NewsNewsChannel 5 Investigates

Actions

Police, Firefighters Question Use Of Tax Incentives

CORP-Digital-Default-Image-1280x720-WTVF.png
Posted at 6:15 PM, May 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-07 14:18:13-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Nashville's police and firefighter unions are speaking out following a NewsChannel 5 investigation.

The heads of both unions question Metro's use of property tax money to fund development downtown at a time when the city is booming.

Our investigation examined Metro's use of tax incentives specifically the use of tax increment financing, also known as TIF.

We discovered many downtown buildings are essentially off the property tax rolls.

Metro collects property taxes from TIF buildings and sends it to the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, Metro's development agency, to help fund more growth.

Firefighters claim the department's aging equipment is putting the public at risk.

Last week's fire at a downtown high rise hotel highlighted the problem.

Metro dispatched the ladder the truck at Station 19, which is a mile and a half from downtown, after heavy smoke was reported in the lobby at the Holiday Inn Express.

But when firefighters jumped in the truck, radio traffic obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates reveals it would not move.

"You need to respond another truck in our place. This truck won't start. It won't go into gear," a firefighter reported to dispatch.

Former firefighter and union president Mark Young said Station 19's regular truck was out for repairs. The truck that failed to start was a replacement truck.

"It was like guys you know we're stuck. Here we are, we can't go," Young said

Metro was forced to dispatch Truck 37 from Bellevue, nearly 15 miles from the fire.

"Nashville, the 'it' city, is having to dispatch a truck company from one of our furthest outlying stations to the middle of downtown Nashville," Young said.

He said maintenance problems are crippling the department.

It has forced Metro to move trucks from one station to another just to keep all stations open..

Interim Fire Chief Rick White acknowledged the problems in this year's budget hearing.

"Our heavy fleet is quickly aging," White said in front of Mayor Karl Dean. "The average mileage on a fire engine is near 95,000 miles."

Although the city appropriated money for 13 new fire engines last year, the chief stopped short of asking for more this year.

"We're in a crisis," Mark Young said. "I'm going to say it's a crisis with our equipment."

Young said many firefighters had no idea the city diverted more than $17 million dollars last year to Metro's development agency to fund more development.

"First I've heard of it," Young said. "There's all this tax money that could have been used to fix this."

But it's not just firefighters sounding the alarm

Danny Hale, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he was surprised by Metro's use of tax increment financing.

"With what you've uncovered, it showed us there is a funding source out there," Hale said.

Hale said Metro has balanced its budget on the backs of employees. He said Metro blamed the economy when it cut their guaranteed "step" pay increases in 2008.

"We're not asking for anything extra," Hale said. "We're just asking for what we're due."

Although Metro reinstated the raises in 2013, Hale said officers are still owed back pay.

He said the property taxes from just one building, the Icon condo, would fund the officers raises for an entire year.

The Icon generated more than $1.6 million in property taxes last year.

But almost all of it went to MDHA for more development.

Metro's General Fund received $17,000.

"Don't tell me how bad it is and then get out there with your gold shovel and take a picture and break ground on another $10 or $20 million dollar project," Hale said

Both fire and police officials said Nashville's booming growth has brought new stresses and Metro must keep up.

"It's a safety factor for the men and women on the job and it's a safety factor for the taxpayer," Young said.

Related stories:
Iconic Nashville Buildings Pay Little For City Services
State Questions Nashville's Use Of Tax Incentives
Council Members Question Tax Incentives For Developers