raise property tax rates and the BEST TIME to cut wasteful spending.

The Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act is just the First Step in bringing financial stability back to Nashville.  The Act amends our Metro Charter to bring financial common sense to Metro in several ways:


LIMIT TO PROPERTY TAX RATE INCREASES

Property Tax Rates. Property Tax Rates shall not Increase more than 2% per year after January 1, 2020.

Metro's current dysfunctional plan is to continue overspending to create an "emergency situation" where a 32% property tax increase is "suddenly" the only solution.  Our property tax system is designed to be complicated and confusing to allow it to be manipulated behind the taxpayers' backs.  Property taxes should increase with inflation and a fiscally responsible government should raise tax rates to track the inflation rate.  Under this Amendment, the Metro Council and Mayor cannot raise tax rates MORE than 2% without justifying the same to the Davidson County taxpayers who get to vote on the increase.  This change will force the Metro Government to explain why a greater tax increase is needed.

NO GIVE-AWAY OF OUR PARKS, GREENWAYS, OR PUBLIC LANDS.

No Give-away of Our Parks, Greenways, or Public Lands. No part of a Park, Greenway, Public Land, or other real property shall be given away or conveyed without 31 votes of the Metro Council in favor. Transfers of interest in real property shall only be at fair market value or greater based on an independent appraisal.  A voter referendum shall be required for transfers of interest in real properties valued over $5,000,000.00, and for leases exceeding twenty (20) years, commencing after January 1, 2020. 

Nashville has been in a race to give-away millions of dollars in valuable real estate to well-connected developers at the taxpayers' expense.  Properties such as the Church Street Mall, Broadway Convention Center, and the downtown Public Library were given away for pennies on the dollar.  Irreplaceable park land such as 24 acres of E. S. Rose Park in the Edgehill Neighborhood were transferred to Belmont University by a via 40 lease for a paltry $50,000 annual lease payment.  More recently, Metro is giving away 10+ acres of the Nashville Fairgrounds for $10.00 per year for 75-years.  Another 10-15 acres valued at over $30,000,000 is being given away for 99-years for a commercial development which will enrich its owners $12,000,000 - $15,000,000 per year while paying the Fairgrounds less than $200,000 per year.  No park, greenway or public land is safe from exploitation without this protection.

This Amendment prevents Metro from giving away Our Parks, Greenways and Public Lands for less that fair market value and without an independent appraisal.  The taxpayers deserve to know, and more importantly the Metro Government should know, the value of the Parks and public lands BEFORE taking it from the people and giving it to developers.  For property valued over $5,000,000.00 ($5 Million) and/or leased for more than 20 years, the people shall be permitted to vote on the wisdom of giving away the property.  

Nashville's irresponsible giving away of valuable irreplaceable property for free is one reason we are in such financial trouble.

ISSUANCE OF BONDS.

Issuance of Bonds. All bonds issued or guaranteed after January 1, 2020, exceeding $15,000,000.00 for a specific project (excluding construction of educational classrooms, public libraries, public healthcare buildings, and police and fire stations, and Charter protected facilities) must be approved by voter referendum.  

One (1) in every ten (10) dollars received in property taxes is used to pay bond interest.  Nashville is presently  3.6 BILLION ($3,600,000,000.00) in debt and plans to issue another $225 MILLION ($225,000,000) in bonds to build a billionaire developer a soccer stadium.  It is time to stop spending ourselves into a hole.

Nashville has more than half the debt level of the State of Tennessee.  We have "refinanced" much of our debt to the point we are essentially making "interest payments."  This irresponsible behavior means future tax increases on our children and insolvency.  

The Amendment restricts the use of bond financing to essential government functions such as the building of educational classrooms, public libraries, public healthcare buildings, and police and fire stations, and Charter protected facilities.  Other, non-essential uses of debt require the voters' approval.  In 1996, the people voted to bring the Titans to Nashville and build a stadium so there is a history of letting the people decide. 

FAILED PROMISES:

Failed Promises: If a professional sports team leaves Nashville, or ceases playing professional games for more than twenty-four (24) months, all facilities and related commercial development shall revert to the people, and all related contracts shall be terminated, including land leased from the Nashville Fairgrounds. 

The taxpayers have been asked to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build sports complexes for wealthy developers and sports promoters.  This Amendment simply requires that if a sports teams leaves Nashville that all the benefits the taxpayers gave as an inducement go back to the taxpayers.  It is only reasonable if the Titans leave Nashville, we the citizens should get our stadium back.  Additionally, if MLS abandons the Nashville Fairgrounds the citizen should get all of the Fairgrounds property back.  It is only fair the taxpayers get their property back if a team breaks its promise to the citizens and leaves.

OPEN RECORDS

Metro’s Records Shall Be Open to the Public. Citizens  are entitled to keep a close eye on Metro’s actions and entitled to inspect its books and records for free and consistent with the Tennessee Open Records Act’s protections (§10-7-501, et seq).  A person or entity receiving more than $250,000 yearly in taxpayer funds or benefits agrees to be bound by this Amendment. Persons or entities refusing to provide public records shall be barred from receiving public funds and liable for treble the Citizen’s damages, including attorney fees.  

The best and only way for the citizens to know what their Government is up to allow the people access to the Government's actions by inspecting its books and records.  This Amendment strengthens the Tennessee Open Records Act and makes it easier and less costly for citizen to find out what Metro is up to.  Consistent with the Tennessee Act, private and personal information is protected while allowing citizens free access to all "public" information.

One of the reasons Nashville is in such financial trouble is it gives away millions of dollars to public and private entities with virtually no oversight.  The Amendment conditions receipt of more than $250,000.00 per year with accountability to the public in the same way Metro will be accountable. The taxpayers are entitled to know not just who gets tax dollars, but how they are spent as well.  If an entity desires to operate in secret it is free to do so without taxpayer dollars.

In the past, Metro has stalled, delayed and even refused to turn over information to keep citizens in the dark as its actions.   The Amendment makes Metro liable for damages caused by its failure to comply. 

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