A Nashville pastor, public education activist and former Metro councilman have formed a new alliance to help Mayor Karl Dean make his case for a proposed 13 percent property tax increase.
Moving Nashville Forward, billed as a “grassroots coalition,” hopes to mobilize citizens to support the mayor’s tax increase plan, which the group says is essential to make key investments in public education and safety. The organization announced its creation Monday, one day before the mayor’s proposed 53-cent hike to the property tax rate heads before the Metro Council on the first of three votes.
“We see it as a major priority,” said Erik Cole, a former two-term East Nashville councilman. “We also know it’s a very difficult decision.
“We want to be there to work with the community and talk with folks over the next few weeks, and talk with council members to try to garner their support for greater revenue in the city,” he said.
For now, Moving Nashville Forward consists of only three players: Cole, who held the council’s District 7 seat from 2003-2011; Michael Joyner, pastor of Greater Faith Missionary Baptist Church; and Francie Hunt, an education advocate who previously headed the Nashville Chapter of Stand for Children.
The trio says they plan to host meetings and information sessions across Davidson County before the mayor’s property tax increase and proposed $1.71 billion budget goes before the council for a final vote in June.
“We’re issuing an invitation to any and all who want to join with the effort,” Cole said. “We’ve really thrown this together in a relatively fast fashion.”
On Monday, organizers stuck to many of the same talking points Dean has made in trying to sell a tax increase to the public. Over the past five years, Cole pointed out, the number of Metro workers has decreased by nearly 700 thanks to an operating budget that has shrunk by $59 million.
Hunt and Joyner reinforced the biggest budgetary theme that Dean has pushed since unveiling his property tax increase proposal two weeks ago: the need to invest in public schools and public safety.
Hunt pointed to Deans’ plan to increase the starting salaries of Metro teachers from $35,000 to $40,000 in an effort to recruit high-performing teachers. The plan would move Nashville from 30th to third in the state in teacher pay. “We need to be able to be competitive,” Hunt said.
Joyner, in delivering the pitch for public safety, said the city needs revenue to ensure the retention of 50 cops hired two years ago through an expiring federal grant. He said streets are safer right now, in part because of a new Madison police precinct.
“We’re pushing this budget to move Nashville forward because it will increase the police that we have out on the streets,” Joyner said.
As Dean makes the difficult push for higher taxes in the weeks ahead, Moving Nashville Forward will have the mayor’s back. Asked about the level of communication the group would have with the mayor’s office, organizers didn’t really say.
“To the extent that we go about explaining the tax increase and explaining why this is needed, we’ll communicate with everyone we need to communicate with,” Cole said.