Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Metro Council OKs budget; schools get bulk of new money

By MICHAEL CASS • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • June 18, 2008 Metro Nashville will start a new fiscal year next month with an almost $1.58 billion budget that pumps new money into schools but makes it tougher to catch a bus or make a living as a city employee. The Metro Council voted unanimously Tuesday for the 2008-09 operating budget, which will take effect July 1, after considering Mayor Karl Dean's recommendations for almost three months. The available funds will be only slightly more than this year, reflecting conservative revenue estimates in a tight economy. Metro schools, Dean's top priority, will get $22 million more, an increase of more than 3.6 percent. But most other departments will receive less money, and almost 30 city employees will be laid off. While as many as 200 workers could have been laid off, "that's not a consolation to those 30 families and individuals," said Councilman Erik Cole, who led the council through the budget process. The remaining employees won't get an across-the-board pay raise to help cope with rising gas prices or grocery bills. And people who ride several Metro bus routes won't be able to anymore because of the city's own struggles to pay for diesel fuel. Councilwoman Vivian Wilhoite said she was disappointed that some Metro firefighters would see their jobs "rolled back," or reduced in stature and pay. She said council members were reneging on a commitment to public safety. "I can't see how we can live with this," Wilhoite said. Cole acknowledged that the budget reflects some "very painful" choices. But he said he was proud the council could put its stamp on the spending plan by shifting $1 million to the Metro Transit Authority so there will be fewer cuts in bus routes. Dean's proposal would have cut MTA by $400,000; now the authority will gain $600,000. "To be able to do one major priority was a real success," Cole said

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