Mayor Karl Dean squashed any speculation that might have been lingering around the Metro Courthouse Tuesday morning, as he kicked off the year’s budget hearings.
“Let make it clear at the very offset, take whatever suspense there may be out of this,” Dean said during his opening remarks. “We will not be asking — we will not be asking — for additional revenue this year to help cover budget needs. We will not be proposing — we will not be proposing — an additional property tax increase.”
Dean, along with Deputy Mayor Greg Hinote and Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, heard presentations from 15 Metro departments throughout the day Tuesday. The procession of department heads will continue through Thursday, and then again on April 1 and April 12. The mayor’s budget will be presented to the Metro Council on April 30.
Last year, Dean enacted a 13 percent property tax increase, which he and other Metro officials argued was needed to avoid cutting essential services. Dean noted on Tuesday that Metro was able to use the increased revenues to add 100 new teachers, raise teacher salaries, maintain additional police officer positions. It was the county’s first property tax hike in seven years, and the mayor said the city won’t be going to that well again this year.
“This year, like every year, we will continue to look for cost savings and ways to make our government more efficient,” Dean said. “That doesn’t stop, even though the economic situation has improved, but we’re not back to the pre-recession times and I don’t know when and if that will happen. But we want to avoid impacting essential public services.”
“We recognize that the term ‘do more with less’ has a very real meaning to the many hard working employees all across Metro. We know that and I take that very seriously. But services have continued to grow, along with the population of our city — our staffs and budgets have not.”
In January, the mayor’s administration asked Metro department heads to prepare a 2 percent budget cut scenario. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Dean was asked how realistic it was that such a scenario would end up in the final budget.
“Well I would expect that every department would look at a 2 percent cut,” Dean said. “Whether that cut has to be enacted in the final budget remains to be seen. Clearly we’re in a better financial situation as a country than we were several years ago, but that doesn’t mean the floodgates have opened. We have to be very conservative, very prudent about how we handle this budget.”