Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dean says Nashville taxpayers won't foot convention center bill

By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • April 8, 2009 After weeks of hearing speculation that Nashville might need to use property taxes to help pay off the debt on a proposed convention center, Mayor Karl Dean moved Tuesday to eliminate that possibility. Dean's administration had an amendment filed in the state General Assembly that would "expressly prohibit" the use of property taxes for debt service on the $595 million facility, Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling told the Metro Council. The state legislature is considering a bill that would let Metro set up a convention center authority to run the building. Riebeling said the construction debt would be paid with revenue from a series of taxes and fees that target tourists, as supporters have advocated for at least three years. If those won't be sufficient, "we shouldn't do the project," he said in an interview. "Over the past year, we've been fairly consistent in stating we would not fund the convention center with property taxes," Riebeling told council members. "This seems to be the best way to get it off the table. Hopefully this will put it to rest." Councilman Duane Dominy of Antioch commended Dean's office for "stepping up to bat" and addressing a potentially thorny political issue. But two other council members said in interviews that they wanted to see the precise language in the amendment before they fully exhale. "That makes me a little more comfortable," said Councilman Michael Craddock of Madison, who has expressed concerns about the timing of the project during a recession. "But I need to see the state legislation." Councilwoman Emily Evans, who represents Belle Meade and West Meade, said there are other financing mechanisms that could transfer some risk for the construction debt to taxpayers. Evans said she wants to make sure the legislation wouldn't allow for any of those. "We have to make sure we button this up very tightly," she said. "That's the issue." After Riebeling announced the legislative amendment, the council voted 17-14 to reject a nonbinding resolution by Councilman Eric Crafton, who was absent. That measure would have expressed the council's "intent that the construction of the proposed downtown convention center and convention hotel be funded solely by revenue bonds that are not backed by the full faith and credit of the Metropolitan Government." That was the only major action of the night. The council deferred legislation on menu labeling; railroad bridge maintenance; water and sewer fees; and the May Town Center proposal.

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