Tennessee Comptroller keeping eye on Metro budget issues

Nashville 2020

Nashville 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Metro Council received a very unusual visitor just before the holiday season, but he did not bring good tidings.

State Comptroller Justin Wilson bluntly told members to get Metro’s financial house in order, or his office would take over Nashville’s city budget.

No one can remember such a public warning before Metro Council members from the state comptroller, whose office signs off on local budgets across the state.

“I hope it’s clear there are some serious financial concerns in Nashville,” said comptroller Wilson at the mid-November meeting.

At the meeting and again the next day before reporters, Wilson sounded an alarm that he hopes council members heard loud and clear.

“They need to have their finances in order,” said Wilson. “They needed to have a balanced budget. That means the money coming or the money coming out should balance.”

If that metro budget and those finances do not balance, just about everyone in Nashville would be affected.

Public schools, police, and emergency responders are among the many affected if their slice of the metro budget pie is cut.

Solving these problems is your responsibility,” added the comptroller at the meeting. “It’s your job to pass a structurally balanced budget.”

The warning came after a slideshow from the comptroller showing how Nashville–despite unprecedented growth and a booming economy–was borrowing too much and using too much of various metro department reserves to balance recent budgets–including the current one.

“Its like maxing out your credit card,” continued Wilson at the November meeting. “We will not approve your budget as it stands now.”

To get the state approval, a letter in mid- December from metro’s finance director outlined changes.

In a quick letter back the state comptroller approved the new spending plan–conditionally.

“It appears they will be able to reduce expenditures and to some extent, increase revenues to balance their budget…to have enough money to meet their obligations,” said Wilson in an interview earlier this month.

The comptroller says his office auditors are meeting regularly with metro officials as Nashville’s new mayor, the Metro Council, and the city’s finance department, work out the details.

“We will be meeting weekly with metropolitan government…its got our attention,” added the comptroller.

Is this a prelude to the first metro property tax increase in years?

Some in metro government say so. Others there say no.

Either way, the eyes of the state comptroller’s office will be watching.

The comptroller added that while a fix appears for this current year’s budget, the real challenge will be next year.

News 2 is reporting on Nashville’s historic growth and the growing pains that come with it. Click here for more Nashville 2020 reports.

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