Town council approves budget: No major changes to police funding next year

Since August the Nashville Town Council has been working to finalize its budget for next year with discussions centering on whether cuts should be made to how much money the Nashville Police Department receives.

In the end, the police department’s budget was not reduced and will make up more than 50 percent of the town’s general fund at $422,118 for 2022.

Certain items were moved from the NPD budget into the town’s administration fund, including a $13,500 Victims of Crime Act grant, $12,771 building loan and $56,132 vehicle loan.

In 2021, the NPD budget was approved at $496,798. NPD is also expected to receive $71,140 next year from the public safety local option income tax.

Town police officers, and all town employees, will also receive a 3 percent raise next year, said Town Council President Jane Gore.

Town council members will not receive a raise.

Last week, Gore released a press release to dispute rumors about changes to and the future of the police department.

The release states that the town council has not “held a discussion or made any decisions concerning any future changes with the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department at this time.”

The release further directs anyone with questions about the department to email Gore at jgore@townofnashville.org.

“There are some rumors floating around and there is no merit to any of them. I wanted to calm our police department,” she said by phone on Dec. 2.

Gore would not elaborate on the rumors, but said she wanted to calm any worries ahead of the holiday season.

“They don’t get enough credit as far as I am concerned. They work really hard for us. I just wanted to clear the air. The council has not accepted any changes and there are rumors floating around that we have,” she said.

Budget basics

In October the entire town budget was formally approved. Under next year’s budget, the town’s general fund will be $785,905. This year it was $750,000.

The motor vehicle highway budget for 2022 is $185,310, up from $174,639 in 2021, with increases to some line items such as contractual services and the street superintendent.

The Economic Development Income Tax fund has been increased from $55,961 to $73,825 for 2022, with increases to the economic development line item and $16,941 for a director of communications.

The budget for the food and beverage tax will decrease roughly $10,000 in 2022 since the Village Green restrooms have been paid in full in September of 2021 and those payments will no longer have to be made from that tax fund.

The cumulative capital improvement and development fund stayed the same at $60,000 next year. For next year, the town administration and council budget within the general fund will be $297,194, which is an increase of more than $100,000 compared to this year with the additions of loans and the VOCA grant from NPD’s budget. The town administration and council budget was set at $172,609 this year.

Raises for different positions were also a factor in the increase to the town administration and council budget.

Town Clerk-Treasurer Brenda Young said the shift in expenses from the NPD budget was to move items that were relative to a given department.

“If the town owns the building, that’s why it was moved (to the administration fund),” she said of the building loan being moved from NPD’s budget.

If the town administration is the department making the payments on a given budget item, that line item would fall under the administration’s umbrella.

The town purchased the former Home Helpers building on Artist Drive for $415,000 in May of 2020. That purchase was contingent upon selling the former police department building at 200 Hawthorne Drive, which was sold to the county for $400,000. That building is now the Brown County Health Department.

The budget was adopted following a town council public hearing on Oct. 28. The budget is not expected to increase tax rates for town taxpayers, Gore said.

“We try to stay within our means,” she said.

Hiring review

At the Nov. 18 town council meeting, member Nancy Crocker motioned to implement a pause on hiring any new employees in town, unless council approves filling a position, as a way to help cut costs in the budget.

“I’ve been very involved in the budget and I want to make sure that no hiring is done without council’s approval,” she said.

In that same meeting, Nashville Police Chief Ben Seastrom said he was losing three of his six full-time officers at the end of the year and wanted to begin the process of finding their replacements. He said he had already received permission from the Nashville Metropolitan Police Merit Commission to proceed.

Crocker said that implementing a town council review before hiring new employees should be a change in policy and not just a momentary pause.

“If a department head is going to be hiring, they need council’s approval first,” she said. “(This is) based on the fact that I have looked at the budget and we’ve done some changes, but there’s still a lot to do on the budget for next year.”

NPD merit board member Jim Hays asked why any hiring would need to be limited or receive prior approval if the budget has been approved and adopted for 2022.

“You’ve driven off enough officers, I think at least you ought to bring the town police department up to where it needs to be,” he said of hiring officers to replace ones that are leaving.

Crocker said replacements would be reviewed on a case by case basis. She said under the policy a department would have to receive the town council’s approval before proceeding with a new hire and that the policy change does not mean any new officers would not be hired.

The motion to pause new hires with town council approval carried with all council members voting in favor. A motion was also made to allow Seastrom to hire three officers. Four council members voted in favor with council member Anna Hofstetter voting against.

Hoffstetter was one of the town council members who discussed making cuts to the NPD budget at the beginning of budget hearings, but voted to approve the police budget for next year with no cuts. Hofstetter said she expects the department to contribute more “budget-wise” next year in terms of issuing more parking tickets and finding other ways to bring in revenue for the town.

One way NPD could cut down on expenses is having officers ride bicycles or patrol on foot, which would also help the town cut down on carbon emmissions, Hofstetter said.

“I’ve had spoken with Ben quite a bit. I’m inclined to approve the budget as is,” she said in October.

“With that said, they’re not off the hook for next year. Every department needs to fight for their funding. It’s our job as a council to scrutinize every penny being spent.”