Nashville Mayor John Cooper delivered the Annual State of Metro Address on Thursday morning at the Music City Center. Cooper said that the theme for the year is “city on the rise.”
The mayor asserted that “a city on the rise must rise to the occasion.” He said Nashville has proved its resilience, and has faced more challenges and helped more people than at any time in history.
“The science predicted and experience confirmed that your work – masking, distancing, getting tested – literally saved hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of lives,” claimed Cooper.
Prior to the mayor taking the stage, Dawn Bennett, who identifies as a female reverend, opened with a prayer focused mainly on diversity. Similar messaging came from 2021 Nashville Youth Poet Laureate Marie Shields. She presented a poem lamenting urbanization and the purported segregation and discrimination in the city. The Fisk Jubilee Singers followed up with an acapella performance.
Immediately before the mayor, Vice Mayor Jim Shulman took the stage. He said that the pressure and strain of the past year could be felt by everyone, everywhere. Shulman noted that the 20th anniversary of 9/11 will occur this year.
“As we cautiously came – or, as we cautiously come – out of this pandemic, the question remains about what direction we now take moving forward,” said Shulman. “[T]ough times require people to step up and make decisions, even when they are not popular – and John Cooper did.”
The mayor called last year’s budget a “crisis budget.” This year, he shared that it could be categorized as an “investment budget.” He said that the city spent $121 million in federal CARES Act relief to assist small businesses, live music venues, and students.
In reference to the city’s deal with Oracle, a computing infrastructure and software company, Cooper said that the community could look forward to more jobs soon. Metro Nashville City Council will convene next Tuesday to vote on the Oracle proposal.
“This is an opportunity to jumpstart our economic rebound and our post-pandemic decade of prosperity,” said Cooper.
Additionally, Cooper said they were awarding $81 million for Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and $50 million to make their teachers “the best paid in Tennessee.” The average teacher will see a salary jump of nearly $7,000. An additional $2.5 million will be invested in social-emotional learning (SEL).
He said that Metro government, for the first time in history, was fully funding MNPS according to school officials’ requests.
Cooper teased a collaborative project with MNPS Director Dr. Adrienne Battle to make students more competitive in the modern workplace.
The necessity of these additional educational investments came from a lack of state funding, said the mayor. Cooper called out the state for underfunding MNPS due to its BEP formula.
As for transportation and infrastructure, Cooper promised that several new initiatives would occur, such as creating a traffic management center, restoring WeGo funding through a $25 million investment, and adding 42 new positions.
The mayor called last year’s significant property tax increase a necessity. He added that, due to property reappraisals, Nashville has become the lowest-taxed city in all of the state.
Cooper noted that government efficiency improved significantly last year, across areas such as police and fire response times and pothole-filling. Further investments in government employees will include a $30.4 million investment in employee payment plan, including increases in cost-of-living adjustments.
On the diversity front, Cooper shared that Metro government had a marked increase in minority employees. He noted that economic development initiatives would focus on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which he called the city’s future.
A special moment of recognition was awarded to the first responders for their service during the Nashville bombing. Additionally, the mayor announced that they’d hired on more firefighters and police officers. He said that they would allocate $3 million to community safety initiatives – such as mental health assistance.
Affordable housing investments would total $37.5 million. Cooper recommended that the council add tens of millions to that initial investment. As for the homeless population, the mayor added that Metro government had used COVID relief funds to house over 300 homeless individuals and would be housing at least 100 more.
Climate change was also addressed. He announced Metro’s goals of reducing emissions by 70 percent by 2050, and switching 35 percent of city energy to renewable resources by 2025.
“Going green also grows our economy and puts people to work,” said Cooper.
In the wake of 2020, Cooper asserted that there were no other cities better prepared for the road ahead than Nashville.
The mayor noted several upcoming changes: all COVID-19 restrictions, except the mask mandates, will lift on May 14.
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