NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — In a letter sent to Nashville Mayor John Cooper and Metro government provided to News 2 by Governor Bill Lee’s administration on Thursday, Governor Bill Lee said he is concerned with an $82.6 million request of the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund award for Nashville-Davidson County.
The letter outlines how Metro Nashville had benefited from $2.5 billion of the $13 billion in COVID-19-related response funds the state has.
“…which at $3,745 per resident ranks as the highest per capita relief of any other Tennessee county. This includes $121 million of Coronavirus Relief Fund payments directly to Metro-Nashville government, an amount subtracted from the State’s initial CARES Act allocation from the United States treasury,” said Governor Lee.
Lee stated he would pass the request on to the state’s Financial Stimulus Accountability Group and stated that additional funding for Nashville would result in less funding available for 94 other Tennessee counties, as well as rollback priorities for the unemployment insurance trust fund and direct economic relief for Tennessee businesses.
“As for your specific request for additional funds, I am concerned that many of the spending decisions you have described may not account for significant federal and state expenditures that serve several of the needs outlined,” Gov. Lee continued, “While many of the expenditures you highlight are well-intentioned, the Coronavirus Relief Fund is most valuable as a last-resort for COVID-19 expenses that cannot be met by other program sources.”
Governor Lee was critical about how Mayor Cooper and his administration spent $93 million in COVID-19 relief funds already provided to the city and county government to date, particularly in how only $5.7 million was budgeted as relief to businesses.
“This concern is heightened by the ongoing challenges ahead for Nashville business owners who have already endured some of the most restrictive limitations on commercial activity, as well as a recently enacted property tax increase.”
Governor Lee said the state has tried “to find a more appropriate balance” and “make decisions based on data” and has set aside $300 million for direct economic relief to businesses affected by April restrictions.
“With that in mind, I respectfully request that you re-prioritize your Coronavirus Relief Fund budget to reflect our shared commitment to economic recovery and allocate the full remainder of your unbudgeted $27.3 million towards economic relief for businesses. This would match the state’s investment of $26 million in Tennessee Small Business Relief Program payments to Davidson County businesses. I would also strongly encourage you to consider and weigh the impact that locally imposed restrictions will have on the prospects for Nashville’s future,” said Governor Lee.
In lists provided, $376,695,312 of Nashville’s funding has gone so far to payments supporting health and social safety net services within the county including nearly $37 million for a child care and development fund, $1.1 million to Second Harvest Food Bank, over $290 million to a medical provider relief fund, over $33 million to the Tennessee Community CARES program supporting 144 local non-profits and $4.2 million to TennCare relief payments.
An additional $1.3 trillion went to economic relief for ’employers’ within Davidson County including nearly $55 million for Nashville International Airport improvements, over $873 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans (Over $150,000 in size), over $416 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans (Under $150,000 in size), and at least $4.4 million in tourism industry recovery support.
The remaining $224,296,769 went to government entities in the county, including the originally mentioned $121 million to Metro government, a little over $26 million to Metro Nashville Public Schools, around $1.5 million to Department of Justice assistance, and $75.7 million to DOT Cares Act apportionments.
Governor Lee questioned why the city didn’t seek FEMA reimbursement for overtime staffing and temporary labor for emergency response costs, part of $24.7 million budgeted. As well, PPE, safety supplies, and building preps should have also been reimbursed by FEMA but were budgeted out.
In two letters submitted with the request, Mayor John Cooper addressed the additional funding and said that the requested additional funds would still not be sufficient to “mitigate the pain and disruption caused by the pandemic.”
“We will continue to seek out opportunities to secure additional funding in the coming months. Our administration has worked prudently and swiftly [to] address Nashville’s legacy financial challenges as well as to deploy CARES Act funds received to date. However, the financial needs of our county during the pandemic are almost unimaginable. We want to help you through this very difficult period,” said Mayor Cooper, noting Nashville’s international entertainment and hospitality ‘brand’ is a big stimulator of the city and state’s economy.
Mayor Cooper stated that Nashville saw an 80 percent drop in hotel and short-term rental occupancy tax revenues during the pandemic and that similar revenue crashes affected Nashville’s air travel, bar, and restaurant revenues.
“Nashville requires a robust, speedy federal and state response in order to effectively jumpstart its economy, and the economy of the entire state along with us,” said Mayor Cooper.
While Lee’s letter did not directly deny the city’s request, the governor addressed the response during his weekly press conference Thursday afternoon.
“Metro Nashville in fact, per capita, has received more federal funding than any other county in the state through this pandemic,” said Lee. “That’s why I responded to the mayor and said that we would not be adding additional funding to Metro Nashville, per his request.”
Read the full letter and additional documents below. App Users, click here.