Thom Druffel’s Statement on Fiscal RESPONSIBILITY
We have all heard about the booming business coming to Nashville. Cranes and construction fill our downtown streets. How is it then that our city debt has grown from approximately $400 million to $4.5 billion dollars in just over 15 years? Our city debt is more than twice the debt of the State of Tennessee.
According to the proposed 2020 budget we are projected to bring in more than 4.7% in revenue growth from last year which accounts for over $100M. Despite that, we struggle to balance the budget or to provide fair wages to our teachers, police and firefighters. While our debt has grown, those who provide essential services are overlooked. This is especially unfair when we look at the rising cost of living in Nashville.
Mayor Briley and the current council have tried to plug the holes by selling off county owned assets: Real estate, power supply, parking. This is bad policy and is not a sustainable way to pay the bills. A new law will prohibit some of that in the future but much has already been lost.
Poor Fiscal Policies Have Caught the Attention of the State.
Metro budget practices have now caught the attention of the Comptroller of the State of Tennessee. The state is about to scrutinize the way metro is managing its finances, with particular attention to the plans to sell city assets to balance the budget. The budget hole was supposed to be filled by the higher than expected city fund, yet the budget still included $2.33 billion in the budget for the sale of parking and energy. The state, rightly, wants answers, and they are due by September 20.
The state has also taken the unusual action of demanding that the Metro Council pass a cash management policy by November 20.
We have been reactive in our current government, rather than proactive with strategic planning. There has been no long term vision where we, as a city, prioritize our needs and balance those against our income. Selling off an asset, that cannot be replaced, is like selling Grandma’s silver to pay the electric bill. You can do it once, maybe, but what happens next month when the bills come due again?
It Begins With Trust and Transparency
The solutions around financial responsibility and transparency must start with you and regaining your trust. We must have robust and direct conversations on our vision for our neighborhoods and city. We then need to determine the strategies and costs to accomplishing our joint vision.
My pledge to you as your council member is to hold regular coffees/meetings where we discuss issues that are important to you. Too many times in recent years we hear about important issues only a day or so before the council votes. Other times we read about decisions after the fact, in the newspaper. We are all stakeholders in our city, and we all deserve a voice and an opportunity to learn what the issues are and what will be discussed by the council. I can only represent you effectively when I know how you feel about the issues.
We also need council members who understand finance and budgeting. I have managed hotel and investment portfolios for over 40 years with budgets over $150M in regions all over the country. I have had to manage budgets in diverse economic climates, in good times and in recessions. In the private sector, if you fail to make your budget, you lose your job. More borrowing is simply not an option. We need to run our city government in the same way. Rather than borrowing and going further into debt as an easy option to pay the bills, we need to look at where our money is going, where cuts can be made and where we want to prioritize our spending.
Our current leadership has been inconsistent on budget issues, at one time voting for a property tax increase, later against and then claimed more time was needed to understand the issues.
Here is where I believe we can begin to find answers:
Ensure that our money is being spent eﬃciently and wisely, with input from the community about priorities.
We need to understand the expenses and determine if the increased revenue from our growth can ﬁll the gap against the needs of our operating budget. To date, we have seen very little of the revenue from our growth come back to neighborhoods or to wages for police and teachers.
We should look at changing the process for capital budgeting from yearly to 3 to 4 year timelines. This would allow the city to make purchases in bulk at substantial savings.
Growth is only good when it adds value to our quality of life. We have seen almost no investment in our district in infrastructure or capital improvements. While adjoining districts see new libraries, ice rinks, fire stations, playgrounds, sidewalks and schools, District 23 has been largely overlooked. A good council person will fight for funds to come back to our District.
I have the financial experience to work on the council and help steer our city back in the right direction. This is a pivotal time in the history of Nashville, and we need members on our council who understand finance and can collaborate to make sure that our growth benefits all of our citizens.
Margie and I have three children who are starting their careers and who want to live in Nashville. We want Nashville to provide them with a future of potential rather than debt. Let’s get to work!
Sources: Briley Budget 2020, pg. 13, News Channel 5 “State Demand Response from Metro Nashville About It’s Finances”.